A Black Magic-fueled Clockwork Orange with Motorcycles
In the long and storied history of British horror cinema, there are countless classics. Films like Hellraiser, Asylum, the Wicker Man, and The Haunting that are among the most riveting and terrifying films ever made. Out of that foggy, cobweb-strewn tradition rose slews of amazing actors, guys like Vincent Price, Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, and Boris Karloff – among many, many, others – who still rank among the finest horror actors ever.
Even schlock factory Hammer Films—which, much like Canon Films, made movies by the pound—produced some amazing and iconic horror tales during the middle of the twentieth century. The movie we're discussing today is, sadly, not one of those horrifying British classics, nor does it star any of those giants of horror cinema. No, today we're talking about Psychomania, also known as the Death Wheelers, which is possibly the most boring and least scary horror film I've ever seen.
Now that's a good poster
Directed by Don Sharp and filmed at England's Shepperton Studios in 1971, the movie stars Nicky Henson as Alex DeLarge Tom Latham, a charismatic psychopath whose greatest loves are his mother, his bike, his gang members, and black magic. Tom is the leader of the Droogs The Living Dead, a rowdy and, interestingly enough, co-ed biker gang that lives for speed and violence. At the beginning of the movie, it comes out that Tom is obsessed with the death of his father and with discovering the secret of immortality, a secret that his mother possesses. He's convinced that if he kills himself and comes back using his mother's secret, he can be all powerful.
See, Tom's wealthy widowed mother is a witch and a highly gifted medium who holds pro-bono seances for those in need. She and her equally paranormally gifted butler Shadwell possess the secret to immortality which is, essentially, the power of positive thinking. When you die, if you believe you'll come back you'll come back. Yeah that's, like, it. Tom eventually gets the secret out of his mother then immediately proceeds to ride his bike off a bridge at high speed which kills him instantly. His gang members bury him sitting on his bike in a stone circle called the Seven Witches, and a few days later he erupts from the ground astride his Triumph like Ghostrider but without all the chains and flames.
Tom's weird hippie funeral
Thus begins Tom's transformation of his gang into a literal group of living dead as he convinces them, one at a time, to off themselves in the hopes of returning as amoral, undead powerhouses. Some come back, some don't because they didn't believe enough, and the gang goes on a violent crime spree through the English countryside. I'm not going to spoil the (admittedly, pretty cool) ending for you, or bore you with endless details (crimes are committed, lots of people die, some come back, some lessons are learned), so you'll have to watch it yourself if you want to know what befalls Tom and his minions.
Jane's on board.
All told, I give Psychomania 2.5 out of 5 mysterious frog deities. While there's a lot to love here – the premise, the bikes, the performances (especially Tom and his Mother), the killer John Cameron soundtrack, the dream-like atmosphere – it's just less than the sum of its parts. Like, the whole "Paranormal Clockwork Orange on Motorcycles" thing they were going for sounds rad – yes I know both films came out the same year, just go with it – the director fell well short of the mark. I liked it well enough, and it certainly has its charms, I just wish it was scarier. Eh, can't win 'em all I guess.
There's a pretty good DVD transfer of Psychomania available on Amazon right now, if you're interested. If you don't want to spend your hard-earned dollars on this snoozefest, a poorly recorded VHS copy is streaming on YouTube right now. Despite what I said, you should give it a try if, for nothing else, to see some cool bikes and watch Henson chew up the scenery. Who knows? Maybe you'll see something more in it than I did.