Psychomania (Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack)
Released by: Arrow Video
Released on: February 21st, 2017.
Director: Don Sharp
Cast: George Sanders, Beryl Reed, Nicky Henson, Mary Larkin, Denis Gilmore
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Hey, remember that Motorhead video for Killed By Death where Lemmy, may he rest in peace, gets buried on his motorcycle only to ride out of his grave (kinda like on the cover of Meatloaf’s Bat Out Of Hell) to grab his woman and ride off to raise some Hell? Of course you do. It changed your life just like it changed mine. Well, Psychomania is the cinematic equivalent of that video. Literally. In fact, since it predates it, it’s probably a pretty safe bet that Lemmy and company were inspired by this odd little British horror film, because they basically ripped it off (though in some ways, improved up on it).
The film follows the exploits of a young biker tough named Tom (Nick Henson) who, along with his cute red haired girlfriend, Abby (Mary Larkin), rides in a motorcycle gang who call themselves The Living Dead (we know this from the hot pink letters that spell it out on the backs of their jackets). When not playing chicken with innocent highway drivers, Tom is trying to figure out just what it is that his mother (Beryl Reid) and her manservant, Shadwell (George Sanders), know about the ability to come back from the grave and how it relates to giant toads. Eventually, after entering a secret room that holds the details of his own father’s death, Tom learns that if he commits suicide without fearing the consequences, he’ll come back and not only that but he’ll be invulnerable. Before you know it, Tom’s driven off of a bridge into a river below and been buried, standing up, on his motorbike (you’re making the Motorhead video connection now, right?) only to drive out of the grave, grab his girl, prove to his gang that he is who he is, and start raising Hell. Or at least bothering people a lot, periodically killing off a few people at a bar.
When the rest of Tom’s gang learn what he’s done and how he’s done it, a few more of them decide to follow suit and before you know it, there’s a whole gang of no good undead bikers with cool skeleton helmets riding around England and scaring women and children alike. There might be more to this than Tom realizes, however, as the police are slowly but surely closing in.
Psychomania isn’t gory, nor it is laden with rampant nudity or crazy special effects but what it’s got it’s got in spades and that’s atmosphere and charm. A film that could only have been made in the seventies, the picture is a truly bizarre blend of genres, mixing up the zombie film with the biker film and throwing in some quirky supernatural elements as well, just for kicks. The performances are generally pretty good, with Nick Henson giving a solid lead as Tom, a veritable rebel without a cause type, with strong antisocial tendencies. He’s not Lemmy, but he’s got enough attitude to pull it off and as sinister as he gets, he remains likeable throughout the movie. George Sanders steals every scene that he’s in, playing every bit of his sinister screen presence for all its worth and delivering an enjoyably macabre turn as the mysterious manservant. The rest of the cast are fine, with some of the supporting cast making up the bike gang standing out in strange ways for various reasons. While they don’t really offer up star making performances, they add to the movie’s fun cast of characters nicely.
The cinematography is pretty decent, particularly the opening sequence in which we see ‘The Living Dead’ circling on their bikes in a foggy cemetery. The movie’s lower budget shows through here and there but it makes the most of what it has and if it’s not particularly frightening, or for that matter logical, it’s still an entertaining ride.
Psychomania arrives on a 50GB Blu-ray disc from the Arrow Video using the BFI’s “newly remastered in 2K from preservation negatives” transfer framed at 1.66.1 widescreen in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition. In short, the film looks gorgeous here. The colors are nicely balanced and very natural looking, never appearing to be oversaturated or flat. Skin tones are nice and natural as well, and there’s an excellent level of detail present throughout. There’s good depth and texture to the image and it’s all given a generous bit rate to ensure that there are no issues with any compression artifacts or macroblocking. Grain is present but actual print damage appears so infrequently that it’s barely worth mentioning.
The only audio option on the disc is an LPCM Mono Master track presented in English with subtitles optional provided in English only. Again, we get a nice improvement, particularly in regards to the film’s admittedly bad-ass score and the motorcycle engine sounds. These have a lot more strength and power behind them than they did on DVD. Dialogue stays clean, clear and perfectly audible and there are no issues with any hiss or distortion.
There are some interesting new extra features included on this disc (that originated on the aforementioned BFI release), starting with a fourteen minute long interview with Nicky Henson. Here he speaks about landing the role, his character, what it was like going back and forth between working late nights on the set and having to support himself in some live theater productions and the time and more. Hell For Leather spends eight minutes covering the involvement of Lewis Leathers, the company that supplied the costumes for the bikers in the film. As we learn about what went into creating the costumes we also get a quick history of the company and of how biker fashions have evolved over the years. The two minutes Restoring Psychomania is just what it sounds like – a quick piece that documents what went into getting the film looking as good as it does on this Blu-ray.
Arrow has also carried over the core extras from Severin’s 2010 DVD release starting with Return Of The Living Dead. This is basically a retrospective look back at the making of the movie that contains some fun interviews with Nicky Henson, Mary Larkin, Denis Gilmore, Roy Holder and Rocky Taylor. This is a really amiable discussion of making the film, what it was like on set at the time, and how it’s held on to a sizeable cult audience over the years. The Sound Of Psychomania allows John Cameron, the film’s composer, to discuss his role in the production and how he tried to make the music in the film reflect the content and the times. Riding Free brings Harvey Andrews in front of the camera to talk about the song he sings at the funeral, only to be replaced unknowingly by a lip synching actor at the last minute.
Rounding out the extras on the disc itself are the film’s original theatrical trailer, animated menus and chapter selection. As this is a combo pack release there’s also a DVD version of the movie included inside the clear Blu-ray case containing the same supplements that are included on the Blu-ray disc. Also tucked away inside the disc is an insert booklet containing cast and crew credits, notes on the restoration, credits for the Blu-ray release and essays from Vic Pratt, William Fowler and Andrew Roberts as well as an interview with Don Sharp conducted by Christopher Koetting. Also worth mentioning is the reversible cover art, with a newly created piece on one side and the flip side featuring a piece based around the film’s original theatrical poster artwork. Missing from the BFI release are two unrelated short films and a trivia track, otherwise, everything else is here.
The Final Word:
Psychomania is seriously goofy stuff but it’s got a lot of quirky period charm and it’s nothing if not entertaining. As an effective horror movie it’s an absolute failure but as a cult oddity or a cultural artifact, it’s kind of great. Arrow’s Blu-ray release is fantastic, carrying over all of the main extras from the Severin DVD and throwing in some great new additions to the supplemental package. On top of that, the movie looks and sounds considerably better than it ever has before.
Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!
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