Psychomania (1973)

Biker flicks were pretty popular between the mid-50s to the mid-70s. But not like the hero rides around on a bike and is bad ass and saves a little town from, I dunno, Nazis or something. No, some of these movies featured down right psychopathic killers on bikes who come in, drink your beer, rape your women, and, I dunno, wore Nazi paraphernalia. Wait… Anyway, here, in America, bikers kind of represented this “take no shit from anyone” kind of attitude that screams conservo-libertarian “shove your rights up your ass, my rights are more important” mindset.

They were a menace to more normal sensibilities of the typical suburban set. So much so, it got to the point where if you wore too much denim or not enough sleeves and didn’t wash your long hair and beard often enough, people were probably thinking you were a biker and probably going to bust heads. Look, I know I’m kind of shot out of a cannon here for the start of this week’s B-Movie Enema review, but I’m catching up to the thread here again.

Okay, so the origins of the “outlaw biker” films go back to Marlon Brando’s The Wild One in 1953. That was the movie that kind of revealed the subculture of biker clubs that had existed for a few years prior. While the success of that film would lead to a lot more movies, and even a book by Hunter S. Thompson about the most famous gang, Hell’s Angels, it really was our ol’ buddy Russ Meyer who made Motorpsycho in 1965 and turned this into a more exploitation type of biker gang flick. By the 70s, biker flicks were exported to the United Kingdom. Maybe our most popular example is this week’s featured flick – 1973’s Psychomania (originally released as The Death Wheelers in the United States).

However, Psychomania is more than just a movie about a deadly gang of bikers. No. Sure, our leader of the pack, Tom, is a psychopath and his gang is violent, but there’s some voodoo and supernatural stuff in this movie. Oh yeah… Tom dies and is brought back as what really can best be called a zombie and really fucks shit up.

Psychomania was written by the same duo who wrote Horror Express. It was also produced by the same company, Benmar Productions. Our star is Nicky Henson. Apparently, he really was a motorcyclist and never owned a car. He wanted to do this movie the moment he cracked open the script and saw mention of Harley Davidsons. He would ultimately be disappointed when the production couldn’t actually afford Harleys. Henson was fine doing his stunts. There were only three he didn’t do himself, but those each resulted in a stuntman being fairly badly injured.

I’ve been wanting to cover this for quite sometime. This was another movie that I think played on Bizarre TV shortly after I discovered the channel app on Roku. While I am just now about to watch it and will likely have almost no serious recollection of the movie itself from that previous viewing, I NEVER forgot the name. Psychomania just sounds awesome. It could also provide any kind of movie with a title like that. It could be a straight up late 70s or early 80s slasher. It could even be a psychological drama or thriller about a not so ethical psychologist.

Or it could be a British biker gang horror film.

Alright, let’s get into it! The credits play over Tom’s gang, the Living Dead, riding their bikes around this bizarre stone circle kind of reminiscent of a smaller version of Stonehenge, but this one is called “The Seven Witches”. It’s foggy and it’s already kind of bringing to mind that they are riding through a cemetery or a place where wiccan business goes down. Maybe hold that thought for that second thing there as we get into the movie.

Either way, the electric guitar riffs in the score and the slow motion of these bikers in the fog and at this peculiar site is setting the mood for the movie. It creates this nice blend of visual nihilism. The sky is gray. It looks cold. But here you have these bikers having fun. There’s a lack of life in these visuals other than the Living Dead doing their thing. With their black helmets with what looks to be a skull and crossbones painted on them, these are people who are living only for the moment and they are not going to be long for this world.

How’s that for analysis? I’m not all dick and fart jokes around here. Oh… Wait… ANALysis? Ha!

The gang move on from their frolicking in the foggy stone park. On the way back, the Living Dead hog the road while a normal chap is trying to drive the opposite way. After that guy runs off the road to avoid the bikers, Tom asks the gang if they should just let him be. Jane, one of the ladies in the gang, excitedly says they should not. He then asks Abby if she’s game. She is, so they go back to fuck with that dude.

They don’t just mess with him, I think they kill him. They get out ahead of the guy and ride toward him. The man slams on the brakes and, as he does, he flies through the windshield.

Later, Tom and Abby are making out in the graveyard. Tom breaks off the love making to capture a frog he spots hopping around. Abby says she doesn’t understand him and he, quite frankly, scares her. He sometimes puts the moves on her hot and heavy, and, other times, he almost doesn’t seem to even notice she’s there. Tom tells her that she’s not scared of him, she’s scared of the world. He comes up with a solution for that… Crossing over to the other side.

