Painful Pleasures [1931]

Painful Pleasures

The story of how “Painful Pleasures” came into my life is one of absolute kismet. In a used book store, nestled between shelves with computer-printed labels like “History: Ancient” and “19th Century Fiction,” was a stack of books with a hand-scrawled scrap of paper that just said “Sexy Shelf.”  Like any self-respecting pervert, I directed my attention accordingly and was rewarded with early 20th Century “marriage manuals,” a book on chastity belts and a little hardbound volume of flogging and spanking stories called “Painful Pleasures.” Simply put, there was no way I was NOT going to buy this thing.

Painful Pleasures

The only information I’ve been able to dig up on this privately-printed book from 1931 is that it’s “very rare and sought-after.” Whether “Painful Pleasures” is, in fact, “translated out of the French” by W.J. Meusal is up for debate–the French pedigree may be a gimmick to provide English-language readers with an extra frisson of exoticism. This is copy 906 of a limited run of 1,000 and many of its pages remain uncut.

Painful Pleasures

The book is extensively illustrated by Francis Heuber, an artist that I can find no mention of outside of his work in this volume.  His clean, Art Deco drawings lend the figures a strange lack of affect.  Over-the-knee spankings are delivered with calm efficiency and birchings appear instructional rather than punitive.

Painful Pleasures

This complements the stuffy and precise writing style–there’s an element of scientific detachment that may actually make the book weirder.  Check out the intro to this tale of a young female spanking advocate:

People from all walks of life discover satisfaction in submitting to or doling out whippings.  From what I can read on the cut pages, the book is written from a true fetishist’s point of view–there’s no messy sex to get in the way of a proper flogging, and mental as well as physical release can be achieved when one discovers which side of the whip s/he likes to be on.
This is such a remarkable little piece of vintage kink, and one of my favorite stumbled-upon treasures. If anyone has any additional info on this book, please let me know in the comments or drop me an email. I’m genuinely curious to know more about it!
Addendum: Thanks to scholarly brains greater than mine (the owner of those brains may choose to identify itself), it turns out this book *is* a translation from multiple French sources dating from between the 1880s and 1920s.  The book was printed by Gargoyle Press.  More info here on BiblioCuriosa. “Painful Pleasures” is mentioned in the papers of “Conan” author Robert E. Howard, noted as something on what looks to be a to-purchase list.  So yes, it looks like today’s episode of Kinky Antiques Road Show uncovered a little nugget of gold!

Caged Fury [1990]

Caged FuryAs a young and still-idealistic person, I avoided Women-in-Prison movies, deeming them to be mean-spirited sexist junk. It turns out young and still-idealistic me was 100% right. Some have pointed to “empowering representations of females fighting the system,” but all I see are women are locked up while wearing tiny clothing and being assaulted.  Ain’t nothin’ empowering about that no matter how metatextual you want to get! But that’s not to say I didn’t wind up getting a kick out of these movies. Talking about the Women-in-Prison genre in the context of political correctness misses the point entirely, because it comes from a creative place motivated by the dark bits of the Id. It’s this unrepentant luridness–there are no fantastical trappings or elegant production choices to soften the subject matter–that provides the joy of the Women-in-Prison genre. The Judgement Hat should be checked at the door and the Stained Raincoat should be donned before sitting down to watch one of these movies.

Caged FurySo where does that put “Caged Fury,” a very late Women-in-Prison entry made in 1990? By that point, the genre had morphed from the serious cautionary tales of the 30s and 40s into the “roughies” of the 60s, making way for  kinky imports in the 70s, and the eventual trickling-out  of borderline-fetish flicks in the 80s.  Well, it turns out “Caged Fury” is a very stupid movie that uses its own stupidity like a judo move, using the viewer’s own cynicism against him by providing a twist ending that collapses all the conceits of the genre in on itself. It’s like going through a rabbit hole found in a Poison video and emerging in H.G. Lewis’ infinitely quotable girls-gone-bad flick “Scum of the Earth.”  “Caged Fury” is fucking weird, and amazing in its weirdness.

***I’m not quite sure why I’m giving you a spoiler warning for a twenty-plus-year-old Women-in-Prison movie, but I guess if you want all the fragrant freshness of its story to unfold in a pure fashion, you’d better stop reading here***

Caged Fury
“What do you mean, I look like a tourist?”

