The Film (4.5/5)
I first saw Psychomania when I was roughly 15-16 years old, I rented it from the local video store, which happened to have a copy. It was part of one of my all night weekend horror-thons that I frequently had at that age. I remember from the very beginning of the film being entranced by it, my friends on the other hand were not. My mind had been blown that day. A few years later I would go back to that video store to re-rent Psychomania to screen for another group of friends, and it was closed down. It had been shuttered the week before while I was away on vacation. I would not see Psychomania again until this week.
Psychomania tells the story of Tom played by Nicky Henson. Tom is the leader of the seven member biker gang the Living Dead who spend their days making mischief in their small English village. Tom's Mom possesses the secret to coming back from the dead, Tom suspects this and wants to find out, one night he finally gets the secret after he is tricked into entering a locked room in the house by his Mother and her companion Shadwell (George Sanders). It turns out that the secret to coming back from the dead is a purely psychological one, you must kill yourself, and believe 100% that you will come back from the dead.
Tom immediately puts this information to use, while on a bike ride with the gang he drives himself off a bridge. Tom dies, and his funeral is arranged by the remaining members of the Living Dead who decide to bury him sitting on his motorcycle. This appears to be a strange decision, but it also sets up one of the films most memorable (and frequently ripped off) set pieces, which features Tom emerging from his grave on his motorcycle, and driving off.
With the knowledge that this worked, he sets about convincing the other members of the Living Dead to kill themselves, and join him as an immortal zombie biker. Some of them decide to join him, and continue their mischief making in the afterlife, some of the others like his red headed girlfriend Abby (Mary Larkin) want nothing to do with it. Unfortunately, for Tom the police are on to him and will try and stop him anyway they can.
There's not too many films that I say this about, but Psychomania is a truly original cinematic experience. It blends the conventions of the biker film, and the zombie film, and adds a dash of 70's British sensibilities to create something truly interesting. As it is a zombie film you may expect massive amounts of gore and nudity, if this is what you're looking for the film will inevitably disappoint. This is not a zombie film in the Post- Night of the Living Dead Romero mold. These zombies do not hunger for human flesh, they hunger for immortality. Everything in this film from the pacing, to the direction, actors, and soundtrack really come together to become a truly atmospheric original psychotronic horror experience, a black horror comedy for the grindhouse set. I know that Psychomania is not a film for everyone, but I do believe that it does have to be seen.
Severin precedes the feature presentation by stating that the negative for Psychomania is thought to be lost forever, and that the transfer they have created is from the best known existing film elements. They have presented the film in a 1:85:1 anamorphic widescreen aspect ratio. The transfer has a decent layer of grain, it also has some minor print damage especially noticeable during the earlier parts of the film. The flesh tones are accurate, black levels solid, and the colors excellent.
Severin has presented the audio in the films original English Dolby Digital mono. The dialogue is completely audible, and the mix in general is good. The soundtrack really takes the center stage in many parts of the film, most noticeably during the funeral sequence. I could not hear any background noise or distortion on this track. All in all, Severin has done another fantastic restoration of an underseen classic.
Arrow Video have presented Psychomania in a 1:66:1 1080p AVC encoded transfer that is looks absolutely brilliant. Everything here looks very natural, colors are stable and well reproduced, detail is quite solid, and the grain structure is film like, but non-obtrusive. There is some minor softness, but that is inherent in the look of the film.
Arrow presents the audio in a DTS-HD MA mono track in English. The track is quite solid with dialogue and score coming through crisp and clear, with no issues to report.
As if having Psychomania on DVD in a pretty awesome transfer wasn't good enough. Severin Films have made their release of Psychomania a special edition with the addition of some really great extras. The most substantial of which is the documentary featurette Return of the Living Dead. This short piece runs roughly 25 minutes that features interview with most of the surviving members of the primary cast. The share their opinions of the film, both good and bad, and have quiet a few anecdotes on the making of the film. They also discussion working with the late George Sanders who committed suicide shortly after filming Psychomania. This is followed up by the featurette the Sound of Psychomania which runs about 10 minutes in length, and interviews the composer of the films score John Cameron. He discusses his career overall, but focuses on his work and what he was trying to accomplish with the Psychomania score.
The disc is rounded off by short piece called Riding Free, which interviews the composer of the song played at Tom's funeral. He gives a fairly honest assessment of his contribution to the film, and appears to be slightly disturbed at the way his song was played in the film. For those of you who are familiar with playing the guitar the song is finger picked on the soundtrack, and strummed by the actor. An introduction to the film by former Rue Morgue Writer current Fangoria Editor Chris Alexander who discusses how he discovered the film in his VHS buying youth, and the impact it had on him. The only other extra on the disc is the complete original theatrical trailer for the film.
For the Arrow release all the Severin extras are retained minus the Alexander introduction. We also get a new interview with star Nicky Henson, a documentary on the people who supplied the costumes, and a restoration featurette. A booklet of liner notes is also provided.
Psychomania is not a film for everyone's taste. However, if you are looking to catch a really quirky and original British black horror comedy from the 70's then you have found the next addition to your growing DVD collection. This film is truly a blast to watch. The Severin DVD release looked fantastic for its time, and the new Blu-ray release from Arrow Video is a truly marvelous upgrade. Both are HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.