Now, Tom isn’t saying that in a cheeky, proverbial way. No, he means suicide. Kill themselves and be reborn and they’ll experience every possible thing life (and death) has to offer. See what I mean? Nihilistic as fuck.

Tom returns home late at night and witnesses one of his mum and butler’s séances. His mother is really good at this. She speaks with a child’s voice to communicate with the parents who lost that child. It’s kind of creepy, but it definitely sets the supernatural tone for the movie.

Tom shows the butler, Shadwell, the frog he captured. That makes Shadwell excited to see this particular species of frog. Tom has some questions for the butler. These include things like: Why did my father die in that locked room? What’s the secret of coming back from the dead? Why doesn’t Shadwell ever age? Another question that comes up that we ask ourselves – why does Shadwell react so angrily when the family who came for the séance offers payment in the form of an old cross.

We never get an explanation for that last thing.

Tom tells his mother about killing the guy earlier. He says that’s nothing compared to what he has planned the following night. He really wants his mother and Shadwell to give him what he believes to be the secret to returning from the grave. It has something to do with that locked room where his father died. Shadwell says that the room will treat him differently depending on how he enters. If he is scared, it will probably mess him up but good. If he isn’t, well, it might give him that secret he craves. Tom’s mother gives him the key. Shadwell gives him a medallion with a frog on it for protection.

Tom goes to the room and carefully opens the door. It’s not really a remarkable room. It’s got some candles on the wall and a big floor to ceiling mirror. When Tom turns around, though, the door disappears. He then spots a pair of thick glasses on the floor that belonged to his father. He puts them on, but after doing so, his reflection disappears from the mirror. The mirror then goes smoky and a frog’s visage appears before changing to showing him riding his bike around the Seven Witches. He sees himself growing younger at the stone circle. When he’s a baby, he sees his mother signing a contract offered by a mysterious man in black. Finally, Tom collapses and is brought out of the room by Shadwell.

As he recovers from the shock he got in the room, we hear that his father attempted to use the room to get the secrets of life and death, but he wasn’t strong enough to survive the experience. She explains that she told her husband that, to come back, you have to believe with all your being that you will be returned to life. That’s all Tom had to hear.

The Living Dead return to the Seven Witches the next day. Tom says they are going to do a stunt that is nothing short of suicide. Tom is all about this. He even gets a second from Jane who might just be as crazy as he is, but, you know, in a sexy way. They drive through town and mess with everyone and everything there. They chase a woman with a baby carriage. They knock a guy off his ladder. They steal a lady’s purse. Abby finds this all funny.

I think this is a movie that was, like with Girly last week, one of those movies that was to kind of shake up the button down culture of England and really kind of show people are thumbing their noses at normalcy. The amount of times in just this first 30 minutes of the movie that the Living Dead are kind of “terrorizing” people going about their normal lives, it’s kind of nuts.

Anyway, they get chased out of town and on the country roads by the fuzz. Jane wipes out but isn’t caught. She sees everyone riding on. Tom Tells Abby he’s going off the bridge. She doesn’t want to and she doesn’t want him to do that, but he just tells her that he’ll see her around and plows through the guard rail on the bridge and flies off into the river below.

Shortly after, two little kids discover Tom’s body face down on the riverbank. Abby goes to Tom’s house and speaks to his mother. One, she’s kind of surprised that Tom’s girlfriend is so dainty and feminine seeing that Abby wore a dress to meet her. She requests that the Living Dead give him a burial in their way. Shadwell thinks that would be unusual, but a good gesture. His mother knows Tom is coming back, especially after Shadwell learns they are going to bury him at the Seven Witches.

Now, I feel like this is a comedy cut, but look at how they are going to bury Tom at the Seven Witches…

Like, come on, man… This totally looks like something the Zucker brothers wrote. No coffin. Not even deep enough to cover his head. He’s sitting on his goddamn motorcycle! This doesn’t feel real at all! It feels fucking hilarious! Like that’s how Meatloaf would have been buried in The Rocky Horror Picture Show or how the biker dude was buried in Cemetery Man… Right? Am I misremembering that? Either way, those other two movies definitely would have used this as a comedy edit.

I digress. I do like the song “Riding Free” performed by Harvey Andrews.

Jane decides she’s taking over as leader. But before anything more can be done to officially bury Tom, Shadwell arrives and says he wants to bury something with Tom. He opens the box and reveals the frog medallion he gave Tom before he went into that mysterious room. Abby asks if there’s anything else, and he just says, “For the moment…” and walks on. After he’s buried, the Living Dead ride off and salute Tom’s grave.

