Monday, April 18, 2011
2.1 PSYCHOMANIA (aka THE DEATH WHEELERS) (1973)
Dir. Don Sharp
This one had a bit of a slow start, but the ultimate payoff was pretty nicely executed.
Psychomania is a zombie film without any traditional zombies. Instead, what we've got is a story about devil worshipers and a resurrection that is more about the will than anything else. The film was directed by Don Sharp, director of The Face of Fu Manchu (1965), The Brides of Fu Manchu (1966), and a few Avengers (1968) episodes amongst other works.
Even though this is well beyond the time when the flesh-eating zombie had been introduced to horror culture, Psychomania is something more along the lines of traditional UK occult horror. It's the sort of film where a guest appearance by Christopher Lee wouldn't be entirely unexpected.
The story centers on Tom Latham (Nicky Henson), the leader of the motorcycle gang The Living Dead. Tom's mother made a deal with the devil years earlier, and although we never really get a real idea about just what that deal involved, by the end of the film we discover that Tom's fate is intricately tied to it. But what about the zombies?
Well, there aren't any zombies in any traditional sense. Instead, what we have are people, first Tom, then most of the Living Dead, who discover that if one commits suicide while keeping absolute faith in the belief that they will return from the dead, so much faith that they want to die, then they actually do return. And they don't just return, they come back with enhanced strength and can't be killed again.
As Tom says, "You can only die once."
This is a nice little proto-punk film with any number of quotable moments that could have been uttered by Johnny Rotten in his heyday. There's no real gore and the violence is mostly of the property damage variety. Except, of course, for the countless bloodless murders that the gang commits once they've become the undead proper. There's actually a quite shocking moment where one of the gang, Jane (Ann Michelle), with a mad, sadistic grin runs down a baby carriage in a grocery store. It was a nice bit of horror that drives home the fact that even though they've come back practically invulnerable, they've lost their humanity.
Although, to be quite honest, most of the gang were borderline sociopaths to begin with.
If we ignore the horrible song sung over Tom's grave, there wasn't much to dislike with this one. It was a little camp, a little punk, a little demonic. And the final fate of Tom and the Living Dead was an effective twist that I really enjoyed. Even though Nicky Henson continues to be publicly critical of the film, I recommend it.
On a sad note, George Sanders, who played Shadwell, the satanic butler, committed suicide shortly after the completion of this film. Sanders was an actor who had been making movies since the early Thirties, playing Simon Templar in the original Saint films of the Thirties, The Falcon in the Forties, and starred in a number of classics all through the Fifties and Sixties. He'll always be a favorite of mine, though, for providing the sensuously dangerous voice of Shere Khan the Tiger in Disney's The Jungle Book.