You have to want to die. You have to really believe you’re going to come back. You can’t hesitate. If you do, you’re gone forever. But if you want it bad enough, and believe in it, you’ll return. Return to ride motorcycles with The Living Dead gang, and go on unstoppable killing sprees, in PSYCHOMANIA!
When Tom Latham (Nicky Henson) reaches the age of 18, being the leader of the motorcycle gang “The Living Dead” isn’t enough to satisfy his devilish curiosities. Knowing that his father had perished while tinkering with the occult, and that his bedroom had likewise been locked and unopened for as many years – he begins to press his mother for the secrets that she has held onto. Forcing her hand and entering the room, young Tom has a dark vision, and uses the experience to manipulate the knowledge from his devil worshipping family on how to return from the dead and become, thereafter, indestructible.
Much to the dismay of his mother, Tom runs about the countryside causing playful, injurious havoc with his legion of biker friends. He shares his new found knowledge of the afterlife with his girlfriend Abby (Mary Larkin), who is perhaps the only one in the group with enough sense to fear Tom’s escalating actions and not buy into the romantic idea of committing suicide.
In time, Tom proves his theory to be correct, returning from the grave (on a motorcycle of course) to kill by the handful, at will. Apparently, he cannot be killed again. The others in the gang, once seeing this spectacular feat, make attempts to cross over as well. Several suicides occur, and while some gang members do not return, others do, and deaths in the local town begin to grow exponentially. Chief Inspector Hesseltine (Robert Hardy) is on to this, and determined to bring them in – but will he succeed in time to save Abby, the only one with any morals or conscience, from her own Hell bound demise?
This 1973 thorn in actor Nicky Henson’s side is a cult film in Britain, but while being psychedelic and funky, it also shamelessly endorsed suicide as a romantic option to living in a dull, domestic world. Actor George Sanders of THE GHOST AND MRS MUIR’s fame suffered a fatal and cursed fate circa the making of PSYCHOMANIA – almost as if somehow cursed – losing his wife and undergoing a stroke prior, then subsequently (if not coincidentally) killing himself before the film was released. Yes, suicide. While many believe it was the quality of his life and work that led him to this ultimate finality, it still tickles the skepticism that films whose plots border the Devil do undergo some amount of negative internal fate.
While, fictionally, the numerous deaths in the film are primarily fallen bodies on the floor, and the effects nearly entirely devoid of crimson, director Don Sharp manages to formulate an undeniably enthralling piece that uses its grainy and faded 1970’s cinematography to its advantage, delivering foggy moors reminiscent of the mysterious Stonehenge, characters more colorful than they are bland, and live action stunts / non-sped-up vehicle chases spun to a psychedelic soundtrack by John Cameron that reels you in at once upon the opening frames.
While motorcycle horror is not many people’s bag, PSYCHOMANIA is the leader of the pack. It can come across dated and drab at times, but there is more buoyancy to PSYCHOMANIA than your average, grainy go with the overseas oldie. Much like THE WICKER MAN of the same time and region, it is laced and lifted into a dreamy atmosphere with its echoed and melodic score, branding it with a kaleidoscope of artistic flare that WEREWOLVES ON WHEELS lacked. It manages to ride its way into your appreciation with stylish wit, street action, and a power-play dance with the Devil, old school/UK/70’s style, in a way that more than not will find unique and dramatic enough to magnetize your mind through to the end. If you’re looking for a taste of something different, and aren’t afraid to watch a British film from this era, saddle up – you’re in for a groovy trip to the grave, and back.