Monday, October 28, 2013

DVD Review: PSYCHOMANIA (1972)


Label: Severin Films
Region Code: 0 NTSC
Rating: Unrated
Duration: 90 Minutes
Audio: English Dolby Digital Mono
Video: 16:9 Widescreen (1.78:1)
Director: Don Sharp
Cast: George Sanders, Beryl Reed, Nicky Henson, Mary Larkin, Roy Holder, Robert Hardy

Synopsis: The cult classic known as ‘the greatest British zombie biker movie ever made’ returns with the ultimate full-throttle restoration: Nicky Henson (Witchfinder General), Beryl Reid (The Beast In The Cellar) and Oscar® winner George Sanders (All About Eve, Village Of The Damned) star in this beloved ‘70s mind-blower about a motorcycle gang who burst from their graves to crush a world of psychedelic hippie pleasures under the wheels of black leather occult mayhem. You’ve got to believe it’s come back: Psychomania – from veteran horror director Don Sharp (Kiss Of The Vampire), the blacklisted Hollywood screenwriters of Horror Express, and featuring some of the wildest cycle stunts of the decade – has now been restored from the only uncut 35mm print in existence and packed with new Bonus Features produced exclusively for this edition.

Psychomania's a wild ride of culty 70's 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 plus they're adorned in awesome skull and bones helmets and pretty much ride around and terrorize the populace of the surrounding area, the ginger-haired cutie Abby (Mary Larkin) is his lover, but she has some competition within the gang, the sexy biker chic Jane (Anne Michele, House of Whipchord) who always seems to be at Tom's side.

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

At his funeral Tom is buried a bit strangely, no coffin for this guy, nope. He's buried upright straddling his 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 most of the others are only too eager to make the suicide pact with Satan in order to earn immortality. Some are successful, but some lack the 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 at the start.

Psychomania (1972) might come up a bit short in terms of nudity and blood and guts but this Eurocult classic does have some great atmosphere which is accentuated by John Cameron's acid-tinged guitar score. For a low budget cheapo it boasts some decent cinematography from Ted Moore (Goldfinger, Clash of the Titans), particularly the haunting opening shots of the bikers in a foggy graveyard, it's very effective at setting a macabre tone. We also have some decent direction from Don Sharp (Curse of the Fly, Witchcraft)and some action-packed motorcycle stunt work,  it really does makes for an entertaining watch with the hi-speed chase scenarios and pursuits, even if I wished it were ramped up with gore and sleaze. . 

Fans of 70's Eurocult and schlock cinema take note, this one's a winner. 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 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. 

DVD: Severin Films present Psychomania (1972) on DVD in anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1), since the original negative is considered forever lost they sourced it from a surviving uncut 35mm print. All things considered it's a strong presentation with solid colors and a nice layer of film grain. The print is a bit worn with minor print damage but they are rather insignificant and shouldn't detract from your enjoyment. The English Dolby Digital Mono audio sounds fine with only minor snap, crackle and hiss. The dialogue comes through clean, audio effects and the acid-tinged guitar score from John Cameron sound fine. 

This UK cult classic gets some sweet Severin produced extras beginning with the making-of doc 
Return Of The Living Dead (20:25) with interviews with 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 with the Sound Of Psychomania (9:06) featurette, a nice interview with Cameron on composing the enjoyable acid-rock score. An 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 the actor is strumming, I never even noticed. There's also an appreciative Introduction by Fangoria Editor in Chief Chris Alexander (5:30) and the Original Theatrical Trailer (2:49).  

Special Features:
- Return Of The Living Dead: Interviews with stars Nicky Henson, Mary Larkin, Denis Gilmore, Roy Holder and Rocky Taylor (25:02)
- Sound Of Psychomania: Interview with Soundtrack composer John Cameron (9:06)
- Riding Free: Interview with Riding Free singer Harvey Andrews (6:25)
- Introduction by Fangoria Editor in Chief Chris Alexander (5:30) 

- Original Theatrical Trailer (2:49) 

Verdict: 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, I would have loved more gore and sleaze but what we get is fun. I found it to be quite a howl with a terrific acid-rock score, a squad of undead bikers with neat skull and bones helmets terrorizing a small town, what's not to love? If you haven't seen Psychomania (1972) I think you're missing out! 3 Outta 5 


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