Psychomania Blu-ray Review

British tale of counter-culture bikers coming back from the dead.

Hammer Films veteran Don Sharp (The Kiss of the Vampire, The Devil-Ship Pirates) serves up an eccentric horror movie about an unruly gang of bikers coming back from the dead. Psychomania (a.k.a The Death Wheelers) is a strange British movie, a cultural relic of that brief period in the early 1970s when motorcycle films like Easy Rider were their own genre. An eclectic mix of cornball dialogue, impressive biker stunts and occult undertones makes the b-movie a curiosity at best for cult fans. Eschewing the fairly new type of zombies gaining popularity across the seas in America at the time, Psychomania’s distinctly British sensibility turns the living dead into campy hooligans.

Psychomania co-stars Beryl Reid (Dr. Phibes Rises Again) and George Sanders (Village of the Damned) in his final screen role. The two veteran cast members stand out from the much younger actors playing the bikers, a mostly amateur lot of poor thespians. It’s somewhat sad to think a distinguished actor like Sanders would end his long career in this campy, forgettable production. The central character of Psychomania is Tom (Nicky Henson), the leader of a British biker gang that call themselves the Living Dead. Tom is obsessed with death.

Tom’s mother is a spiritualist of some sort, channeling spirits and contacting the other side for customers. She hides a much darker family secret, knowledge of how someone can return from the dead with great power. This is where Psychomania starts to get hokey in its occult treatment and veers off into uncharted territory.

… a throwaway b-movie made by veteran filmmakers looking to combine biker gangs and the occult

Returning from the dead is as simple as wanting to die without any fear while committing suicide. You can then return from death, virtually impervious to harm. In Psychomania’s middling conception, people return from the grave looking fresh and healthy. The lack of make-up marking this return belies the limited imagination found in Psychomania.

Once Tom learns this dark secret, he rides his bike off a bridge to his death. Tom returns from the dead, apparently good as new. The young troublemaker soon causes death and destruction in his wake, leading his gang on a rampage across the town. Can his girlfriend Abby save the day as Tom pressures her to take the plunge and join him in death?

A couple of things help make Psychomania somewhat entertaining. The motorcycle stunts are fairly convincing for a 1972 horror movie. This is long before the days of CGI and special effects could fake almost any action stunt. The unintended humor is amusing as Tom and his bikers run around town to the shock of townspeople. Attempting to catch the lingo and tone of the counterculture in a bid for the youth market, it’s clear the screenplay writer was woefully out of touch with it.

Psychomania is a movie stuck in two different decades. It has the solid plotting and structure of an early 1960s Hammer movie, but Psychomania’s weak flirtations with burgeoning youth trends marks it as a confused 1970s product.

Don’t get me wrong, Psychomania has an off-beat charm for cult fans. The English horror production is what it is, a throwaway b-movie made by veteran filmmakers looking to combine biker gangs and the occult. Limited by a meager budget, the quirky film lies somewhere between failure and success.

Video

This film has a rather checkered history on home video since quality elements were thought lost. The British Film Institute surprisingly discovered 35mm black and white separation masters in Madrid of all places, giving Psychomania a 2K digital restoration for the first time in history. Arrow Video issues this new transfer in acceptable 1080P video. The low-budget production doesn’t offer the sharpest picture quality, including some optical fringing in certain scenes. Some processing was necessary with the separation masters, requiring some digital tinkering.

The 90-minute main feature is encoded in extremely high-bitrate AVC on a BD-50. Arrow Video releases rarely have issues with compression and Psychomania’s occasionally untamed grain structure is transparently presented. The video is shown in its intended theatrical aspect ratio of 1.66:1.

Some minor crushing is evident in darker textures. Flesh-tones are fairly pale. This is a transfer that would have benefited from a touch of more warmth. The flat, recessed video quality offers adequate definition. Fine detail is sub-par, overwhelmed by fuzzy grain and soft textures.

Psychomania is never going to look any better but this presentation is a clear step behind transfers of other movies struck from pristine vintage elements.

Audio

The original mono soundtrack, featuring the work of composer John Cameron, is heard in 1.0 PCM. Cameron worked with Donovan as an arranger for many years. Intelligible dialogue and average clarity mark this recording. The mix could use some punch, everything comes off as restrained and muffled. There is nothing outrageously poor or substandard about this PCM track. Expect dated music and vintage fidelity.

Optional English SDH subtitles display in a white font.

Extras

Arrow Video releases Psychomania in a combination Blu-ray and DVD set. Arrow has conducted a couple of new interviews for this release while pulling out a few older featurettes found on the Severin DVD. A Collector’s booklet contains writing by Vic Pratt, William Fowler, and Andrew Roberts.

The reversible sleeve features original and newly commissioned artwork by the Twins of Evil, whose work should be familiar to Arrow Video’s fanbase.

  • An Interview With Nicky Henson (13:57 in HD) – A brand-new interview with star Nicky Henson recalling his early career and how he got the part.
  • Return of the Living Dead (25:02 in upscaled HD) – An archival featurette containing interviews with actors Henson, Mary Larkin, Denis Gilmore, Roy Holder and Rocky Taylor. Originally found on the Severin DVD.
  • The Sound of Psychomania (09:06 in HD) – An archival interview with composer John Cameron.
  • Riding Free (06:25 in upscaled HD) – An archival interview with Riding Free singer Harvey Andrews.
  • Hell for Leather (07:52 in HD) – A brand-new featurette on the London company who supplied the film’s biker costumes.
  • Remastering Psychomania (01:47 in HD) – A brief look at the film’s restoration processs from the original 35mm black and white separation masters.
  • Theatrical trailer (02:50 in HD)

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review as a pre-production screener. This has not influenced DoBlu’s editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

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