Later, a car stops near the Seven Witches with a flat tire. When the man realizes he has no spare, his wife suggests he cut across the Seven Witches to save time. She even kind of sticks it to him by asking if he’s afraid, but he carries on. As the man approaches, we hear what sounds like a motorcycle trying to start up. That sound is coming from Tom’s fresh grave. The man sees Tom busting out of the grave before he’s run over and killed. Tom stops to get his bike filled up with petrol. Tom doesn’t have any money, and when the station attendant tries to punch Tom to “teach him a lesson,” Tom reveals he now has unusual strength.

Tom next stops into a pub to use the phone. A blind man’s dog constantly barks at Tom, and a couple young hotties stare at him while he calls home. Shadwell and his mother are quite excited to hear from him. He tells them that he’s got a couple things to do first (as he stares down the two hotties). He ultimately decides to not go with either of the girls, but kills the one most hot for him, and other bar patrons who tried to stop him. Her friend tells the inspector that it was one of the Living Dead that killed her friend and the others, having clocked that from Tom’s leather jacket.

The next day, the gang meet up and talk about how the fuzz came to each of them with questions about their activities the night before. Accusations start to fly, but Abby steps in with a really important point… No one, but her, asked about what the supposed murderer looked like. She reveals the description was of Tom, right down to his name on his jacket. That’s when they decide to check his grave. They see it’s empty.

Jane and the others instantly think that Tom was dug up and robbed of his clothes and his bike to frame one of the gang. That doesn’t go too far when Tom arrives on his bike and reveals that, yup… he’s back from the dead. Jane steps up and says that Tom Latham is dead and she’s the leader now, so she wants to know who this joker is. Tom removes his helmet and reveals that it is indeed him. Another member, Hatchet, tries to stab what he thinks is an imposter. Tom says that the real cool thing is that you only die once. Once you’re back, you’re basically invincible. Jane is ready to get her immortality. Tom leads her into traffic where she dies and is returned before her funeral.

Now with the bikers now getting their own proof that they can come back and will be invincible, they plan to really terrorize the town… in the most mature way possible.

Can I give all the credit in the world to Jane for how game she is for EVERYTHING this gang does? Earlier, she was all for fucking that one dude up. That eventually led to him dying when it was Tom and Abby who went back to play chicken with him. Then, Tom was barely even cold when she decided to take the lead of the gang. Then, when Tom explained how he came back from the dead and is basically a superhero now, she IMMEDIATELY was on board to kill herself to come back to life. Then, with her now back too, she and Tom fuck with a truck driver and she decides she wants to teach the guy a lesson by flattening one of his tires, which forces him off the road, and his truck explodes. She is basically unfettered id, and I find it incredibly fun.

Also, she likes to play tricks on Abby to make it seem like she’s dead, but really just hanging around and having a laugh.

Now, the thing is, it’s not all working out for everyone. Jane wasn’t alone in her suicide to get immortality. She died in the accident with another member, Hinky. Hinky, though, according to Tom, wouldn’t be coming back. You see, he hesitated at the last second and that means he didn’t really believe he’d be back. So, there are rules here and not each of the Living Dead can make it back.

The fuzz recover the burnt corpse of that truck driver from earlier. Witnesses state they saw bikers with the Living Dead jackets. The gang get all rounded up but the cops see Tom and Jane on the roads and chase them. This leads the detective to the Latham house. While the detective goes to talk to Tom’s mother. She tells the detective that, of course, Tom is dead, but he says the bikes can’t have gone anywhere else. When he explains that Jane’s body went missing after she died, Mrs. Latham gets frightened and tells the detective that if that girl comes back, her family cannot have anything to do with her. She is evil.

The detective finds out from the uniformed cop he was riding with that the bikes they were chasing belonged to Tom and Jane. The detective now starts to think about what it was that Mrs. Latham said about the girl coming back.

At the station, the gang, all picked up on those murder charges for the trucker, start to think that maybe Tom will just leave them there, but Abby says the he won’t let them take the rap for his and Jane’s crime. She reminds them that when you come back, you can do anything. And that includes riding your bike into the police station to help free your mates which is exactly what Tom does. But that’s not even close to the absolute best thing about this scene. No, you see, the constable at the police station is none other than Sergeant Benton from U.N.I.T. himself, John Levene. Levene has been in a lot of things, but I remember best as the aforementioned Benton, the Brigadier’s main right hand man (it seems), during the Third Doctor’s run on Doctor Who.

Tom rides into the holding cells to bust his gang out while it would seem that Jane kills the cops inside the station (including Levene). The detective finds the bars bent and the gang gone. Abby tells Tom that she plans to come with him so they can be undead monsters together.

