What is a sleeper hit? It is a film that obtains it box-office through word of mouth. So then what would you call a hit that has gathered a following over time and influenced different forms of media? I think we’ll call them Cult-Sleepers.
Since I just coined the phrase I will name the first film…Psychomania.
It’s artwork has been used on album covers and fliers, it has influenced punk rock bands The Damned and The Misfits and it’s been released and re-released time and again.
The film opens with a group of bikers in skull and cross bone helmets, known as “The Living Dead” cruising in the fog laden field. After causing the death of a motorist who happened upon them, the leader Tom and his girlfriend Abby sit in a graveyard and argue about couple stuff when Tom suggest crossing over. Tom wants to be dead to really live and wants Abby with him.
Abby shrugs it off and Tom returns home. After learning the truth of his mother’s dealings with the devil, Tom passes out on the couch holding his father’s glasses. He awakens the next morning to find his mom and her confidant discussing the secrets of life after death.
Tom now knows all he needs to and after talking with Abby and the gang, drives off a bridge to his death. Soon Tom returns to them and the real fun begins. Jane, the group hottie, takes
Tom up on his offer and dies as well.
After the rest of the gang is arrested, Tom and Jane break them out and there is no more doubt. Members are dying left and right and returning to wreak havoc. All except Abby, who believes there is more to immortality than Tom knows.
Psychomania was made in 1971 and remains quite the time capsule film. It is in many ways a slice of British life long gone and gone wrong. Though not as atmospherically rich as some of my recommendations, this film is definitely a must see at least once. I have read many reviews on the web and everyone seems to have discovered this film in their youth and have been unable to shake it. I can remember watching it on a Sunday afternoon on channel 13 in Los Angeles and asking my mother to explain the ending to me. I had a crush on Jane the wild girl (even then I knew what excited me). The main theme is groovetastic, it will stick in your head no matter how hard you try.
As for the cast, well this was George Sanders last role and he plays it as well as he ever played anything. There is a faint hint of pure evil underneath the surface of his performance. Kind of like an evil Twilight Zone character. Rumor has it that he did see a rough cut of the film before his suicide.
Nickey Henson who plays Tom, sleep walks through his role so he is never really likeable or hateable. He stated in a recent interview that he hated the script and it does show on screen (a note to actors: the roles you take because you think no one will see them are usually the ones you are remembered for…give them your all)
Mary Larkin as Abby the sort of good-bad girl with a heart of gold is more of a plot devise than a character. She does seem to do the best with what she’s given.
By far the most interesting character is Jane, the most hell bent member of the group and successor to Tom after his initial demise. Jane is brought to vivid life by genre fav Ann Michelle, known for her starring turn in the “Virgin Witch”. If you didn’t get enough of her in this film you get ALL of her in that one.
Sexy crumpets fill the screen as do the best in mod fashion. The deaths are tame but the mood is grim and unrelenting. There is a satanic sub text to the whole film and because it is sub text it doesn’t slip into parody.
I do recommend this one, though it isn’t as rich as some it seems to have become required viewing and that’s what the best films do over time.