Friday, February 10, 2017

PSYCHOMANIA (1972) (Blu-ray Review)

PSYCHOMANIA (1972) 
Label: Arrow Video 
Region Code: A
Rating: Unrated
Duration: 90 Minutes
Audio: English LPCM Mono 1.0 with Optional English Subtitles 
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.66:1)
Director: Don Sharp
Cast: George Sanders, Beryl Reed, Nicky Henson, Mary Larkin, Roy Holder, Robert Hardy

Synopsis: The United States gave motorcycle-mad cinemagoers Easy Rider, The Wild One and The Wild Angels. The United Kingdom gave them Psychomania, the tale of zombie bikers run amok is southern England. The Living Dead are a delinquent biker gang, fond of causing havoc on British roadways and making out in graveyards. Gang leader Tom (Nicky Henson) also has a Satanist for a mother, and when he discovers the secret of immortality, the name of his motley crew takes on a more literal meaning... Directed by Hammer veteran Don Sharp (The Kiss of the Vampire, The Devil-Ship Pirates) and co-starring Beryl Reid (Dr. Phibes Rises Again) and George Sanders (Village of the Damned), Psychomania is a wonderfully offbeat gem, outlandish and eccentric in equal measure.

Psychomania (1972) is a wild ride of culty 70's biker exploitation, a weird mash-up of the the zombie and biker movies of the day with a nice smattering of the occult thrown in, because why not, right? Tom (Nicky Henson, Witchfinder General) is the leader of a UK biker gang known as The Living Dead, they have cool names like Hatchet, Gash, Chopped Meat and Hinky and their helmets are adorned with awesome skull and bones designs which are way cool. The ginger-haired cutie Abby (Mary Larkin) Tom's lover, but she has some competition within the gang from the sexy biker chic Jane (Anne Michele, House of Whipcord) who always seems to be at Tom's side, causing some lovers-friction in the group.

Tom's mother Mrs. Latham (Beryl Reid, Dr. Phibes Rises Again) dabbles in the occult, performing spiritual seances alongside her mysterious butler Shadwell (George Sanders, Mr. Freeze of the 60's Batman TV series). It's through his mum that Tom discovers the secret of immortality, that if he commits suicide believing 100% that he will return, not only be resurrected, but he will also become invulnerable to injury, a sort of suicide pact with the devil. Of course, it's only a short time before the resurrection obsessed Tom rides straight off a bridge and into the river and his corpse washes up onshore a short distance away. 

At his funeral Tom is buried a bit strangely, no coffin for this bad ass biker, nope. He's buried upright straddling his favorite Triumph motorcycle, dressed in his leathers and helmet, which makes for a great resurrection scenario. You hear the motorcycle rev it's engine and then he bursts forth from the ground like a bat out of Hell. Reuniting with his gang Tom informs them of the diabolical resurrection info and most of the others are only too eager to make the suicide pact with Satan in order to earn their immortality. Some are successful, but a few lack the required faith and just end up dead, not the desired undead status. Soon we have a squad of undead bikers raising Holy Hell on the street, impervious to harm they seem unstoppable, but when you make a deal with the Devil surely things are never quite as they appear, right?.

Psychomania (1972) might come up a bit short in terms of nudity, blood and guts, but this Eurocult classic does have some great atmosphere which is accentuated by John Cameron's acid-tinged guitar score, which is awesome. For a low budget cheapie it also boasts some decent cinematography from cameraman Ted Moore (Goldfinger, Clash of the Titans), particularly the haunting slow-mo opening shots of the bikers in a foggy graveyard, it sets a macabre and silly sort of tone. We also have some nice direction from Don Sharp (Curse of the Fly, Witchcraft)and plenty action-packed motorcycle stunt work. It really does come together quite nicely, making for an entertaining watch, even if I wished it were amped up with more gore and sleaze. 

Sadly, veteran actor George Sanders committed suicide shortly after filming ended, leaving behind a succinct suicide note which 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.". It's rumored that he saw a rough cut of the film in Spain shortly before killing himself, no word on if that contributed to his decision to kill himself, but it makes for a good story. 