Soon, each member of the gang begins to kill themselves. One jumps out of a high rise window. Another drowns himself with heavy chains around his body. Another goes skydiving but doesn’t pull his chute. I feel like these are terrible ways to kill yourself. I… I mean they are affective as hell, but what I mean is that Tom says you can’t doubt for a single split second about not returning from the grave. Okay, maybe the guy who jumped out of the high rise window is fine. Certainly the guy who jumps off an overpass and gets smashed by a car, fine. Those guys aren’t thinking too much before they die. But the guy who has to drown, which isn’t instantaneous, and the guy who is falling some 10,000 feet (or meters or whatever they would say in England)? Those guys are thinking long and fucking hard about what they are doing. There’s a shitload of time to think about maybe not coming back to life.

But whatever, I guess it works.

Abby is the last to do the deed. She seems to have left a note for her mother by her bed where she is sleeping and dreaming about being with Tom. That dream turns into a nightmare where she sees her body being rolled into the hospital by a nurse who is also her. She is revived, but Shadwell is there also and cuts into her. She wakes screaming in the hospital. Her suicide was a failure. The detective is there to tell her that the rest of the gang is dead and that she’s lucky she didn’t join them. The gang each revive and leave the morgue after killing one of the coroners.

Tom tries calling Abby, but he’s told that she died the night before. He’s ecstatic. He tells his mother and Shadwell that this is the happiest day of his life. Mrs. Latham is very upset. She understands that these people who already have a pretty bad view of the world around them are immortal and have none of the responsibility to do anything positive with that second chance. She wanted Tom back when he died, but the cost of getting him back was too great. Now he and his gang are just a terrible problem for everyone. That makes this a little more of an interesting movie in terms of themes and concepts.

Anyway, Tom now decides that with his gang and their newfound powers, they are going to tear down society. He wants to basically kill all the cops, all the people in government, and all the do-gooders in the world. I’ll admit, the first two weren’t exactly not winning me over to the side of the non-Living Dead gang members, but that last one? I’M one of those guys who tries to be a do-gooder! Tom might just be a bit of a problem!

The detective decides to set a trap using Abby. He knows that whoever took Tom and Jane’s bodies also took the other four members of the gang. That only leaves Abby. He’s going to put her in the morgue and wait and see what happens. What happens is that he and the other cops with him are killed and Abby is taken anyway. Womp womp. Anyway, Abby decides she wants to break things off with Tom because she was glad she didn’t die and she’s not too sure she wants to be an undead monster lady either. She tries to talk to him but he says they have all eternity to talk.

The gang rides into town and terrorizes the normies in the grocery store. Abby watches and is sickened by their behavior. Jane spots Abby having doubts. She says it’s easy to kill live people. So Jane runs over a woman’s stroller with a crying baby, killing it. Tom wants to go through the brick wall in front of his house with her, but it only reveals that she hadn’t died when she doesn’t go through the wall with him. She tells him that she doesn’t want to die. The gang shows up to kind of make things pretty dire for Abby.

Realizing she must stop her son, Mrs. Latham decides to break the bargain that she made with Shadwell years ago. Tom takes Abby to the Seven Witches where he tells her that he still wants her. If the gang kills her, she’s dead forever. If she kills herself, she will join them. She says she wants to go on living. Tom gives her three minutes to decide, and when that time runs out, she tries to kill Tom with the gun he hands her, but it does nothing. Back at the house, Shadwell and Mrs. Latham perform the ritual to break her pact. This turns her into a frog for all eternity. Because he was also part of the pact, Tom and the other members of the gang all turn into stone formations to join the Seven Witches.

Psychomania is a great flick. It wasn’t well received at the time it came out. Again, I think it has something to do with these counter-culture flicks really not going over well with English audiences. That said, over time, it grew in popularity and ended up becoming something of a cult classic. It’s a little more interesting than a straight exploitation biker flick like what was coming out over here at the time. While its production value doesn’t look much above something like a Werewolves on Wheels or other psycho biker flicks of the time, the acting and the characters and the concepts are really pretty good. It deserves to be looked at for sure.

This might be among the very tippy top of these types of films that came out in that 10 year period from the mid-60s to the mid-70s.

Next week, we’re going back to some good ol’ Roberta Findlay. It’s been a bit since we’ve seen anything from her, so let’s fix that. In a very small window she released two movies I’ve already covered (Prime Evil and Blood Sisters) as well as the movie I’ll be looking at next time, Lurkers. So, you know what to do… Check out the B-Movie Enema socials by checking the little widget at the top of the sidebar you see to your right. And, hey, while you’re at it… Why not throw some follows to either the B-Movie Enema YouTube channel or the Vimeo channel? I knew I could count on you to do that the moment I mentioned it. Until next time, I’m gonna go terrorize Beech Grove, Indiana on my three-wheel bike with the basket and the little bell I just installed.


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