(A.k.a. THE FROG)
Tom (Nicky Henson) is a handsome young man who is also the leader of an unruly biker gang known as The Living Dead. We first meet him in a graveyard at night, making out with girlfriend Abby (Mary Larkin). He kills the mood by capturing a passing frog and then telling Abby how he believes they should "cross over" - kill themselves, leaving the material world behind. She's not so keen on the idea...
Why is Tom so unusual? Well, it may have something to do with the fact that he lives with his mother, Mrs Latham (Beryl Reid), a respected clairvoyant with a penchant for ending each night by dancing with her son. It may be that the home's butler, Shadwell (George Sanders in his final screen role), is a creepy goon who never seems to age. Or it just might be that Tom still doesn't know why his father died screaming while locked in his room eighteen years ago - a room that, to this day, has remained locked.
Whatever it is, something has turned Tom into a death-fixated delinquent. He gets a better grasp on his disposition when his mother gives him the key to said room, explaining it may provide him with the answers he seeks. Shadwell even gives him an amulet with a frog on it as "protection".
Inside the room, Tom is attacked by a high-pitched ringing sensation and images which appear through his father's old mirror. These begin with a giant frog (are you starting to see the recurring theme here too?) before going on to detail how Tom's mother signed a contract with a mysterious hooded figure - wearing a frog ring on their finger! - while he was just a baby. It's enough to make poor Tom faint.
When he next wakes, Tom is laid on a settee listening to his mother and Shadwell converse. She laments the day her husband "crossed over", agonising over how she begged him not to commit suicide because she knew only those who truly believed had a chance of "coming back". Overhearing this, Tom determines that it's this unwavering faith he and his gang need if they are to kill themselves and successfully return in the afterlife.
The following morning Tom puts this theory test by riding off the side of a bridge at high speed. He dies. Abby and friends arrange a burial ceremony at Tom's favourite pagan site. Mrs Latham doesn't bother to attend, however, as she and Shadwell know instinctively that Tom is "coming back".
And come back, he does. With an even cockier attitude than before, along with seemingly superhuman strength and a lust for murder.
Tom's antics put copper Hesseltine (Robert Hardy) on the trail of The Living Dead. In the meantime, the gang begin to realise that their leader has risen from the dead. Discovering his grave to be empty confirms this for them. Even better proof arrives in the form of the resurrected Tom introducing himself smugly to the gang.
The gang are excited to learn that all they need in order to return from the other side is a staunch belief in it being possible, and that once they do return they will effectively be immortal. But ... what lies in store for those brave or foolish enough to follow in Tom's footsteps?
PSYCHOMANIA, first released in 1973, is one of the great British horror films of the 1970s. It's superbly paced by director Don Sharp, beautifully shot, and fantastically scored: John Cameron's soundtrack is an insanely entertaining hybrid of cheesy Hammond organ theatrics and era-specific rock tropes. Once heard, you'll not soon forget it.
Likeable performances and an enjoyable, knowingly hokey script further add to the fun. It's also great seeing screen stars such as Reid and Sanders in such pulpy material. They're clearly having a great time, too.
With some fine stunt work and impressive camerawork to boot, PSYCHOMANIA remains a thrilling, consistently entertaining ride. It's stylish, occasionally silly and always, always compelling.
BFI are releasing PSYCHOMANIA as a dual format, blu-ray and DVD combo package. This title represents number 33 in their esteemed Flipside range.
We were sent a copy of the DVD for review purposes.
The film is presented uncut - 86 minutes and 53 seconds in length - in its original 1.66:1 ratio. A 2K restoration has been conducted from preservation negatives and, for the most part, it looks brilliant. Colours and flesh tones are accurate throughout; the prints used are nicely clean; noise reduction is kept in check so as to ensure a fine layer of natural grain is evident at all times and an authentically filmic texture is experienced as a consequence. Blacks are deep, compression issues are absent. Daytime scenes often look amazing. Even the darker and more mist-filled scenes come up trumps, in a transfer that overall trounces previous renditions - despite very occasional signs of wear in the form of minor fade on the print. Given that the BFI worked on a composite of variously damaged sources - as explained in this set's enclosed booklet - the results are amazing.
