We’re clawin’ our way to the end, gang! 345 posts down, 20 to go! And speaking of gangs, I can scarce concoct a better way to mark this particular milestone than with a look at my favorite living dead biker gang folk horror movie, Psychomania.
Seriously. Witches. Seances. Pagan gods. Circles of ancient standing stones. Frogs. Bikers. The undead. Undead bikers. What the hell else could one possibly need out of a movie or, indeed, out of life itself?
Right, to be fair, this is pretty much the only living dead biker gang folk horror movie until you get to a nearly unfindable Z-level flick from 2001 called Biker Zombies From Detroit which maybe I’ll track down sometime (and even then, it’s still missing the folk horror angle). Meanwhile, the curious can find a fine review at Bloodbath & Beyond.
But on to Psychomania (released as The Death Wheelers here in the colonies). We start with a circle of mist-enshrouded standing stones being ridden through and among by the members of the biker gang known as The Living Dead. It’s worth nothing that this sequence calls to mind the slow motion Templars on horseback in Tombs Of The Blind Dead from the previous year.
Our merry band of rebellious yutes is led by the surprisingly posh for a biker Tom Latham. All they want is to live their lives with the freedom to ride some steel horses, wear some leather, flout some authority, and commit some suicide in order to come back as the living dead.
Apparently all you have to do is die violently and really really believe you’ll come back. Kind of a demented version of Peter Pan or The Law Of Attraction. It also helps of your leader’s mum (a right dotty Beryl Reid) and her butler (George Sanders) are in league with some vaguely Lovecraftian frog god.
Cai Ross over at Film Inquiry points out that “the titles let us know that legendary Oscar-winning actor George Sanders is somehow involved in this.” I like the smirky, kinda condescending “somehow involved.” Sure, it’s beneath him, but I mean, come on. If Joseph Cotten can end up in Island Of The Fishmen…
Still, it was, in fact, Sanders’s final film. The tragic irony is that he committed suicide shortly after seeing its first print version in Spain. Apparently his note said “I’m so bored.” He was 65 and did not return as one of the living dead.
But back to the gang. Once they’re hipped to the fact that once you die, you can’t be killed again, they’re all champing at the bit to do themselves in for a promise of the afternotlife.
I harbor grave (ahem) doubts as to their ability to hold their own against, say, any couple lads from your local chapter of Bandidos, Pagans, Hells Angels, or, for that matter, Alex’s gang from A Clockwork Orange. Suspicious as I am though, as superviolent biker gangs go, I kinda dig this cheek lot.
I mean, check out those to die for helmets. Is there any wonder I wanted a motorcycle immediately after seeing this movie on Thing Theater? Heh. To die for. See what I did there?
And they’ve got their moments. They do. Not the least of which is a scene with the biker girl, Jane, running over a baby carriage in a way that is much more Mad Max than it is Speed. Okay there was no carriage in Mad Max, but the whole bikers/woman/baby scene is a half decent callback.
There’s also a good deal of gallows humor in the methods by which the gang member dispatch themselves, the best arguably being the cop yelling for one of them to come down from an upper floor flat, so he does. The quick way. Get it? Flat? Before resurrecting, Tom is buried. Upright. On his motorcycle. Which later blasts outta the grave. If you’re not hearin’ “Bat Out Of Hell” in your head right now, I can’t help you.
All of this is supported admirably by director Don Sharp and director of photography Ted Moore’s ability to pull of some very cool visuals. In one, a cop watches over one of the biker bods whilst the camera starts to pan. When it comes full circle, the corpse is gone, and the morgue is fulla dead cops.
There are also some stunning visuals involving The Seven Witches, the stone circle the gang frequents. What’s interesting is that the circle is fake—weird since you can’t swing a dead cat in the English country side without smackin’ some circle of standing stones somewheres.
So like ol’ Bruce would say a couple short years later (even though he was talking about cars instead of motorcycles), “Just wrap your legs ’round these velvet rims and strap your hands across my engines.” Mansions of glory. Suicide machines. Indeed.
BODIES- 20 (or so)
Streaming- AMC+, Arrow, Fandor, Flix Fling, Plex, Shudder
Rent- Apple TV, Google Play, Prime, YouTube