Oh yes, STARBURST does cult and they don’t come much more cult than this. Just to get that early-‘70s vibe, lets imagine (the slightly terrifying prospect of) sitting in a darkened room listening to Black Sabbath’s seminal Paranoid album. What are we visualising? Stone Circles? Séances? Motorbikes? Bringing down the establishment? Coming back from the dead through force of will alone? Knocking over parking cones in Hepworth Way shopping centre? Well with Psychomania (which was recently screened at the inaugural STARBURST International Film Festival) we get all this and more. They don’t make them like this anymore and, if we’re honest, they never really did.
Tom (Nicky Henson) is the leader of a biker gang called “The Living Dead” (of course they are) who like riding round a stone circle in the rather eerie opening titles. But they also like to “blow people’s minds”, which largely involves running them off the road with fatal consequences. So far they’re not clocking-up the audience sympathy and Tom gets rid of any you may have had when we find out he’s a posh boy whose mother (Beryl Reid) does séances and even has a butler (George Sanders in his last movie). But there’s some kind of devilry going on as there’s a locked room where Tom’s father died and more talk of resurrection than is normal in most households. The trick is to simply believe you’ll come back. It may also involve frogs but the film’s sketchy on that front. Suffice to say, after a bit of cone-related shopping centre aggro, Tom “does a ton” and deliberately drives off a motorway bridge. The gang bury him on his bike (the hole isn’t quite deep enough but hang in there) while playing sub-Donovan folk songs, and he brilliantly comes back to life by bursting out of the grave like a low-rent Ghost Rider (without the expensive skull-motif or flames). Then he kills someone trying to repair one of the movie’s many Morris Minors. The gang are so impressed that they all commit suicide in various unlikely ways and continue to run murderously amok among the Morris Minor-filled roads of the local countryside. Only Tom’s girlfriend Amy (Mary Larkin) resists...
On paper, Psychomania ought to be a stinker. The plot is silly, the character’s motivations incomprehensible (coming back from the dead we get, but why all the murders?) and it isn’t in the slightest bit frightening: the bikers come back from the dead looking and talking exactly as if nothing happened and any attempts at portraying even mild peril are hamstrung by the whole British homeliness of it all. Even the motorbikes look like they’re about to fall apart (and are most definitely not the Harleys the original script intended). But Psychomania is just great fun. Director Don Sharp was no mug but you can’t help the feeling it’s great by accident; its uniqueness allowing it to ooze singular charm. According to legend, George Sanders committed suicide straight after watching the movie’s preview. We hope that’s not true because Psychomania is a bona fide cult classic.
Special Features: Eight interviews and documentaries / Trivia track / Trailer / Booklet
PSYCHOMANIA (1973) / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: DON SHARP / SCREENPLAY: ANDREW DONALLY / STARRING: NICKY HENSON, MARY LARKIN, BERYL REID, GEORGE SANDERS, ANN MICHELLE, ROY HOLDER, DENIS GILMORE, MILES GREENWOOD, ROBERT HARDY / RELEASED: SEPTEMBER 26TH