Wednesday, October 20, 2010

PSYCHOMANIA

There are many things I have to thank my pal Jim Chambers for, and among them is introducing me to the 1973 "Satanic biker" film PSYCHOMANIA (a/k/a THE DEATH WHEELERS) back in the mid-90s. He was uncharacteristically giddy when he stumbled across a used VHS of the flick on one of our many weekend trips to the video store, and, intrigued by his enthusiasm, I agreed to watch it, despite my complete unfamiliarity with the title. It was quite a trip.

"The Living Dead," a British motorcycle gang led by the charismatic Tom Latham (Nicky Henson, WITCHFINDER GENERAL), spend their days riding around an old stone circle known as "The Seven Witches," and terrorizing the inhabitants of their small country village. But Tom is bored, and with the aid of his occultist mother (Beryl Reid, DR. PHIBES RISES AGAIN) and her mysterious butler (the great George Sanders, in his last film), he makes a deal with the Devil. He commits suicide, only to return from the grave, whole and seemingly immortal. The rest of his gang follow his lead, killing themselves in a variety of spectacular ways, and soon The Living Dead are on a destructive rampage, undead and - apparently - unstoppable.

PSYCHOMANIA is another offbeat 70s horror romp from across the pond, not particularly scary and utterly gore-free, but subtly disturbing and laced with pitch-black humor. Henson is particularly good as the leader of the gang, and George Sanders - who committed suicide shortly after the film's completion - is as dry and droll as ever. Originally rated PG, the movie is fun, strange, very English, and thoroughly entertaining.

Previously released in non-anamorphic form by Image Entertainment a decade ago, PSYCHOMANIA has just been re-issued by the exploitation experts at Severin Films. The new DVD features an improved 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer sourced from a very good - though not perfect - print. The company has placed a disclaimer before the film stating that as the negative for the film no longer appears to exist, they have used the best source materials available. It looks quite satisfactory, actually, with only minimal age-related specks and very minor print damage/debris. Audio is Dolby Digital mono, and is more than adequate.

Bonus material includes a great retrospective documentary featuring interviews with many of the original Living Dead, including Henson. Additional supplements include featurettes on the music and songs of PSYCHOMANIA, an introduction by current Fangoria editor  Chris Alexander, and a theatrical trailer.

Fans of 70s British horror should definitely experience PSYCHOMANIA at least once, and Severin's nice new DVD is a great way to do so. If you're already a confirmed "Psychomaniac," this release is definitely worth adding to your film library. Recommended.

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