Category Archives: what was that all about?

‘It’s Easy to Kill Live People’ – Psychomania: Part 3

The undead, unstoppable bikers have ridden straight into the police station to bust their friends of a cell. The copper on the desk is very cross and just a little bit frightened by these crazy kids, who haven’t even bothered to dismount from their bikes to confront him. What terror awaits? At this point, a lady walks past the bikers to exit the police station. She wants to know if she should shut the door. ‘Yes, please, Love!’ the desk policeman says. And then he goes back to being outraged/scared by the bikers. And hijinks ensue.

The last part of Psychomania is where logic goes completely out the window. It’s a pot-pourri of black comedy (a biker chirps, ‘I’ll be right down!’ before jumping off a 60s concrete town block), strangely slow stunt riding, curiously bloodless murder and just – well – suburban ordinariness.
In order to join Tom in being bored and annoying for all eternity, the gang start to off themselves one by one, in a series of increasingly ludicrous scenes. Jane and Hinky ride into a lorry. Only Jane comes back, as Hinky ‘didn’t believe’ enough. There’s drowning, jumping off things and sky diving sans parachute. Abby goes down the less dramatic route and takes some pills only to wake up in hospital with Robert Hardy standing over her. This is fortunate as Abby doesn’t want to die. She’s probably smart enough to work out that trashing the town centre will get a bit dull after the first century or so.

The police want Abby to be a decoy for them. Which strikes me as bad policing. Basically, Abby says ‘look I’m dead’, Jane says ‘no you’re not’ and Abby’s like, ‘yeah I am’ and Tom goes ‘right – ride into that wall then.’ And when she doesn’t, he suggests that he should kill her himself. Ah romance.

Oh and before all of that, the living dead (except Abby) Living Dead ride their bikes around in a supermarket and make a right old mess. Jane rides straight into a pram with a baby in it. Had this scene been realistic (and not happened in the middle of the bikers throwing cornflakes about and breaking glass bottles containing cordial and weak lemon drink) it might have been terrifying and horrible. But no – it’s just a freaky live action cartoon.

And so we get to the final showdown at the Seven Witches. Tom is advancing on Abby with a knife whilst the rest of the gang try to look menacing. Ah, but elsewhere Mrs Latham and Shadwell have decided it’s time to stop the madness. Their magic can defeat Tom’s Clap Your Hands If You Believe magic. And there’s are some weird special effects, some of which are unsettling in that classic Old Doctor Who way. Mrs Latham vanishes and the frog from the beginning of the film appears in her robes and then…

Um, well, Psychomania is like nothing less than a live-action super freaky cartoon. It’s got a weird atmosphere that draws you in somehow. I like it, but I couldn’t really explain why. The director, Don Sharp, was also responsible for some 60s Hammers which I haven’t seen but feel like I really should.

So cultish is Psychomania that its (funksome, rocksome and eerie) soundtrack has its own story. An account of how it was tracked down and released by Trunk Records in the early 2000s can be found here. (Note: There’s a fairly good chance that there will be a vintage naughty picture – bosoms or hairy man-thighs – at the top of the Trunk website.) And it’s also possible to visit some of the sites of biker mayhem. Don’t look for the Seven Witches standing stones though. They were only pretend.

E.M.

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‘He rode that sweet machine just like a bomb’ – Psychomania: Part Two

The locked room, then. So, Tom’s in there and has been given a huge pair of glasses to wear. These are not explained. There is a flashback in which a pleasingly be-hatted Mrs L, with her infant son in tow, meets up with a man in a black cape at the standing stones and signs some sort of contract. The cape wearer is presumably either the devil or the God of big sideburns, but whoever he is he’s wearing a nifty ring with a frog design on it.

From all of this, Tom infers (and his mother confirms) that the secret to coming back from the dead is just to believe that you will come back. With this new-found knowledge, Tom gets on his bike again and they ride around the town centre, knocking things over, pestering hot pant wearing young mums. A few grown-ups say, ‘Geddoutofit’ and the Fuzz are nowhere to be seen.

And at the end of this suburban rampage, Tom speeds off and rides straight off a bridge. Two minutes later, his body bods up out of the river only to be discovered by two cute children (apparently straight out of a Ladybird book) who seem quite non-plussed by the discovery of a corpse.

And so Abby puts a frock (one of those fantastic polyester based numbers) and visits Ma Latham, who doesn’t seem to be that bothered about her son’s death. Perhaps she knows something is going to happen. Mrs L gives the gang consent to bury Tom in their own way. And then…

Oh dear God, the funeral scene. It’s batty. And brilliant. In a very odd sort of way. At the ‘Seven Witches’ standing stones, The Living Dead all dress like hippies and sensitively play with flowers. Chopped Meat, who once his out of his leathers reveals himself to be a slender wisp of a folky boy who probably couldn’t actually chop anything bigger than a slab of ultra-thin turkey without help, strums a guitar and sings a folk song called ‘Riding Free’. And it’s revealed that Tom has been buried on top of his bike in a very shallow hole. How does he stay on there? Sticky backed plastic? Presumably someone had to fish Tom and his bike out of the water separately, so did the same person then sit him up on the bike before rigor mortis set in. And why isn’t the bike rusty? And why…

‘Riding Free’ is a pleasant bit of Donovan-esque strumming and fittingly the lyrics make no sense at all. There’s a lot about Tom’s general sticking it to The Man, who as the song says, ‘tried to clip his wings just like a fly.’ Who clips a fly’s wings? Who’s got clippers small enough?