Sweet country girl Kat Collins heads to Los Angeles to make it as an actress. Before she even gets to the city, Kat has picked up a hitchiker named Rhonda who promises her a place to stay as well as a showbiz “in.”  If this sounds entirely too good to be true, that’s because it is!  Rhonda’s boyfriend Buck is a pornographer, but Kat comes from a planet that has never encountered pornography, so she hitches her star to his Hepatitis C train. While out celebrating with her new friends at an unconvincing biker bar, Kat is abandoned by Rhonda and Buck (who have a fully-clothed yet still very icky sex scene in a bar bathroom) only to get almost-raped by a gang.  Fortunately, beefy Good Samaritans Victor (Erik Estrada, suffering from an alarming case of Tight-Pants-Itis) and Dirk (Richard Barathy) are there to save her, and they bring her back to what they wrongly assume is safety at Buck’s place. The next day, Kat goes to her first audition, which turns out to be for an adult film (escandalo!) and is arrested for assaulting the crew during her escape from the set.  After the world’s most efficient trial, Kat is imprisoned–but not before telling her family that she’s on a super-secret movie shoot in Mexico.

Caged Fury
In a just world, this happens to everyone who wears Zoobas.

Kat’s sister Tracy realizes something is amiss, though, and travels to L.A. to see what’s become of her sister. After being told by Detective Stoner (played by James Hong aka frikkin’ David Lo Pan–holy shit, movie; just when I thought I couldn’t love you more!) that he has no clue as to Kat’s whereabouts, Tracy decides to launch her own investigation.  She teams up with Victor and Buck and, in the world’s most terrible plan, contrives to get herself imprisoned so she can bust out her sister.

Once the two women are behind bars, it becomes clear that this is no ordinary prison. Things are extremely rapey behind these walls, and Warden Sybil Thorn (f’reals) takes sadistic pleasure in doling out kinky punishments to her charges.  As a matter of fact, not only is this not an ordinary prison–it isn’t a prison at all.  Everything after the audition-gone-wrong is a fiendish ruse by a gang of white slavers to brainwash the girls before auctioning them off to wealthy clients.

So yes–everything that happened that made you think “gee, I’m pretty sure the American justice system doesn’t work this way” or “I’m pretty sure Frederick’s of Hollywood doesn’t provide prison uniforms” was done on purpose.  Set your minds to “blown” because you just got pantsed by a sleazy genre movie.

Caged Fury
Sex Panther Cologne: 60% of the time, it works every time.

There’s so much that goes into making “Caged Fury” a trash classic, from the gratuitous nudity to the only-semi-choreographed action scenes to the tone-shifting madness of the plot. If I was forced to pick a single factor that seals my love for this movie, it would have to be the acting.  Performances run the gamut from “stilted” to “hammy” to “hot fuckin’ mess,” and they are never less than delicious to watch. Erik Estrada has put the better part of a decade between himself and “CHiPs” and it’s a little difficult to buy him as a roguish male lead, but that doesn’t stop him from continuing to rock Ponch’s cocky attitude. For my money, Richard Barathy’s Dirk is the more amazing hero–he’s a judo-chopping, high-kicking, brick-breaking force of vintage action movie manliness.  With only four IMDb credits to his name (including a turn as “Karate Biker” in the Lorenzo Lamas vehicle “Snake Eater,” which I highly recommend if you love testosterone-fueled idiocy as much as I do), Barathy makes his sole leading-role appearance a memorable one. In a sequence that tells you most of what you need to know about “Caged Fury,” Dirk is in a pagoda, outfitted in a karate uniform, breaking bricks with his bare fists before hopping onto his motorcycle to go dole out some fist-flavored justice.

Caged Fury
A band composed entirely of Steve Stevenses.

A relic of a time that worshiped a stretchy, bedazzled, synthetic brand of glamor, “Caged Fury” revels in the miserable aesthetics of the late 1980s. The scene in the biker bar reeks of that era’s awfulness, from the bleached-blonde go-go dancer to the teased-out heavy metal band to the bar’s patrons, attired in stretch pants and crotch-crushing high-rise jeans. It was an era that called out for two aging action heroes to kick it in the metaphorical nutsack. Perhaps Victor and Dirk are doing more than just fighting against human trafficking–maybe they’re doing their part to save America from its own hideousness.

