Even bad movies can serve a good purpose in life. And if you’re home sick, lying on the couch and looking for something to occupy your mind while you wait for the meds to kick in, something that’s not too demanding of your intellect yet not so boring that you nod off, you could do a lot worse than to watch Psychomania.
Psychomania instantly dates itself with credits in that font used on the Fragile album by Yes. It then presents us with a slow-mo sequence of motorcyclists driving around the misty English countryside, accompanied by trippy music that’s heavy on the reverb. Said motorcyclists are a gang called The Living Dead, and when they get tired with driving loops around the local countryside they indulge in heinous activities like driving through town and knocking packages out of shoppers’ arms. Really.
The Living Dead’s leader, Tom (Nicky Henson), is bad and we know this because he has a perpetual smirk and Brian Jones hair, and constantly talks about killing himself so he can “cross over.” Tom’s girlfriend Abby is the “nice” one of the gang and we know this when she tells Tom she can’t join him in a suicide pact because she has to help her Mum with the shopping the next day. After a graveyard make-out session during which Tom takes a break from snogging with Abby to capture a frog (no, that’s not a euphemism), Tom heads home to chat with his widowed mother and her butler (played respectively by Beryl Reid and George Sanders, both looking faintly embarrassed). Vague conversation and even vaguer hallucinations reveal that Tom’s family are some sort of occultists who have figured out how to return from the dead. Turns out it’s very simple: You just have to really, REALLY believe that you can come back! Wow! Who knew? Oh, and there’s a frog amulet involved somehow. (Don’t ask me why. I think my meds were kicking in about this time.)
Tom thinks this is just dandy and proceeds to drive his motorcycle off a bridge. The Living Dead bury him up on the misty moor – bury him seated on his motorcycle. Which is cool, but they ruin the scene with a sickly hippie ballad called “Riding Free” that makes Emerson, Lake, and Palmer’s “Lucky Man” sound like Blue Cheer’s version of “Summertime Blues”. Mercifully the song ends and not long thereafter Tom reanimates and drives out of his grave on the motorcycle, looking none the worse for wear, his Brian Jones hair barely mussed. There follows a confusing sequence in which we watch Tom act like an asshole, ostensibly because he’s undead, but since he was an asshole before he died it’s hard to tell what difference being resurrected makes.
The gang all think this is just dandy, and start killing themselves in various ways. What makes this sequence a trifle surreal is that the key to resurrection apparently lies in believing you’ll come back and not chickening out – yet the bikers tend to choose methods (such as drowning or jumping out of planes sans parachute) that give them plenty of time for second thoughts.
Anyway, it all goes well for everyone except Abby, whose attempt at overdosing is foiled by her Mum and a police inspector played by one of the guys from All Creatures Great and Small (hey, I watched a lot of public television as a kid). Abby decides she doesn’t want to die, Mr. All Creatures Great and Small decides to use Abby to catch the rest of the gang, and Tom’s mother and butler suddenly decide this resurrecting business is evil and must be stopped.
It’s an odd little movie, just different enough to keep one mildly interested. If the makers had put as much thought into the characters (particularly Abby) and into the ramifications of being resurrected (which aside from physical invulnerability seem limited to “makes you somewhat more of a douche than you were when you were alive”) as they did into the occasionally clever camerawork and the pretty good motorcycle stunts, it could have been an enjoyably surreal ride.
It’s hard to tell if the print is substandard or if the movie’s low budget and misty countryside setting make things a bit on the soft-focus side. As for the disc, it’s one of the most extra-free I’ve seen, without even a title page or chapters – just pop it in and watch the movie go!