Friday, June 13, 2014

"The Death Wheelers" (1973) d/ Don Sharp

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I remember the Media VHS of tonight's review under it's original title, Psychomania (1972), one of the earliest releases on the format if my memory serves me correctly, before a sudden flood of unlicensed bootlegs of much grit and grain turned up in supermarket bins everywhere for a buck (much like Romero's Night of the Living Dead, which I bought  Media's release of, way back when, for fifty bucks.), one Halloween season. Of course, I'd dug this idiosyncratic tale of biker gangs and the occult for ages beforehand, having seen it numerous times during its run as a late night television staple back in the seventies, the ideal venue for the production, really, since it doesn't offer the boobs or blood as a PG feature that rivals Hammer would have slathered an X certificate film with.

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"Try licking his back...It's very groovy, indeed.", notes Shadwell (George Sanders).
Tom Latham (Nicky Henson) is an interesting chap, to be sure. When he's not terrorizing people and causing traffic accidents with his motorcycle gang, the aptly-named "Living Dead",  a surprisingly posh bunch who all have names like "Chopped Meat", "Gash", and "Hinky" (of course, there's also a Bertram thrown in for good measure), and skulls and crossbones painted on their helmets to go with the usual diabolical leather clobber and chains you always see that lot wearing, he's grilling his frog-digging, psychic mother (Beryl Reid, as a "large medium", you might say) for the secrets to immortality that are seemingly locked away in his late father's study. After nearly blowing his cool in said study, he learns that eternal life can be achieved by simply committing suicide and believing that you'll return afterwards. He does just that, and is buried on his motorcycle(!), which he uses to dramatically burst free from his earthy grave, finally a patch holder with the real living dead.

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Meanwhile, somewhere in Italy, Michele Soavi nodded approvingly.
Once the rest of the gang gets a load of Tom's new kicks: mass murder, as evidenced by the lifeless bodies he's been leaving in his wake, even busting them out of the nick by killing the attending guards and bending the cell bars, Hulk-style(!),  they all decide to join in his shenanigans by snuffing it in different, creative ways: one by skydiving, one by chain-weighted drowning, one swan dives off of a busy traffic overpass, etc., except for Tom's reluctant bird, Abby (Mary Larkin) whose stubborn refusal to die really gets up her late boyfriend's nose. He drives his bike through a brick wall, later giving her the lover's ultimatum: Die, or I'll kill you. Sounds reasonable. Tom's mother, shamed by her son's lust for power and appetite for destruction, uses her superior black magic skills to transform the rotten lot of them into stone pillars before Abby's disbelieving eyes.

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"May a nearsighted nonce mistake yer hemorrhoids fer cherry tah-matoes, ya deuce-in-a-pail!"
Sadly, this would be apex British cad George Sanders' last movie, as he committed suicide in 1972. Beryl Reid, you may remember from 1970's Beast in the Cellar. Ann Michelle was no stranger to genre films, herself, appearing in things like 1972's Virgin Witch, House of Whipcord (1974), and even Cruel Passion (1977) with Koo Stark. Nicky Henson, who also appeared in 1968's Vincent Price vehicle, Witchfinder General, would turn up opposite David Niven in the comedic Old Drac/ Vampira (1974). I think the film's strength lies in the odd, witchy vibe it surrounds itself in throughout; its well-deserved cult classic status stemming from the film's black sense of humor as much as the bikers' far out skull-helmets, which must've struck an immediate nerve with audiences at the time, especially during the impressive foggy slo-mo in the title sequence. On the scale, Wheelers scores an impressive three Wops and comes highly recommended. Add it to your collection, sharpish.

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Suddenly, Tom (Nicky Henson) was petrified at the thought of immortality.
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