Caged FuryIt might be due to the unrepentant ugliness of the time, but “Caged Fury” is not a sexy movie in spite of it being crammed full of sex-occurrences. The leading ladies aren’t especially appealing, and there’s a meanness behind the various assaults, tortures, and rapes that contrasts with the goofiness of much of the movie.  It’s an adolescent approach to sex that is, by turns, uncomfortable and hilarious. Also: Ron Jeremy has a cameo as a prison guard, and it’s been proven by science that nothing “The Hedgehog” appears in can be sexy.

And yet, none of this unsexy grossness gets in the way of my enjoyment of “Caged Fury”–in fact, it actually enhances my delight. It’s a perfect combination of adolescent-boy machismo and adolescent-boy glee at seeing boobs (any boobs, in any context). This movie takes one to a paradise of lunkheadery, and should be celebrated for its shamelessness.

See more images from “Caged Fury” on Flickr.

Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone [1983]

Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden ZoneThe worst part about “Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone” (no relation to the trippy Richard Elfman musical “The Forbidden Zone”) is that I can’t even feel smug and justified about how much I dislike it.  It’s an incredibly zany post-apocalyptic sci-fi adventure with immersive production values and some genuinely memorable visuals. It also features the most aggravating leading couple in the history of film–the kind of couple who, if you were sitting next to them in a restaurant, would put you off your meal and provoke a “Tell-Tale Heart”-level hatecrush. This makes “Spacehunter” a point of some heated contention in my household, since it’s a long-time fave of Baron XIII’s. He’ll argue for this movie’s merits with as much passion as I’ll use to defend “Dead Alive,” a film he would bury at the bottom of the ocean if given the chance.

At the center of “Spacehunter” is Wolff, a planet-hopping bounty hunter who manages to blend elements of Han Solo and Mad Max into a wise-cracking tough guy character with the charm of neither.  Wolff travels the galaxy with his ultra-realistic sex robot Chalmers (really) who accompanies him on his missions (no, really).  When a trio of big-haired space babes crash lands on a remote desert planet, Wolff and his sex robot set out to save them and claim the reward money. What seems like a simple mission turns into an epic adventure after Wolff realizes that the girls have been kidnapped by a cyborg warlord named Overdog (played by Michael Ironside, an actor who I think needs his own John-Saxon-like “Mark of Class” badge). A cacophony of welded-together vehicles, explosions, and mutant encouters ensues.

Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden ZoneWere that the sum of “Spacehunter’s” story, I’d probably be zen with it, perhaps even a bona fide fan. But no–this film isn’t content with the kind of pre-sexual wheelie-poppin’ found in “Megaforce.” Oh no. “Spacehunter” provides Wolff with a love interest in the form of spunky space waif Niki, played by Molly Ringwald. While Wolff’s speaking voice is exactly like that of every video game hero from the mid-1990s, Niki’s chief characteristics are “being squeaky” and “occasionally not understanding a turn of phrase.” You’ll need to at least double the amount of irritation you feel at reading that in order to grasp the scope of Niki’s awfulness. The two develop that squicky kind of relationship found in vintage romance novels, which maintains that extreme dislike will mystically transmogrify into a passionate attraction, given the right kind of wind-swept action background.  Adding insult to already-insult, the audience is supposed to just default-believe-in this budding romance, because Niki is the only woman on the planet who is not actively trying to kill Wolff. From where I sit, that just means she exercises bad judgement.

Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden ZoneThere are so many things that rankle me about this movie, but one of the chief and also least-sane ones is the use of Space Language right next to contemporary American cultural references. We’re far enough into the future that there’s an entirely new system of currency, the FUCK YOU’RE NOT EVEN TRYING-ly named “megacredits,” but “Monday Night Football” is still a popular program (presumably watched on “astro-television” or something else that’s been named in a similarly aneurism-inducing manner). I also have to state that “Overdog” might be my least-favorite villain name of all time. A combination of “overlord” and “underdog,” I couldn’t NOT think of the hapless General-Mills-sponsored cartoon canine. It’s almost as if someone on the production wanted to take that rad-looking character down a peg or two by giving him an incandescently stupid name.

“Spacehunter” is an unabashedly dumb popcorn-muncher of a movie.  Filmed in 3D and stitched together using aspects of other, more successful movies, it’s designed to put butts in seats and provide escapist fun for 90 minutes.  The heartbreaking thing about this movie–at least to this genre-film fan–is the fact that it’s not entirely a cynical crap-fest, and it has a cult following that I can empathize with even if I don’t agree with them. There’s a bit of the ol’ “Waterworld” about this movie; a certain dedication to a demented vision that I can’t write off entirely.

Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden ZoneHell, I’ll admit it: there are moments of awesomeness in “Spacehunter” that I’d be a jerk not to point out. Wolff’s run-ins with the desert planet’s mutants are weird little jewels within the crumminess of the rest of the movie. There’s a segment where Wolff and Niki stumble into a hive of monsters that look like oversized, squishy, slimy infants that’s legitimately creepy (or maybe that just further reveals my feelings about babies–only my therapist knows for sure). Sexy mer-women, sand pirates and deformed pyromaniac children are all given a sense of backstory that made me more curious about these folks than about the main characters. Also, Overdog is one frightening-looking monster: his steel teeth, robot claws and machine movements make me wish he was in a different, better movie.

Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden ZoneOnce Wolff and Niki have successfully infiltrated Overdog’s lair, they discover that he’s sending his prisoners into The Maze, a fiendishly creative series of traps that would make the “Saw” franchise’s Jigsaw turn various shades of envy-green. No–let me amend that: The Maze is the kind of thing your Dungeonmaster throws at your D&D party when he really, really hates you and wants you all to die horribly. Between the acid pits, rolling blades, sharp pendulums and spike walls, it’s an all-in-one, ultra-efficient death trap that only the most nimble can survive.

Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden ZoneVarious positive bits having been accounted for, I cannot find room in my black little heart to love “Spacehunter” the way its cult following does. It has got a bit of the “talented twelve-year-old” about it, like “Megaforce” or the Duncan Jax movies, but it’s populated by such aggressively annoying characters and distracting textural elements that it’s impossible for me to embrace it. “Spacehunter” becomes an exercise in how the details of a genre film can spell its downfall. I feel as though this movie needed more raunchiness to justify its meaner elements, like Overdog’s thirst for “life essence” that plays out as uncomfortably almost-rapey. By standing firmly on terra-PG, these bits just feel a little gross and tonally off.

I guess the real take-away from all of this is that I can totally hang with “Spacehunter” fans, even if I disagree with them. I’d just recommend we watch the Luigi Cozzi “Hercules” to get our kooky sci-fi fix instead.

Check out more images from “Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone” here.

Coming Soon: Jean Rollin Bobblehead from Cult Collectibles

Hey! Guess what you didn’t know what you needed until just now? The Jean Rollin Weird Wobbler bobblehead figure from Cult Collectibles.  Now you can think of nothing else, right?  The demented geniuses who turned “Dolemite’s” Rudy Ray Moore and “Demons'” Geretta Geretta into bizarro desk decorations designed to make all your colleagues uneasy are creating what may very well be the strangest-ever tribute to the French Master of the Fantastique.

This limited edition figure–only 250 pieces are being made–is slated to hit the grabby hands of collectors in November 2012.

I will weep tears of joy if he’s emerging from a grandfather clock onto the sands of Dieppe.

Blood on Satan’s Claw [1971]

Blood on Satan's Claw The more I think about “Blood on Satan’s Claw,” a grim and mean-spirited British witchcraft film, the more I feel like I should have really dug it.  All the elements line up for success: a beautifully crafted 17th Century setting, a willful young female lead, and plenty of gruesome, eroticized Satanic goings-on. A few key factors keep it from being a classic of occult horror, but there’s some juicy goodness for fans of supernatural horror to savor.

A monstrous skeleton is unearthed in a recently-plowed field, triggering a series of strange occurrences in a sleepy English village. People experience visions of a hairy, clawed hand; a young woman is driven screaming mad with terror; and nymphet Angel Blake recruits the sons and daughters of the town into her black magic coven. An outbreak of assault, rape and murder follows, and an ill-humored judge is tasked with stamping out the evil that threatens to destroy the community.

Blood on Satan's Claw “Blood on Satan’s Claw” wears its influences proudly, and does a fine job of incorporating a number of British horror tropes into its storyline. Tonally, it’s very similar to the doom and gloom classic “Witchfinder General”–deadly serious and steeped in historical reality.  Set in the same civil-war-torn political landscape of Seventeenth Century England, “Blood on Satan’s Claw” focuses its attention on generational conflict and does away with many of the ambiguities that make “Witchfinder General” such a compelling and uncomfortable film to watch (more about this later).  In “Blood on Satan’s Claw,” the Devil is a real and confirmed threat who is ultimately defeated by the forces of the Protestant Christian status quo.  Satan is able to get a foothold in the community through the young people, who have made a habit of disobeying their elders and challenging societal conventions.  The very first time we meet one of the young villagers, he’s accidentally dug up the Devil’s remains, and the next young person in the film is bringing home his fiancee, a woman who does not meet the standards of his family.

