Psychomania The Living Dead (1972)

Psychomania Poster Most people — horror fans included — don’t have “kill oneself in order to become a member of the living dead” high on their to-do list. But taking the death-defying lifestyle of a biker gang to its ultimate conclusion is Psychomania (1972, also known as ‘The Death Wheelers in the U.S’ and Death Wheelers are… Psycho Maniacs in Australia), a British horror film indebted to A Clockwork Orange that follows a devil-worshipping biker gang.

The gang calls themselves “The Living Dead” and each member commits suicide in order to become, um, the real living dead. Disclaimer: please don’t try and zombify yourself at home, kiddos.

This film has become a cult-classic in many people’s eyes, and it even features Beryl Reid, the UK actress more famous for her TV appearances and her roles in 1970s farces like ‘Carry On Emanuelle’, and ‘No Sex Please we’re British’

Mommy, Can I Go Out and Kill Tonight?

Tom (Nicky Henson) is your normal, satan-loving gang leader and nutzoid indebted to Alex, the protagonist from A Clockwork Orange (complete with his very own pet toad). When not leading his gang in violent crime, he’s hanging out with his séance-holding mother (Beryl Reid) who helps him form a pact with the devil that will allow him to return from the dead. Don’t say she never did anything for you, Tommy.

Like yo-yos or frozen yogurt, the suicide-turned-zombie trend catches on like wildfire among members of Tom’s gang. Not all members come back as zombies (oops) but the ones who do gather at a circle of stones called “The Seven Witches” where the group continues to raise hell. With Tom’s sweetheart girlfriend Abby (Mary Larkin) now in on their secret and with no end to debauchery in sight, what could possibly go wrong?

The Old Ultraviolence

psychomania 1971 A reviewer for the London Times may have said the film would only be appropriate at an “SS reunion party”, but you’re going to want to peep this one for the original John Cameron 70’s soundtrack alone. The tunes were released on LP and CD by Trunk Records in 2013 (get the Psychomania soundtrack here at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk), and aside from oozing cool, they play a part in making all of the gang’s antics seem……fun. Like in Clockwork Orange, you’re horrified by the fact that you want to throw on a skeleton facemask and mount a hog yourself.

As far as irreverent 70’s cult classics go, Psychomania is surprisingly watchable: sound cinematography and visual editing are easy on the eyes, and laughable gross-out gore is avoided. Sadly, this was George Sanders final cinematic role as Tom’s Mom’s butler (Jack Favell in Hitchcock’s Rebecca (1940) and voice of Shere Khan in Disney’s The Jungle Book (1967)). He committed suicide soon after the film wrapped (Not taking the bait on that one. R.I.P., good sir.)

Of course, the whole thing is laughable all the way through (for example, you just have to really believe you’ll comeback from the dead while killing yourself in order to become a zombie. It’s like Tinker Belling the Grim Reaper himself). But man is it one hell of a premise. Too often the living dead are doomed to only be lumbering set pieces, and the zombie creation process is riddled away with radioactive blahdy blah. At the very least, writers Arnaud d’Usseau and Julian Zimet played with genre mechanics on this one. From several horror bleeding hearts, we solemnly thank you.

Watch Psychomania: The Living Dead below:

As an extra bonus, check out this mini-documentary that was made by the BBC on Psychomania, which includes interviews with Nicky Henson.

Useful links:

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Written by: Ben Mueller