Saturday, April 9, 2016

Psychomania- A Weird British Biker Horror Film

This film (also released as The Death Wheelers) is an odd conglomeration of different genres being thrust together to made a truly memorable film. It is not a good film, not bad, not even so-bad-its-good, but it is not boring and has a vibe about it that resonates with the viewer long after for reasons which cannot really be explained. No one I’ve met who has seen this film has ever forgotten it.
The film is better than it has any right to be. It attempts to capitalize on the notorious success in England of A Clockwork Orange by having an attractive sociopathic main character, then mixes it with the low budget trend of cycle movies which were circulating around England’s youth culture, and adding an occult twist- another popular trend at the time. Add a fading star, George Sanders, a script that didn’t know if it wanted to be serious or camp, and a three week shooting schedule and viola!- Psychomania!
Biker Tom is the leader of a gang who lovingly call themselves "The Living Dead". Aside from tormenting the local townsfolk, the gang likes to hang out at a place known as The Seven Witches, a graveyard that some believe is haunted.
Tom's mother holds séances allowing people to communicate with their dead family members. She does this as a charity, and insists that no one ever pay her for her services. Her butler Shadwell (George Sanders) runs the household and apparently never ages. There is a hint that he is a demonic imp or something of the sort, but it is never verified, but he does like to examine frogs- a sign of the Devil in some rural parts.
Tom's mother allows him to enter a forbidden room in the house and learns the secret of immortality- You must believe that you will return, and believe so firmly that you actually want to die, then you must commit suicide. The very next day Tom speeds off a bridge.
 He is buried sitting up on his motorcycle (with a full tank of gas apparently) at The Seven Witches. After an excruciating folk song, Tom roars from the grave on his bike. That night, he murders an entire tavern.
He passes on the secret to his gang and they follow suit. Now undead (aside from Tom's girlfriend, Abby), The Living Dead live up to their name and go on a murderous crime wave. But with Abby's refusal to go along with the others, and Tom's mother's guilt for creating a band of killers, soon the bikers discover a horrible downside to immortality. 
Pictured: Downside
Psychomania is also distinctive as it is the last film of the acting great George Sanders. Now I’m not going to say that this film was the final nail in his coffin, but I doubt it helped. By the end of his life Sanders was suffering from dementia and a minor stroke, and can be seen visually listing back and forth in Psychomania.
          But at least he went out in style. On April 23rd, 1972 he entered a hotel in Spain and downed five bottles of Nembutal- a barbiturate usually used as short term sedative, though it has been used in the U.S. for lethal injections in death penalty cases and by veterinarians for euthanasia purposes.  

George Sanders in Psychomania
The most popular of his three suicide notes read, "Dear World, I am leaving because I am bored. I feel I have lived long enough. I am leaving you with your worries in this sweet cesspool. Good luck."
  Later David Nivens in his second autobiography, Bring on the Empty Horses, wrote that Sanders had predicted that he would commit suicide when he was 65, and seemed perpetually depressed in his 50s.
John Levene in Psychomania
 And for old school Doctor Who fans, there is a small scene where John Levene (who played Sergeant Benton) is a sergeant at a police station, then is murdered by the gang.
          The entire film is below.

         Enjoy and Caveat Emptor!