Blood on Satan's Claw Without a doubt, the highlight of the film is Linda Hayden’s sinister, sexually charged portrayal of Angel Blake.  Seventeen years old at the time of filming and already an established sex symbol due to her appearances in “Baby Love” and “Taste the Blood of Dracula,” Hayden is a magnetic screen presence.  She blends adolescent awkwardness with budding sensuality and adds scheming evil to make Angel Blake an unforgettable character. Creating a threatening ringleader out of a beautiful teenage girl is no mean feat and, by some alchemy, the moments of girlishness that Hayden allows Angel only underscore her dangerousness. Angel Blake is a character in the same vein as Helen Vaughan from Arthur Machen’s novella “The Great God Pan,” or Lucy Westenra in “Dracula.” She’s a young woman who has gained enormous sexual power through her connection to extraordinary evil. Her amoral, fierce dedication to spreading this corruption has parallels in venereal disease scares and the more generalized terror of female erotic empowerment.

Blood on Satan's Claw From a production design perspective, “Blood on Satan’s Claw” is a triumph.  There’s a lived-in feel to the interior spaces, which are filled with the kind of everyday ephemera one might find in an inhabited building.  Unlike the (admittedly charming) indoor sets favored by Hammer Films, there’s an effort to create realism by using natural settings and historical exteriors. In order to further evoke the 17th Century setting, the cinematography alludes to paintings of the time. Some shots are framed and lit like a Vermeer, blending sunny highlights with rich tones of wood and earth. There’s a pastoral loveliness to many scenes that belies the ghoulish story.

Blood on Satan's Claw

Unfortunately, “Blood on Satan’s Claw” suffers from some weaknesses that diminish its overall entertainment value, and ultimately its effectiveness. Chief among these weaknesses is what can only be described as A Serious Pacing Issue. This is a film that relies heavily on crescendo (and I’m not just talking about the sometimes-rather-jarring soundtrack), with long scenes of insinuation punctuated by bursts of violence. That wouldn’t be an issue if there was a sense of purpose to each scene, but there is a lot of ambling talkiness before the real meat of the story begins.

The majority of the pacing problems can be attributed to the fact that the film was originally conceived as a three-part anthology, with the stories linked by the unearthed Devil skeleton. While the tale of the judge rooting out evil blends nicely with the material about the evil children, the third storyline–that of a young man and his fiancee who are driven mad by Satanic forces–is less integrated.  Unfortunately, it’s this third storyline that is the focus of the first twenty-plus minutes of screen time. The characters of Peter and Rosalind just aren’t sketched well enough for the viewer to become invested in their fates.  Contrast that with Angel Blake, who’s clearly a tough bit of business right from her first minutes on screen, and it’s pretty evident that these characters were short-shrifted.  I’d posit that, in spite of a neat gag I won’t spoil here, the Peter and Rosalind story could have been excised entirely and not really missed.

Blood on Satan's Claw
“I am the Lord of Hellfire and Mild Allergens.”

As a fan of creature design, don’t think it doesn’t pain me to admit that one of the film’s downfalls is the appearance of the Devil.  In a film where so much care has been taken to recreate smoky cottages, rough-spun clothing and period speech patterns, it’s jarring to see a Devil that appears to have been constructed out of papier-mache and dryer lint. All joking aside, the creature design is so clunky that I anticipated a plot twist that would unmask the Devil’s true identity as one of the villagers.

Blood on Satan's Claw This brings me to the final bothersome bit about this movie: it attempts to create similar social commentary to that found in “Witchfinder General” in a universe where the supernatural is real. The Judge is not a Matthew-Hopkins clone; he’s clearly more dedicated to his office and never takes part in the kind of blackmail and abuse of power that Hopkins does. While there’s a similarly jaded spirit at work in him–the film shows him as an alcoholic, class-conscious misanthrope–he’s ultimately convinced of the reality of demonic powers.  The Judge is never a “Good” character, though. His response to Rosalind’s madness is to board her up in the attic–this coming from the man who is the village’s savior.  It’s a strangely-scripted character, and much of the driving force of the plot is reliant on the Judge’s actions.  It’s fortunate that the brilliant Patrick Wymark (in one of his final screen appearances) was cast in the role.  Other actors suggested for the role included British horror luminaries like Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing and Michael Gough, but Wymark brings a roughness and power to the role that might have been missing were it played by another actor. He sinks his teeth into the role and brings an unevenly-written character to life–the Judge is never likeable, but he’s certainly charismatic.