Anyway, so Tom is left to presumably rot (or get vandalised) in his half dug grave and the gang disperse. Cut to a couple in a broken down car. The man decides to take a sort cut to the garage across the Seven Witches. So he does. Cue the sound of revving.

Now, here’s the thing – Tom has come back from the dead but aside from the fact that he can’t be killed he doesn’t seem to have any special powers. And what does he want to do now he’s back from the world of shadows? Erm, much the same as before really – knocking things over, riding too fast, being a bit of a dick – only this time with some added (and curiously bloodless) murder. The hapless garage hunter is the first to die and then Tom’s on to a pub (with the verger from Dad’s Army behind the bar) where he rings his Mum (‘Well, I’m dead, Mother, but aside from that never better!’) and gets a young lady to buy him a drink.

Unfortunately, the lady is a bit too interested in getting onto the back of Tom’s bike so she becomes his next victim, along with (we find out later) several other people. But not to worry – the cops have called in a Police Inspector, played by Robert Hardy (either the sensible one from All Creatures Great and Small or the Ministry of Magic dude from the Harry Potter films, depending on your age) and he’s going to sort all of this out. By driving around really slowly. In a Morris Minor. Ah, the 70s.

The Living Dead are befuddled and somewhat thrilled to see their leader resurrected. Hatchet is so excited, he knifes Tom in the back to no discernable effect. ‘You can only die once.’ Tom says. This makes the gang decide that being undead is pretty groovy. And in order to make themselves undead, they go off to make themselves, um, dead.

Next time: Suicide is (not) painless! Take that, Fine Fare! Cheap but strangely creepy Special Effects! And don’t worry – we see the frog again!

E.M

‘Hello, little green friend’ – Psychomania: Part One

Late at night in 1994, whilst flicking channels in search late night music videos and dubious anime, I came across the BBC 2 Moviedrome screening of Psychomania. A British 70s cult film in the freakiest, silliest possible sense of the word, Psychomania contains motorbikes, satanic magic, frogs and Beryl Reid. And some highly memorable bits of oddness. Needless to say, it left quite an impression on me. I was dreaming about standing stones and scenes of bikes hitting lorries and being ridden off bridges for quite some time.

Re-watching it now, I’m struck by how it’s not quite comedy, not quite horror, but it is very enjoyable. It’s not entirely clear if the film’s taking the piss or not, which makes it all the more fun.

The plot of Psychomania*, concerns a gang of bikers called The Living Dead. They wear pretty funky skull designed motorbike helmets and have their names on their jackets. Tom (Nicky Henderson) is their side-burned posh-boy leader. Abby (Mary Larkin) is his Ziggy-haired girlfriend. There’s also Jane, the red-jacketed thrill minx. And some boys called called Chopped Meat, Gash, Hinky, Hatchet and Bertram. Yes – Bertram. Is that his real name? Or is it just possible that his real name is even less cool than Bertram?

Anyway, that’s the Living Dead and their main sources of entertainment are causing accidents and riding around their local town centre knocking things over. Outrageous. Post delinquency, Tom and Abby have a snogging session when he’s distracted by a very large frog. Which he captures, places in his inside pocket and THE KISSING RESUMES. It’s established that Abby is a bit more sensible than the rest of the gang (when Tom suggests they kill themselves, she says that she can’t as she’s promised her Mum to help with the shopping tomorrow), but she doesn’t seem to be so bothered about the amphibian in Tom’s leather jacket at an amorous moment. Young people, eh?

Anyway, the frog survives (who knows, maybe it thought of the biker lovin’ as some sort of funfare ride) whatever happens next, as Tom gives it to his dear old Mum as a gift. Mrs Latham (Beryl Reid), lives in some kind of super modern (1973 modern) mansion with her possibly immortal butler, Shadwell (George Saunders) and likes to give seances for free whilst burning black candles. She’s pleased with the frog but tells Tom that she’s quite concerned that the police have been in touch about the gang’s antics. (‘The FUZZ, Mother!’ says Tom, in an attempt to educate her in the ways of yoof.)

Tom isn’t bothered about that. But he is quite bothered about death. Or more specifically how to die and come back from the dead. He asks Shadwell to tell him the secret of the living dead. The real living dead, that is, not Tom’s posse of puddle splashing hoodlums. Shadwell and Ma Latham decide it’s time to introduce Tom to ‘the locked room’. The room in which Tom’s father died. Whilst, I dunno, mucking about with evil or something like that…

*This is the UK title. In the US, it was called The Death Wheelers and was released on video as Death Wheelers are…Psycho Maniacs. The German title was ‘Der Frosch’ – The Frog.
**Psychomania has a PG-Rated approach to sex. Unless you count Tom’s tight trousers.

Next time: The locked room! Bad riding! Folk music! And an unusual burial!

E.M.