English mono audio is very good: clean, clear, free from unwelcome background noise or dropouts. Optional English subtitles for the hard-of-hearing are generally well-written - I noticed a couple of typing errors: Tom's line of "I'm going" as he revs towards his suicidal bridge jump being translated as "I'll going" for example - and easily readable at all times (white with thin black borderline).
The disc opens to a static main menu page. While there is no scene selection menu, the film can be remote-accessed by way of 10 chapters.
Extras begin with the film's original 3-minute theatrical trailer. This looks great, albeit there's more specks and scuffs present on this 1.66:1 presentation.
A new 13-minute interview with Henson is interesting. He's a snappy talker with a good memory for the subject at hand. Sat in a theatre, this is a good-looking, well-edited and agreeably light-hearted featurette in which he talks us through his early career and how it was working on this film. Sanders' work was shot in bulk, we learn, because the producers couldn't afford more time with him. Henson also reveals how his stuntman winded up in hospital three times while standing in for him. It's all good, meaty stuff. "We were all having a hoot" Henson confides, confessing how he and his co-stars saw the material as enjoyably ridiculous and they took the piss on set as a result.
"Return of the Living Dead" is a 24-minute featurette which originally featured on Severin's brilliant US DVD. Henson turns up again, as do Larkin (who, co-stars Denis Gilmore - a self-proclaimed horror fan - and Roy Holder, and stuntman Rocky Taylor. Sharp was a lovely bloke, the shoot was a fun one: there are lots of fond memories and some amusing stories contained herein.
Also from Severin, " The Sound of PSYCHOMANIA" is a 9-minute featurette with composer Cameron. This, on the test disc provided at least, was compromised by having audio from the trailer and God-knows-what playing over the onscreen interview!
"Riding Free" is an interesting 6-minute interview with Harvey Andrews, whose song of the same name features in the film.
"Hell for Leather" spends 7 minutes with Lewis Leathers boss Derek Harris. They're the store who provided the ever-so-slightly camp leather outfits worn by The Living Dead gang in the film.
"Restoring PSYCHOMANIA" offers a brief but welcome insight into the work involved when restoring the film to its current state. Images are set to excerpts of the movie's stirring score. Excellent.
Next we get a trivia track by critics the Wilson Bros. Like the ones they've provided in the past for Shameless Films, this is an alternate subtitle track which plays along to the full film, proffering titbits of information about the film's production along the way. It's perhaps not zippy or insightful enough to be essential, but it's a fun watch regardless.
"Discovering Britain with John Betjeman" is an intriguing 3-minute documentary on a certain site of stone ruins in Avebury, England, narrated by Betjeman in upper-class style. This black-and-white offering from 1955 is worth a look.
"Roger Wonders Why" is a scratchy colour offering from 1965 documenting biker Roger Abbott's meeting with Reverend Bill Shergold. It's a bit of a slog at 17 minutes in length but it's nice to see it included here regardless. Though Roger's narration is unintentionally amusing. Presented in its original 1.33:1 ratio.
A double-sided reversible cover is a nice touch too.
Finally we get a beautiful 28-page collectors' booklet featuring intelligent writings on the film from the BFI's Vic Pratt and William Fowler, and film historian Andrew Roberts. Full disc credits, more info on the tribulations of restoring PSYCHOMANIA and some lovely monochrome stills fill out this very worthy addition.
Also included in this set, but unavailable to review, is a blu-ray disc containing the same material as above. It's a dual-layer BD50 affair (the standard definition disc is DVD9) and presents the film in 1080p HD with PCM mono audio.
PSYCHOMANIA is one of those films that actually improves with age. It's of its time, certainly, but that's a large part of its charm. In terms of sheer entertainment, it's one of the 1970s' best horrors. BFI have served the film outstandingly on this essential release.
Review by Stuart Willis
|Released by BFI|
|see main review|