Audio/Video: The original negative for Psychomania (1972) were considered lost forever, the 2013 DVD from Severin Films was sourced it from a surviving uncut 35mm print, and at the time, all things considered, it was a strong presentation. However, the Arrow Blu-ray is a 2K restoration from the preservation negatives, and the HD image looks astounding when compared to the old Severin release. The grain field is impressive, colors are vibrant and noticeably brighter, the details are sharper with more depth and clarity that I would have ever hoped for from this movie, this is wonderful. Noteworthy, I do believe this is the same  HD transfer as the region B BFI release. Arrow's disc includes a lossless LPCM 1.0 Mono audio track that handles the audio chores nicely, and without the occasional hiss and pops that were present on the Severin disc. A highlight is the acid-tinged guitar score from John Cameron (Jack the Ripper)and the roar of the revving motorcycle engine, it sounds great.  

The disc features all the extras from the Severin DVD except for the five minute introduction from former Fangoria editor Chris Alexander. This includes the making of doc Return Of The Living Dead (20 min) with interviews from actors Nicky Henson, Mary Larkin, Denis Gilmore, Roy Holder and Rocky Taylor. All participants seem a bit surprised that anyone remembers this obscure zombie biker film, each offering a glimpse into making the film with kind recollections of director Don Sharp and veteran actor George sanders who committed suicide shortly after filming ended. There's also an interview with the composer of the score John Cameron, plus a six-minute interview with folk singer Harvey Andrews who speaks about performing the tune "Riding Free" in the film only to be replaced by an actor who lip-synced the song, noting that he finger-picked his guitar while the actor is clearly strumming. 

Arrow have also licensed a few of the extras from BFI Flipside who released a DVD/BD combo of their own in the UK last year, from that we get a 2-minute video of the restoration from the original 35mm black and white separation masters, there's also a 14-minute interview from 2016 with star Nicky Henson, the star talks about working on the British stage but picking up some extras cash on the side in b-movies, which he preferred to working on TV, not expecting that these low rent b-movies would end up on TV and home video years later. He also speaks about his stuntman ending up in the hospital three separate times, his aversion  watching stunts being performed, the great stunt work done for the film, and remembering George Saunders, relaying the legend that after Saunders saw an early print of the film he went back to his hotel and killed himself. Also carried over from the BFI release is an interview with Derek Harris, the current owner of Lewis Leathers, who supplied the film’s costumes showing off some vintage biker-clothing used in the movie. The last of the extras is a theatrical trailer for the movie N HD. 

We were only send a "check disc" for review sans any packaging, but retail copies of this one also include a reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by the Twins of Evil, plus a collector’s booklet containing writing by Vic Pratt, William Fowler and Andrew Roberts.

Special Features:
- 2K restoration from preservation negatives
- High Definition (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations
- Original 1.0 mono audio (uncompressed on the Blu-ray)
- Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
- Brand-new interview with star Nicky Henson (14 min) HD 
- Return of the Living Dead (25 min) HD - An archive featurette containing interviews actors Henson, Mary Larkin, Denis Gilmore, Roy Holder and Rocky Taylor
- Sound of Psychomania (9 min) - An archive interview with composer John Cameron
- Riding Free (6 min) HD - An archive interview with ‘Riding Free’ singer Harvey Andrews
- Hell for Leather (8 min) HD - brand-new featurette on the company who supplied the film’s costumes
- Remastering Psychomania, a look at the film’s restoration from the original 35mm black and white separation masters (2 min) HD 
- Theatrical Trailer (3 min) HD 
- Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by the Twins of Evil
- FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Collector’s booklet containing writing by Vic Pratt, William Fowler and Andrew Roberts

Psychomania (1972) is a fun 70's slice of Eurocult, a definite product of it's time and while I think the absence of nudity and gore might turn off a few of the not-so adventurous types, it is weird slice of 70s fun well-worth a watch. 3/5

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