Shitty Movie Sundays: Psychomania, aka The Death Wheelers

Tom Latham thinks that life could only get better if he just kills himself. Turns out, he’s right! Tom (Nicky Henson) isn’t suffering from depression, nor is he a deluded youth who is incapable of processing the permanence of death. He’s the leader of an outlaw biker gang called The Living Dead. They get their kicks by driving mildly quickly on the roads of rural England and occasionally tipping over vendor’s carts at the local shopping center. How dreadfully frightful. But Tom has an idea that can make his little band of nihilists even more of a public nuisance.

Psychomania, also known as The Death Wheelers, hails from 1973. Directed by Don Sharp, Psychomania plays like the fever dreams of the middle-aged, confounded and fearful of the behavior of the younger generation. This film is so silly, and so absurd in its depiction of outlaw bikers and misspent youth, that early on I had to hit the internet to see if I was, in fact, watching a spoof. This film is no spoof. This is a genuine effort to portray a gang of violent criminals, but at no point is there any bad language, alcohol or drug abuse. These bikers are murderers, but they’re so clean. There is nothing approaching realism anywhere. This flick is the type of shitty cavalcade of cinematic ineptness that first drew me to bad movies.

Tom isn’t just the leader of a biker gang. He’s also the son of aristocracy. His mother (Beryl Reid) is cloistered in her large house, with the ageless butler Shadwell (Oscar winner George Sanders!) at her service. Tom’s father is dead, victim of his obsession with the occult and his misguided attempts to follow Shadwell into immortality. Tom wants that power for himself. He wants to be able to do anything with no fear of injury or death. He wants to make The Living Dead the true terror The Death Wheelersof England. His mother, no stranger to the occult herself, tries to dissuade him, but does share her knowledge. As it turns out, if one wishes to be immortal, there is a simple two-step process to follow. The first step is to kill yourself. The second step is to believe, truly believe, that you will rise from the grave. After that, everything is gravy.

Tom rides off a bridge and does his part, and it isn’t long before he’s back from the dead, freshly laundered and groomed, and ready for some more ultra-violence. He has a hard time convincing his gang to off themselves and follow him into immortality, but after seeing the evidence for themselves, they’re on board. The only one with doubts is Abby (Mary Larkin). She’s the mildest member of the group. She’s still a killer, as shown in the opening scene, but it would be nice if all murderers were so polite. Her excuse for not killing herself is that she promised to take her mother shopping in the morning. Really. That’s an actual line of dialogue.

There are some real howlers in the dialogue here and there, in fact. For the most part, however, the dialogue, from screenwriters Julian Zimet and Arnaud d’Usseau, is atrocious. The two of them had a hell of an idea for a movie — zombie bikers terrorize locals — but the execution is amateurish in the extreme. It’s all cliché and overused idioms, with a total lack of narrative complexity. It’s really odd to see a film where the overarching themes are done so well, while the dialogue is so, so bad. But, this is a b-movie, and hardly anything worth examining too closely. It’s not like any of us bottom trawlers want this to be a good movie, after all.

The only thing about this film that isn’t ridiculous is the stunt work. There’s a title sequence that is far from impressive, but later there are chase sequences with the police that were genuinely dangerous. I applaud all the riders, who were named in the opening credits for their efforts, and also whoever was behind the wheels of the cars. In an otherwise inept film, these chase sequences were well done.

But that’s about it. The rest of this flick is MST3K fare. There’s a promise of a good movie, here, but it looks like no one bothered to try. It’s a biker film with bikers that are the opposite of intimidating. It’s a horror film where all the violence happens off camera. It’s a complete and total throwaway of a film, but its very ineptness is what makes it an endearing piece of cinema to those, like me, that appreciate a good shitty movie. Psychomania is a far worse film than Alien: Resurrection, but it’s pure gold for us shitty movie connoisseurs.

One final note: If this review piqued one’s interest, do not rent the film from Amazon. There was an error in encoding making the final third of the film unwatchable. Instead, seek it out elsewhere or find one of the pirated copies on YouTube.

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