Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Psychomania



How cool is that font?

Beryl Reid is a very important British actress. Not only did she play a weird adult-girl (a bit like Geri Halliwell) in the film version of Orton's Entertaining Mr Sloane, she was also a ground-breaking butch lesbian in The Killing of Sister George. But many people overlook her third contribution to British cinema - that of a fashionable Satanist in Psychomania. I must have seen this film 10 times - it was always shown on ITV at about 11pm on Friday nights in the 1980s, as part of the "Fear on Friday" late-night weekend movie season, that seemed to go on for years. I watched all of them, completely uncritically of course, as I still do.

Psychomania is also a biker movie, featuring the poshest bikers ever. They all wear jackets with their names on them: Gash, Chopped Meat and Hatchet being my favourites. Their leader is handsome (by the standards of 1971) Tom (Nicky Henson). He has Beryl Reid as his mother and they live in a big old mansion, decorated by Austin Powers with weird geometric shapes hanging off the wall and brightly-coloured kitsch plastic chairs everywhere. Oh, and George Sanders is their butler. He committed suicide a year after the film was made. Which is interesting, considering that suicide is one of the main themes of Psychomania.

You see, Tom discovers that his mother made a pact with the devil or something (it's a bit vague, but involves a locked room, some standing stones (similar to Avebury or Stonehenge) a flashback and some frogs) and now he knows the secret of eternal life - he only has to kill himself and "want to come back". He does so and encourages the other members of the gang to do the same. (There are two girl members of the biker gang - nasty Jane - who wears a red leather jacket, has awful teeth and is therefore coded as the "Bad girl", and nice Abby (who sometimes looks a bit concerned at the biker mayhem. My fella took one look at her and said "she's the weak link".) Once they've come back from the dead, they all spread mayhem round a brand new 1970s shopping precinct - it looks so clean and perfect - yet you know that in a few years it'll be covered in graffiti and be horrible. Anyway, for the moment it's full of leggy models in tiny skirts and hot pants pushing prams around. Tom and his gang ride their bikes around them, knocking things over and making them scream, before riding off laughing.

The music is fab - very death-rock. And there is a great hippy song when the biker gang give Tom his own funeral (it's so sweet seeing Gash and Chopped Meat making garlands out of flowers). But of course, it's Beryl who steals the show. She wears a range of ridiculous 70s flowing dresses, each more silly than the last. It's like she raided Childie's collection of see-through nighties at the end of the Killing of Sister George. A lot of the reviews of this film that I read pointed out the main inconsistencies and unanswered questions that were left hanging at the end. But who cares! It's a wonderful period piece of British horror-trash and it just made my top 20 favourite films list.

3 comments:

Lost Boy said...

I loved Beryl. For me, one of her finest hours was as Adrian Mole's gran.

KAZ said...

This film sounds wonderful - I want to see it now!
It sounds like a cross between 'The Rocky Horror show' and 'The spy who shagged me'.
Beryl was a superb stand up before stand ups were invented.

matty said...

Beryl was an actress far ahead of her time. Brilliant!