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!