PSYCHOMANIA (aka: THE DEATH WHEELERS)
(director: Don Sharp; screenwriters: Julian Halevy/Arnaud d’Usseau; cinematographer: Ted Moore; editor: Richard Best; music: John Cameron; cast: George Sanders (Shadwell), Nicky Henson (Tom Latham), Mary Larkin (Abby Holman), Ann Michelle (Jane Pettibone), Roy Holder (Bertram), Denis Gilmore (Hatchet), Miles Greenwood (Chopped Meat), Peter Whitting (Gash), Rocky Taylor (Hinky), Robert Hardy (Chief Inspector Hesseltine), Patrick Holt (Sergeant), Alan Bennion (Constable), John Levene (Constable), Beryl Reid (Mrs. Latham); Runtime: 95; MPAA Rating: PG; producer: Andrew Donally; Image Entertainment; 1973-UK)
“The oddball biker/zombie flick caught my fancy even if it hardly made sense.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Veteran B-film filmmaker Don Sharp (“Bride of Fu Manchu”/”The Violent Enemy”/”Kiss of the Vampire”) directs in all seriousness this outrageous tongue-in-cheek, black comedy. It’s an absurdist exploitation pic, that also happens to be the first (and perhaps only) British Hell’s Angels pic. The oddball biker/zombie flick caught my fancy even if it hardly made sense, the acting by the bikers was wooden and it’s the kind of diverting hokum that possibly makes suicide appealing. It’s written as sleaze by Julian Halevy and Arnaud d’Usseau, who just aim for escapist low-level entertainment and do not make any social conscience points.
Arrogant rich boy Tom Latham (Nicky Henson) lives comfortably in a peaceful small village and is the leader of an anti-social motorcycle gang called ‘The Living Dead.’ Tom is bored and thinks he can get some kicks by committing suicide and returning to life. Tom’s devil worshiping, estate living, mod, widowed mother (Beryl Reid)–dad committed suicide 18 years ago, but never returned because he was evidently not a true believer–and her sinister cult leader butler Shadwell (George Sanders), help Tom make a pact with the devil through their frog-worshiping cult. Tom willingly goes over a bridge on his motorcycle in the belief that he’ll return from the dead as an immortal biker, that is, if he truly believes he’ll return from the dead.
Wouldn’t you know it, Tom though buried with his bike and a frog amulet kicks up the dirt and returns as an invulnerable serial killer monster. As a result of Tom’s reincarnation, the rest of the gang also drinks the Kool-Aid and commit suicide and return from the dead as the now zombie Living Dead gang. Only Tom’s girlfriend Abby (Mary Larkin) refuses to follow suit, which pisses off her undead gang. The gang lives it up riding through town and bugging pedestrians and turning over grocery store shelves and going on a killing spree. The many murders draws the attention of Chief Inspector Hesseltine (Robert Hardy) to investigate. In the end, Tom’s occultist mom gets pissed at Tom for bringing along his crude biker gang into her high-brow cultish thing and dispenses with all of them by breaking the spell that allowed them to be zombies.
An attempt was made to capture the youth market created by the success of Easy Rider (1969), as Sharp crossed the biker tale with some zombie trappings stolen from George A. Romero. The low-budget shocker fills the screen with weirdos and morbid macabre scenes that pay homage to devil-worship, the rite of passage for youthful destruction and is an omen for the coming days of the punk rock scene.
I don’t know how anyone could take such nonsense seriously, but evidently George Sanders, once married to Zsa Zsa Gabor and her sister Magda, did,and committed suicide through an overdose of sleeping pills after he finished making this film. His body was found in 1972, in a Barcelona hotel, with a suicide note explaining the reason was boredom.
REVIEWED ON 12/3/2009 GRADE: C+