Late Fees: Psychomania (1973)
Rockie Juarez, a video store junkie, has a lot of cinematic blind spots. While he is surrounded by awe-inspiring cinema, it is impossible to dive into all the world of movies has to offer. Thankfully, he has the incredible Stephanie Crawford to point him in dangerous directions he has overlooked or has been too damn lazy to dive into. Will these recommendations elevate his love for cinema or will these films completely melt his brain, causing it to leak profusely out of his nose? Read along as these two cinephiles break down and dissect each recommendation, hopefully without going for one another's throat.
Stephanie’s recommendation to Rockie this week is Psychomania, the British horror motorcycle film from 1973, starring George Sanders, Beryl Reid, and Nicky Henson.
Rockie Juarez: I have rented this damn thing out to customers often. I had always seen this amazing DVD cover of a biker with an eye-popping helmet, and that killer font screaming the film’s title at me with the force of a dozen banshees. Still, I never rented the damn thing myself and, oddly enough, never heard a word about it from my peers. Flash Forward to late 2018, and Psychomania is recommended to me by Stephanie Crawford, whose film taste I respect highly. I finally pop in this oddity and yeah, I am taken away to another world loaded with biker zombies, frogs, pram carnage and sexy folk rock. Constantly entertaining and always moving in interesting directions, Psychomania is something I too can now recommend to fellow film nuts with pleasure. Of course, maybe most people have probably seen this and I’m the odd man out here, late to the party, but still. So why Psychomania as a recommendation, Stephanie? What drew you to this fascinating film?
Stephanie Crawford: Psychomania was a fun surprise for me. Unlike your constant hints of how cool it was from your savvy renters, I was exactly zero familiar with its existence before ordering the DVD during a Severin Films sale. The cover, the title, that amazing helmet you mentioned, and my fandom for Mr. George Sanders was all I needed to cough up my cash. Boy, I’m glad I did! Director Don Sharp breathed new life into the studio when he started making films for Hammer, and you can see that full-tilt flair here as well. There are so many fun and insane things we’ve geeked out about already in Psychomania, but one of the things I really appreciate about it is how British it is despite all the psychotic, maniacal defying of stereotypical British decorum whilst on a motorbike. Beyond the thickly accented actors, this thing is foggy, it’s got prams, and the biker gang leader still has meetings in a parlor. I don’t know if Sharp being Australian was the magic ticket, but that goes head-to-head with some amazingly insane set-pieces that are decidedly socially outrageous and would cause any monocle in a 100-mile radius pop off right into a flute of champagne. Splashing, even!
So, Sir Rockie of Juarez Esq., based on the plot, do you think this or its alternate title of The Death Wheelers ultimately works better? We’ll have to ignore the issue of poster appeal because that wouldn’t remotely be fair.
RJ: I think Psychomania is the better title, but I wouldn’t kick The Death Wheelers out of bed either. We should mention the extra hot folk song that plays about a quarter of the way through. Here is this hardcore group of ragtags, and the song they “rock” out to is baby butt soft. To their credit, the song is performed at a funeral; I’m mainly laughing at the lovely contrast. The song is, for real, incredible! It just kind of blindsides you and I love it even more for that. The suicide montage is extremely creative I must add. By that I mean characters have to kill themselves so they can be zombified or brought back to life. No rotting flesh or brain eating, but they are zombies for sure. Each death is unique and varied. My personal fav is the drowning one. I never had a crush on a zombie before, but this film made me a believer after Ann Michelle (who plays Jane Pettibone) graces us with her presence. Do you have a fav Zed person in this film?
SC: I love Jane too, but honestly, I have to go outside the biker gang and throw my loyalties back to George Sanders. I love his droll, dry classic film roles, and seeing him in the middle of this madness tickles the hell out of me—and yes, I’m completely turning a blind eye to the tragedy involving him taking his own life the year following the filming of Psychomania.
On that sunny note, I’m going to be obvious and pair these with more British biker-beyond-death movies because, frankly, we need to celebrate that subgenre even existing. Let Sleeping Corpses Lie a.k.a. The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue is actually an Italian-Spanish production set in England, and it mixes the living dead with dark humour like a weird cousin to Psychomania. An even stronger recommendation is I Bought a Vampire Motorcycle, which delivers on its wacky title, and even has a Star Wars star in it so you’ll like it, Rockie! Anthony Daniels plays a priest! It’s a blast, and great for fans of early Peter Jackson as well.
Whatever direction you take with this, though, Psychomania is a seriously charming, audacious movie that delivers some ultra-fun memorable moments. Sing us home, Rockie: What would you recommend to a customer after they return this, completely besotted with the death wheelers and wanting more of its spirit?
RJ: Smartass answer would be Biker Boyz, starring Kid Rock, or Torque from director Joseph Kahn. Just to see their faces when they return with a million questions after watching both of those monsters, back-to-back preferably. Honestly though, I would send a customer home with Knightriders from 1981, the wildly original George Romero film featuring Ed Harris as the leader of a biker gang that do medieval reenactments. I had honestly never heard of it until I worked at Vulcan Video. Knew about the zombies films of course, but for whatever reason, this was a title that had escaped me. Took it home and was dazzled by it’s audacity, really. How was this damn thing greenlit? And how was it not celebrated louder for being so damn weird? Ed Harris never does anything close to the magical head shimmy seen in Creepshow, but he is still going for it in this anomaly of a biker film. Just a fascinating look at hanging on to a lifestyle that will always be encroached upon by those who are afraid to understand.