Upper class youth Tom Latham (Nicky Henson, WITCHFINDER GENERAL) is the leader of a bike gang called The Living Dead. His spiritualist mother (Beryl Reid, BEAST IN THE CELLAR) belongs to a frog-worshipping Satanic cult and apparently family butler Shadwell (PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY’s George Sanders) might be the devil. Tom’s dead father failed to complete a pact with the devil and Tom is obsessed with returning from the dead. He uses wry reports of his bad behavior and threats of more to come to cajole his mother into telling him the secret of eternal life. She and Shadwell allow him access to the locked room where his father died eighteen years ago where he sees in a mirror (the room’s sole piece of furniture) his mother signing a pact with a demonic figure (recognizable as Shadwell from the ring) at the motorcycle gang’s Stonehenge-like hangout “The Seven Witches” where it is rumored that seven devil worshipers were turned to stone after reneging on a pact. After he passes out, he overhears that his father died because he did not have the faith to come back. The next day, Tom tops off terrorizing the town square with his buddies by driving off a bridge into the water. Tom’s girlfriend Abby (Mary Larkin) approaches his mother and tells her that the gang would like to bury Tom in their own way (at the Seven Witches astride his motorcycle). Shadwell turns up with a frog medallion to be buried with him. Tom soon rises up, mows down a motorist who has cut across the Seven Witches after a flat tire, knocks off a gas station attendant, and three others at a pub (after a call to his mother “I’m dead, mother, but apart from that I couldn’t be better”).
The gang meet up at the Seven Witches after the fuzz have questioned them about the murders. Abby tells them that the description of the killer matched Tom. They discover that Tom’s grave is empty and believe they are being framed until Tom turns up dead and well and tells them the secret of coming back. Jane (Ann Michelle, VIRGIN WITCH) and Hinky (Rocky Taylor) are the first to take themselves out but Hinky was an unbeliever so only Jane comes back and she proves just as bloodthirsty once resurrected (jamming a knife into the spinning tire of a passing truck and sending it crashing off the road). The living members of the gang get jailed but Tom and Jane give the police chase and lead investigating Chief Inspector Hesseltine (Robert Hardy, DARK PLACES) to Latham Manor. When Tom’s mother learns of the killings and the suicides of two more of the gang, she is horrified but Shadwell convinces the inspector that she is overwrought. Tom and Jane bust the other gang members out of jail (and kill several policemen) followed by a montage of biker suicides played for humor. Abby overdoses on sleeping pills but survives. The Chief Inspector tells her that all of her friends have committed suicide and their bodies have disappeared from the morgue. He decides to set a trap by announcing that Abby is dead so he can catch whoever is taking the bodies and committing crimes in the guise of the bikers. Meanwhile, Tom announces to his mother and Shadwell that he and his gang are planning to do away with the every representative of The Establishment.
Scripted by blacklisted Hollywood screenwriters Arnaud D’Usseau and Julian Halevy (who also paired up to script the Spanish-lensed Christopher Lee/Peter Cushing pic HORROR EXPRESS, also forthcoming from Severin Films), Don Sharp’s finished film apparently did not live up to the script according to star Nicky Henson. The film begins with a wonderfully atmospheric title sequence featuring The Living Dead riding in slow motion around the misty Seven Witches site to John Cameron’s Pink Floyd-ish fuzz-guitar-hammond organ score and Academy Award-winning Ted Moore’s framing and filtering. Their initial examples of badass-ery include causing a deadly crash for a trucker on a moonlit road and riding through a shopping center to goose women, knock over vending carts, and sign-hanger’s ladders, and tripping waiters carrying stacks of pastry on trays. Tom’s funeral (he is buried sitting on his bike in the Seven Witches) is very much a “flower child” affair (spiked by a little pagan intervention from butler Shadwell who drives up in a Rolls Royce). Perhaps the schizophrenic nature of the upper class bikers’ rebellious pretenses is intentional rather than a misapprehension of the middle-aged screenwriters. That said, the script is still a mess. It is never explained why Shadwell is still hanging around the Latham household after eighteen years (unless he’s waiting for Tom to make a pact). Abby is the sensitive one but not much more identifiable (she seems horrified by the resurrected Living Dead acts of violence but not necessarily any of the injury and death caused by them when they were alive.
