"Burnt Rubber and Black Leather"
A look into Hell's Angels on Wheels and Psychomania
The 1960s weren’t only a time for mondo shockumentaries, spaghetti westerns, soft exotic nudies, Hercules, and Hippies, but also the climax of another genre that reigned supreme for almost 20 years. Originating with the 1954 classic The Wild One, starring Marlon Brando, biker movies of all sorts were the talk of the town. It wasn’t until Roger Cormon’s Wild Angels and Dennis Hopper’s Easy Rider that motorcycle gangs went from the streets to the big screen. The two films I’m going to talk about are rarely ever mentioned in the biker genre. Those are Richard Rush’s Hell’s Angels on Wheels and Don Sharp’s Psychomania.
Hell’s Angel’s on Wheels is Jack Nicholson’s predecessor to the famous Easy Rider. As a rude and violent gas attendant who’s bored with life, Nicholson sees it fit to join the towns motorcycle gang. But the task doesn’t come without merit and its Nicholson who has to prove himself to the gang’s leader Buddy, played by Adam Roarke. Traveling on motorcycle in a cross-country trip to Nevada, Roarke gets his gang into major heat with the law. Killing a Navy sailor, and scarring pedestrians off narrow highways, the California Hell’s Angels take the law into their own hands. When one of there own takes the rap for vehicular homicide, Roarke and the gang see it best to bust him out. All the while Nicholson becomes more aware of the dementedness of the gang and gets involved with the leader’s broad. Once Roarke finds out the involvement of Nicholson and his girlfriend, the two wind up in a biker-style duel. Using any weapon they can get their hands on, Nicholson puts up a fare fight and instead of killing Roarke and taking over as leader of the gang, he decides to walk away as if the life wasn’t for him. Rather than respecting Nicholson’s decision and leaving him be, Roarke immediately hops on his motorcycle and tries to ram him. Instead of killing Nicholson like he originally intended, Roarke who’s strapped in nice and tight to his bike, burst into flames and dies.
The film never began and never ended; it just started and finished. Even with the lack of plot, this movie is still a B grade classic. The film boasts being photographed by famous photographer Lazlo Kovaks and features real-life Hell’s Angel Sonny Barger as one of the characters in the film along with other members of the Richmond Hell’s Angels and the Sacramento Nomads gangs.
When I popped in Psychomania, I was expecting bad acting, cheesy music, and horrible dialogue. It was far from that. The film isn’t a work of art either, but as a British entry to the biker genre, Psychomania stands tall. Don Sharp introduces elements of horror and witchcraft that are prominent throughout the rest of the movie. With an intriguing blend of ghosts and motorcycles, Psychomania (also known as The Death Wheelers) focuses on a rebel motorcycle gang, called the Living Dead. Their leader, an occult fanatic, questions his mother, on the issue of whether you can be brought back immortally once you’ve already died. Searching for the answers, Tom, played by Nicky Henson, discovers that when one has no fear of dying they can never die…only to be brought back immortal and super-human. Upon convincing his gang…after his own death and reincarnation, does Tom find fulfillment in his deeds. Leading a gang of immortal un-dead bikers they wreak havoc on their small country village. Their sign of the devil, the bullfrog, soon misleads them as Tom’s mother decides she has had enough of their mishaps and miss-use of power. Upon reciting their ancient hymn does Tom’s mother turn herself and rest of the gang into a modern day stone hinge. Ending both her life and their reign of terror.
Psychomania may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it does offer some of creepiest atmosphere and psychedelic music. This under ratted classic got what it deserved when Image Entertainment released it on their Euro Shock Collection on August 14th of 2002. The film has never looked or sounded better and has forever been placed in the Savage Cinema database as 100% Weird!
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