Thanks to independent companies like Arrow, the strangest, most unusual films are alive and well on the Blu-ray format, and this oddball British-made entry is no acceptation to that category. If you missed it during its initial DVD release from Image Entertainment some years ago or more recently from Severin Films, we highly recommend you gear up for Arrow’s new U.S.-only Blu-ray edition of PSYCHOMANIA, one of the few movies to marry the horror and biker genres, and it’s pleasurably different to say the least!
We are immediately introduced to "The Living Dead," a tough black-leather-clad bunch of Brit biker troublemakers led by Tom Latham (Nicky Henson, THE CONQUEROR WORM, OLD DRACULA) with a skull and crossbones design on their fancy helmets. Tom's mum (Beryl Reid, DR. PHIBES RISES AGAIN, THE DOCTOR AND THE DEVILS) is a comely, independently wealthy frog-worshipping (?) psychic who holds genuine séances in her manor (but don't even try giving her an antique cross as a token of appreciation). Her butler, Shadwell (cinema great George Sanders in one of his final bows) is an odd bloke who freaks out when a family tries to offer an antique cross in appreciation for a spiritual session. Much like Telly Savalas in Mario Bava's LISA AND THE DEVIL, Sanders' character might even be Satan, yet this is never actually revealed.
Tom finds the secret of immortality by entering a strange room that claimed his father's life. He learns that through an unfearing suicide stunt, he can return from the dead and live on forever. After a bizarre funeral session that has him buried while mounted on his bike, Tom drives out of the ground and convinces the rest of his gang to commit suicide (in various inventive methods) in order to achieve the same immortal results (his first victim is played by Roy Evans, a familiar background actor in such Amicus films as THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD and VAULT OF HORROR and another—a pretty girl who pays his bar tab but is assaulted after he refuses her a ride—is played by Seretta Wilson of TOWER OF EVIL). Only Tom’s sensible girlfriend Abby (Mary Larkin, X, Y AND ZEE) manages to dodge this rash of copycat Kamikaze, and she works with the police to try and trap The Living Dead (not an easy task, given their undead superhuman strength).
PSYCHOMANIA is silly in many ways, but it's nonstop, fun nonsense, especially if you can think outside the box of the traditional horrors coming from Hammer and Amicus during the same period. Henson is quite good as the charming but dangerous Tom, an "Alex" of CLOCKWORK ORANGE type role, and anyone who's seen the sweet and pleasant-seeming Beryl Reid in BEAST IN THE CELLAR can relate to her being cast in another motherly, sinister role. George Sanders (who committed suicide a year after this film was made, but hopefully not from the experience) looks imposing, but his depression in later years caused him to sleepwalk through all of his acting during this era, and this is proof of that (but that’s not to say it doesn’t work in this case). There's also a commanding performance by Robert Hardy (Hammer’s DEMONS OF THE MIND) as a police inspector, who is interrupted from a game of cards to deal with a rash of brutal murders.
The film was PG-rated and is bloodless, but it has some great, cheap thrills as the bikers run cars off the road, terrorize shopping centers, and we even get to see sexy model/starlet Ann Michelle (THE VIRGIN WITCH, HOUSE OF WHIPCORD) run down a baby carriage on her bike in the middle of a busy grocery store! Watching the gang (with names like “Hatchet”, "Gash" and “Chopped Meat”) knocking themselves off is also very amusing, as the film tends to lean towards black comedy, courtesy of the eccentric screenplay by Julian Zimet and Arnaud d'Usseau (HORROR EXPRESS) and energetic, stunt-loaded direction by Hammer vet Don Sharp (KISS OF THE VAMPIRE, RASPUTIN THE MAD MONK). The psychedelic, wa-wa guitar-driven rock soundtrack by John Cameron is pretty unforgettable (and it was available on CD), and even the rather sappy hippie song, "Riding Free" is hard to resist for all its mellow catchiness. It’s interesting to note that the closing credits in both classification (“The Gang”, “The Victims”, “The Spiritualists”, etc.) and font style seem to be a nod to AIP's THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES, released in 1971, the year that PSYCHOMANIA was actually shot in.
Originally released theatrically in the U.S. (in 1974) on a double bill with HORROR EXPRESS (where it was called THE DEATH WHEELERS), and then becoming a late night TV staple, PSYCHOMANIA was first released on DVD in 2000 by Image Entertainment and again in 2010 by Severin Films who offered an improved transfer, but with a disclaimer that the negative to the film no longer existed and that the transfer was made from the best elements in existence. More recently, the British Film Institute was able to conduct a 2K restoration after discovering workable film elements, resulting in a U.K. (Region B) Blu-Ray released by BFI Flipside in late 2016. Arrow was able to obtain that same 2K restoration for this U.S. (Region A) Blu-ray, with more than satisfying results. Presented in 1080p in a 1.66:1 aspect ratio, the image is clean and free of any major debris, with detail maintained well throughout. Colors are perfectly rendered and grain is healthy and consistent (heavier in some darker scenes), resulting in an appealing filmic appearance. The English LPCM 1.0 track sounds perfectly fine, with dialogue, music and sounds effects having proper distinction, and optional English subtitles are included. A standard DVD carrying the same HD transfer and extras is also included.
Picked up from the BFI Flipside Blu-ray is the recent “Interview with Nicky Henson” (13:57) where the actor reminisces about his early days making a living in the theater and doing B movies for extra money thinking that no one would ever seem them. He joyfully tells of his experiences on the film (interiors at Sheperton), including a funny story about George Sanders’ on-set chair, that the director told him that smoking a cigarette on screen would not help in getting the film sold to television, and he also addresses the film's dangerous stunts (and admits that being in PSYCHOMANIA is still getting him work). Picked up from the Severin DVD is “Return of the Living Dead” (25:02), a terrific featurette containing interviews with Henson, Mary Larkin, BLOOD ON SATAN’S CLAW’s Denis Gilmore (who plays “Hatchet”), Roy Holder (who plays “Bertram”) and “Rocky Taylor” (who played “Hinky” and also did stunts). The participants all have some great anecdotes about their experience on the film, and while they’re surprised at how it never seems to fade from public recognition, they all had a lot of fun while shooting it. Composer John Cameron is on hand for “The Sound of Psychomania” (9:06), discussing how he got the job and his approach to creating the inventive rock-tinged score, and singer Harvey Andrews is interviewed for “Riding Free” (6:25), talking about how he was brought in to sing and play guitar on that very song, and his surprise when he saw the film and witnessed another actor (Miles Greenwood) lip synching to it on screen (these two featurettes were also picked up from the Severin DVD). “Hell For Leather” (7:52) is a newly shot (and original found on the BFI Flipside release) interview with Derek Harris, co-owner owner of Lewis Leathers, the London motorcycle clothes company that provided the biker clothing worn in the film. “Restoring Psychomania” (1:47) quickly demonstrates how the film was restored from its original 35mm black and white separation masters (fascinating stuff actually if you’re into film restoration). The original British trailer (1080p and 1.66:1) rounds out the extras. The reversible sleeve features original and newly commissioned artwork by the Twins of Evil, and included is a collector s booklet containing writing by Vic Pratt, William Fowler and Andrew Roberts. (George R. Reis)
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