A gang of young people calling themselves the Living Dead terrorize the population of their small town. After an agreement with the devil, if they kill themselves firmly believing in it, they will return and gain eternal life. Following their leader, they commit suicide one after the other, but things do not necessarily turn out as expected...
The film started out as a production from Benmar Productions, which predominately made Spaghetti Westerns in Spain (such as "Captain Apache") but also produced "Horror Express" the year prior. Then along came this script, which was either titled "Psychomania" or "Death Wheelers" (sources seem to disagree equally on the "correct" title). Interestingly, today "Horror Express" is a minor classic, but "Death Wheelers" is forgotten. Why?
All the right ingredients are here for the perfect blend of cult classic and respectful film. On the respectable side, you have DP Ted Moore, who had shot several James Bond films and had already won an Oscar for "A Man for All Seasons" (1966). Would an Oscar winner make a bad film? And composer John Cameron is well known for his many film, TV and stage credits, and for his contributions to "pop" recordings, notably those by Donovan, Cilla Black and the group Hot Chocolate. So say what you will, but the camera and sound are as good as any big budget film.
On the cult side, you have a great cast of B-movie veterans: Denis Gilmore (Village of the Damned), Nicky Henson (Witchfinder General), Beryl Reid (Dr. Phibes Rises Again) and more. While none of them are big names, that role is filled by George Sanders, a giant in the world of cinema (who, quite frankly, was slumming it here in his final role). Some key moments -- such as the baby in the supermarket -- make this a timeless exploitation gem, and you have to give them credit for beating Roger Corman's "Death Race 2000" (1975) in some respects.
When you talk about low budget films, it is dun to note where the (little) money goes. Interestingly, the film's single biggest expense was the mechanics, because (according to Nicky Henson) eight full-time mechanics were needed to keep the motorcycles running. The studio could not afford top-end bikes (especially if they were going to be wrecked), but probably spent almost as much getting these lesser bikes to stay operational. The only expensive cast member was legendary actor George Sanders, so shooting was scheduled around him to get him off the set in five days.
The biggest unforeseen expense may have been for stunt man Cliff Deakins, who might have ended up in the hospital three times during filming if the on-set stories are correct. He found himself hitting walls (and water) harder than intended. According to IMDb, this film is his only credit, which really leaves me wondering where he came from and where he went.
Apparently, this movie was almost universally hated in the 1970s, both by critics and the cast. Respect has grown for it ever since, and rightfully so. While not outright scary in any way, and without the deepest plot or dialogue, it really is a fun, twisted film and a great concept. The subgenre of "supernatural motorcycle riders" is small, but "Psychomania" is definitely better than either of the "Ghost Rider" films.
As always, Arrow Video brings us the best possible version of the movie in terms of picture and sound, and pack in the extras. We get a brand-new interview with star Nicky Henson and "Hell for Leather", a brand-new featurette on the company who supplied the film's costumes (which is more interesting than you might think). Brought over fro ma previous Severin release, we have "Return of the Living Dead", an archive featurette containing interviews actors Henson, Mary Larkin, Denis Gilmore, Roy Holder and Rocky Taylor and "Sound of Psychomania", an archive interview with composer John Cameron. Heck, we even get "Riding Free", an archive interview with 'Riding Free' singer Harvey Andrews proving he can still play (and sing) the tune decades later.
A very brief feature (roughly 2 minutes) us "Remastering Psychomania", a look at the film's restoration from the original 35mm black and white separation masters. If you're like me and are still learning the difference between 2K, 4K, interpositive, and other terms of the Blu-ray era, this is a great crash course on what is done to make an old film pop like new.