Tom (Nicky Henson) is the leader of a troublemaking gang of Hell's Angels known as The Living Dead. One night, after deliberately causing a road accident, he and his girlfriend Abby (Mary Larkin) are in a graveyard when Tom finds a frog, which he decides to take home to his mother (Beryl Reid), a spiritualist who at that moment is in the middle of a seance. Her butler, Shadwell (George Sanders) meets Tom and admires the frog, placing it under glass, but Tom has some unanswered questions, such as: what happened in the locked room that his father died in? Shadwell gives Tom the key to the mysterious room, where he has a vision and sees himself as a baby, with his mother selling his soul - could this be a sign that Tom will join the ranks of the living dead for real?
Written by Julian Zimet and Armand d'Usseau, Psychomania is a not-quite-campy horror that represented an attempt at a British biker movie, all done up with supernatural trappings and low grade mayhem. The baddies are the untamed youth who, on their travels, begin to resemble a motorcycle display team, complete with formation riding and carefully planned stunts; combine this with a devil may care attitude and you have a recipe for disaster. Not that the older generation get off lightly, as they're either stuffy authority figures, like the investigating detective (Robert Hardy), or out and out evil, like the devil worshipping Shadwell, who puts the wicked plan into action (part of the film's legend was that Sanders committed suicide straight after watching a rough cut of the movie).
Tom has a death wish, you see, and is determined to commit suicide. Not because he wants to die, but because he wants to return from the grave and so doing become immortal. He is convinced that if you believe it hard enough, resurrection from the dead is not only possible, but desirable, and so drives off a bridge to his doom. The rest of his gang are disappointed at losing their leader, and get permission to bury him in their own inimitable fashion: seated upright on his motorbike. After a decidedly un-Hell's Angels-like ceremony, complete with a drippy hippy song and wreaths of flowers they have made themselves, Shadwell arrives to drop a charm into the grave. Then they replace the earth and leave.
But what do you know? Tom's life after death plans work out perfectly, and he bursts from the grave on his bike, taking a brief moment to run over a motorist whose car has broken down, and heads straight for... erm, the petrol station. Obviously his transport isn't as supernatural as he is, but he does kill the attendant when he realises he doesn't have any money on him. It's this curious tone of half-jokey nastiness that makes Psychomania stand out, with its prosaic concerns, such as Abby not wanting a death pact because she has to help her mother with the shopping the next day, jostling with the horror elements which saw a high yet curiously bloodless body count considering Tom was staging a Charles Manson-style massacre of polite society in the Home Counties.
It's just as well that The Living Dead have skull shaped helmets, because once they see the wonders that the afterlife bring to Tom, like invincibility, they are lining up to commit suicide. This sequence is one of the most amusingly bizarre, especially the biker who climbs to the top of a high building, points out to the policeman below that that's his bike parked in a no parking zone, then when asked to come down, he says, "OK" and jumps out of the window to his death. If there's a problem with Psychomania, it's how seriously its meant to be taken; the bikers don't set their sights too high after returning to life, as other than killing people they'd rather drive around inside a supermarket. Strange, at times hilariously banal, and with no lack of cheek, the film is certainly entertaining with a selection of excellent stunts typical of director Don Sharp's work, but I'm not sure if they got away with what they were intending. Whatever that was. Music by John Cameron, including plenty of very fine acid rock guitar workouts.
[The BFI has released Psychomania on a Blu-ray and DVD combination set, giving the film worthy if unlikely respect. Here’s the rundown of those great features:
Newly remastered in 2K from preservation negatives and presented in both High Definition and Standard Definition
• Return of the Living Dead (2010, 25 mins): featuring interviews with stars Nicky Henson, Mary Larkin, Denis Gilmore, Roy Holder and Rocky Taylor
• Sound of Psychomania (2010, 9 mins): interview with soundtrack composer John Cameron
• Riding Free (2010, 7 mins): interview with 'Riding Free' singer Harvey Andrews
• An interview with Nicky Henson (2016, 14 mins): the star of Psychomania recalls his time on the film
• Hell for Leather (2016, 8 mins): documentary about the company who supplied the film's costumes
• Remastering Psychomania (2016, 2 mins)
• Discovering Britain with John Betjeman: Avebury, Wiltshire (1955, 3 mins): the celebrated British poet narrates this travelogue about the Avebury stone circle and nearby burial grounds
• Roger Wonders Why (1965, 19 mins): a church-made amateur film which sees two Christian biker youths visit the legendary 59 Club, where they meet its founder, Reverend Bill Shergold
• Original theatrical trailer
• Wilson Bros Trivia Track (2016, onscreen text): a newly-produced subtitle trivia-track by the horror aficionado siblings
• Fully illustrated booklet with new writing by Vic Pratt, William Fowler and Andrew Roberts; and full film credits.]