Arrow Heads Vol. 50: Anarchy in the UK with PSYCHOMANIA (1973)

Black magic and an undead biker gang take center stage in one of the weirdest bits of 70s British horror.

Arrow Heads — Arrow Video, a subsidiary of Arrow Films, humbly describe themselves as merely a “Distributor of classic, world, cult and horror cinema on DVD & Blu-ray”. But we film geeks know them as the Britain-based bastion of the brutal and bizarre, boasting gorgeous Blu-ray releases with high quality artwork and packaging and bursting with extras, often of their own creation. This column is devoted to their weird and wonderful output.

Today in our trek through the archives of Arrow Video, we visit the iconic British biker cult classic Psychomania (aka The Death Wheelers), which they released on Blu-ray last year.

“Iconic” is perhaps the best was to describe Psychomania,which is memorable for its anarchic style and attitude contrasted against both quaint English conservatism and surreal mysticism.

The tale initially centers on leather-clad bike gang leader Tom Latham (Nicky Henson), who comes from an aristocratic household that engages in witchcraft. His father perished seeking the power of eternal life, and he too acts on this impulse with the advice his mother (Beryl Reid) and her sinister maybe-more-than-a-butler (George Sanders in his final role). The intrepid Tom acts on a belief, making a deal with the devil: If you kill yourself, believing that you will resurrect, you can come back — an eternal life of youth.

Tom does just that, returning form the grave and quickly persuading his crew of miscreants, The Living Dead, to follow suit. Most of the film involves the gang violently marauding and offing themselves in different ways, and in their deaths transforming into their namesake. But none of this sits well with Tom’s hesitant girlfriend Abby, the lone holdout who enjoys a bit of hellraising but isn’t really keen on killing herself or making a pact with Lucifer.

Both the film and its gang are quite mean-spirited, so the transition to Abby, who is the film’s sole voice of reason or morality, as the eventual protagonist is a welcome respite from the antics of the increasingly and unjustifiably malicious bikers. But this doesn’t really emerge until the story’s final act, making most of the film about following a gang of detestable goons doing detestable goon things (and in fairness, some cool motorcycle stunts).

Fortunately the film has style to spare, from the iconic skull helmets and jackets worn by the gang, to the mystically 70s aesthetic of the occult-themed Latham home, to the angry buzzing of motorcycles tearing through the English countryside, suburban populations, and a misty Stonehengesque site where evil gathers. So while I found the film underwhelming given its cult reputation and the promise of “zombie bikers”, it’s still certainly a worthwhile experience simply for its weirdness and transportive setting.

The film’s cult reputation is also deeply intertwined with drama off the screen. Legendary actor George Sanders committed suicide between the film’s production and release, leaving this weird little low-budget movie about coming back from the dead as his final screen performance and fueling the question of whether the film contributed to the actor’s depression and final exit.

The Package

Psychomania was released by Arrow Video in 2017 and is readily available for purchase. It features a “reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by the Twins of Evil”. (This review was conducted using disc-only media so packaging details are not observed firsthand).

The disc features a 2K restoration, uncompressed original 1.0 mono audio, and optional subtitles.

Special Features and Extras

In addition to a couple of new featurettes, the disc ports over some features from Severin’s DVD, now in HD.

  • NEW — “An Interview with Nicky Henson” (13:57)
  • NEW — “Hell for Leather” (7:52), An interview with Derek Harris, owner of Lewis Leathers (the film’s costumes supplier)
  • “Return of the Living Dead” (25:02), Severin featurette interviewing actors Nicky Henson, Mary Larkin, Denis Gilmore, Roy Holder and Rocky Taylor
  • “The Sound of Psychomania” (9:06), Severin interview with composer John Cameron
  • “Riding Free” (6:25), Severin interview with ‘Riding Free’ singer Harvey Andrews
  • “Restoring Psychomania” (1:47), BFI presents a short analysis of the film’s 35mm restoration
  • Theatrical trailer (2:50)

A/V Out.

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Except where noted, all 16:9 screen images in this review are direct captures from the disc(s) in question with no editing applied, but may have slight compression inherent to file formats. All package photography was taken by the reviewer.

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