The police investigation plods along but there’s not much of a payoff (despite the neat use of a single-take 360 degree camera pan in the morgue). Sanders is wry as ever even while slumming in one of his last pictures and his scenes with Reid (as well as the Henson/Reid/Sanders scenes) make an interesting contrast to the Living Dead menace scenes and the police investigation bits. These exposition-heavy scenes are played for black comedy (when his mother tells him of receiving a call from the police, he replies “The word, mother, is fuzz” and when she says his behavior might get him arrested, he replies ‘The word, mother, is busted”). The film really belongs to Henson. He gets all the good close-ups, the widest range of emotion and some standout bits when Tom rises from the dead. As Henson’s love interest, Larkin pulls the right expressions but is nowhere near as fun as Michelle’s Jane, the first to follow Tom’s suicidal example (she does a fake hanging gag and rams a baby carriage during the supermarket seige). The normally bombastic Hardy (over-the-top in DEMONS OF THE MIND but appropriately so in ALL CREATURES GREAT AND SMALL) gives a performance so toned down – his character is scripted as pretty ineffectual – that he doesn’t even get a death scene (his character could have done with some blustery outrage at the gang’s deadly shenanigans).
Severin’s PSYCHOMANIA kills in the extras, however. Stars Henson, Larkin, Dennis Gilmore (“Hatchet”), Roy Holder (“Bertram”), and actor/stuntman Rocky Taylor (“Hinky”) all are reunited for a 25 minute featurette of interviews called RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD. They all mention their more prominent credits (only Gilmore seems proud of his cult appearances which also include VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED with Sanders and BLOOD ON SATAN’S CLAW) and remark on the film’s faults (Henson finds it flat-out bad) but they respect its cult popularity. Henson (who was the only actor who could ride motorcycles) was primarily a theater actor taking day-long film jobs for extra money (he took a larger role in WITCHFINDER GENERAL because he was a friend of Ian Ogilvy). He immediately accepted PSYCHOMANIA because the script said they would be riding Harleys only to arrive on set to see “clapped out” AJS 350′s (I believe the last ones were built in the late 1940′s). Larkin (who saw the film in a theater full of bikers) remarks on how well-spoken their rebel biker characters were. They remember Sharp fondly but also despair of Reid and poor Sanders having to appear in such a film (text screens suggest that before Sanders took his own life in Spain, he had watched a rough cut of PSYCHOMANIA).
A 9 minute interview with composer John Cameron who elaborates on some of the pre-synthesizer tricks used to get the unusual sounds of the score and mentions that the first person to approach him about the score was Johnny Trunk of Trunk Records who wanted to put it out on CD (the film has recently appeared on LP and CD from Trunk who also brought us the official WICKER MAN soundtrack). He also plays the main theme on his modern setup and it compares poorly to the original sound. Singer Harvey Andrews appears in a 6 minute interview. He claims it took twenty minutes to record the song and relates his horrified reaction to seeing another actor miming to his recording over the funeral scene in the film. He then performs a bit of the song (on the original guitar) and his singing voice sounds exactly the same. Fangoria editor Chris Alexander provides an introduction to the film. It was the first film he ever purchased (like a lot of us, his introduction to Eurotrash was the budget and deleted VHS bins). It is a nonessential extra (it is nice that it is included in the extras section and not as a 5+ minute preamble to the feature) but he’s enthusiastic. An Easter egg (click on the eyes of the skull visor on the bonus menu) features Taylor talking about doing stunt work for Roger Moore and Sean Connery on OCTOPUSSY and NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN.
On Severin’s web page, they mentioned that they had tracked down the rare theatrical trailers for HORROR EXPRESS and PSYCHOMANIA and had transferred them in high-definition. The trailer on disc is indeed a thing of beauty and the lovely psychedelic renderings of the title onscreen look wonderful (as does the Scotia Brothers logo) although a pressing or authoring error causes the theatrical trailer to jump back to the menu at 2:19. That the trailer looks better than the transfer (usually the other way around) is not entirely surprising since the trailer was in the hands of a private collector but there are more problems than simple wear on the feature. I figured that the interlaced, single-layer, Geneon disc was a port of the Image version but it runs 5 minutes shorter than the Severin version as it is missing the film’s opening seance (the Image disc times at 1:30:01 which is closer to the Severin running time). This shortened version also played on TCM recently and may reflect the US cut of the film. Severin’s progressive, anamorphic, dual-layer transfer is assembled from more than one source. The first reel is framed at 1.78:1 but switches over to 1.63:1 for the remainder of the feature (the aspect ratio is a vertically squished 1.81:1 throughout the Geneon presentation but there is a quality shift towards the better on the same shot – from scratchy and interlaced to spotless but interlaced).
Picture quality is variable on the new release. The first reel (which runs 5 minutes longer thanks to the restoration of this scene) looks better than it did on the previous release but goes from soft to over-sharpened while the 1.63:1 remainder has combing (although it is a progressive image) and variable sharpness. Severin’s transfer of the film may be disappointing but it has a great assortment of extras. It may be debatable if the transfer is better than the old one but it is certainly no worse. Severin has assured us that the materials for HORROR EXPRESS (a fellow former-PD staple alongside CRUCIBLE OF TERROR and PSYCHOMANIA) are in better condition and that they are taking the necessary steps to ensure quality SD and HD releases.