Blood on Satan's Claw The fact that the forces of the Social Norm–not to be confused with Good–eliminate the Devil’s cult sets up a twisted morality.  It’s difficult to celebrate an ending where anyone who challenged the restrictive standards of the time winds up mutilated or dead, with more of the same in store for others who might be tempted to act similarly. There’s no catharsis in that, and for a film that has so many intense moments, it’s missing a true emotional climax.

“Blood on Satan’s Claw” is a flawed but interesting film that should be appreciated for what it does well. Immersive production design and some outstanding performances make it worth the time of occult cinema fans, but the film’s attempts to blend historical realism and fantastical horror never gel. Ultimately, this is an interesting companion piece to superior but the similarly-themed films “Witchfinder General” and “Wicker Man.”

See more images from “Blood on Satan’s Claw” on Flickr.

Psychomania [1973]

PsychomaniaI almost don’t care what else happens in a movie that opens with slow-mo motorcycle stunts executed against the background of misty standing stones and set to the sounds of fuzzy wah-wah guitars.  If that kept up for ninety minutes, I’d be suitably entertained.  The fact that the rest of “Psychomania” is so delightfully insane is proof that mad geniuses walk among us.  It’s a true genre-basher, crafted with care to be simultaneously kitschy and creepy.

Dapper young gent Tom Latham (Nicky Henson), whose mother makes a rather fine living conducting seances in the family estate, heads up a motorcycle gang called The Living Dead–a group of youths with an insatiable lust for hooliganry.  Their deeds range from riding rings around unsuspecting shoppers and knocking over fruit carts to running motorists off the road.  Tom persuades his mother and her manservant Shadewell (George Sanders in his final role) to let him in on the occult secrets they harbor.  After discovering that all one needs to do to achieve immortality is to believe he’ll rise from the grave after his suicide, Tom persuades his biker pals to join him in undeath. Only Tom’s girlfriend Abby, who possesses a gentler soul than that of the other delinquents, stands between the group and an eternity of vandalism and violence.

Because seriously–FUCK TESCO.

All of this mayhem is supported by a fantastically groovy score by John Cameron. Psychedelic guitar work, sinister choral arrangements, and portentous organ chords cement the time, place and atmosphere of the film. I’d argue that the soundtrack to “Psychomania”is right up there with that of “Suspiria” in terms of playing an essential role in the success of the film.

Hot-pants-enhanced hooliganry

Director Don Sharp helmed two Christopher Lee/Harry Alan Towers Fu Manchu films, a handful of supernatural horror flicks, and some TV episodes, but nothing in his career is as compellingly weird as this film. “Psychomania” blends eccentricity, black humor, and occult themes to create a film that is absolutely unique and quintessentially British.

Eccentricity is perhaps the greatest renewable resource of the British Isles, and unusual world-views are tolerated and even nurtured in a way they simply aren’t in the U.S. Rugged individualism is one thing, but unless it involves beating something (animal, geographical or human) into submission, Americans aren’t incredibly interested in hearing about it. Britain’s history of inherited lands and titles undoubtedly fostered the British eccentrics, and the character of Tom Latham fits neatly into this tradition.  He’s the son of wealthy occultists, who were probably supported in their interests by indulgent, also-wealthy and also-eccentric progenitors.


Tom is surrounded by a motley bunch of friends, seemingly without a care for their diverse places within the social hierarchy.  His mates in the Living Dead seem to come from a variety of backgrounds: Hatchet is rough around the edges, Jane itches for a fight like a prototypical Ladette, and Hinky is a soft-spoken hippie.

I’m trying to suss out a way to cleverly mention that Tom looks great in leather, but I’m coming up empty. So let’s just take a  moment to enjoy those leather trousers, shall we?

Creating a comedy that hinges on suicide might seem a strange choice, but British humor has a history of embracing unusual and controversial topics.  The Inquisitors, gay lumberjacks and Mafiosi of “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” reflect a cultural ability to elicit comedy from confrontational material. As many an earnest upholder of politically correct social norms would remind us, there’s nothing inherently funny about suicide.  There are, however, buckets of funniness in the suicidal biker gang montage in “Psychomania,” during which the characters find a number of creative ways to raise havoc while offing themselves.


And then there’s Tom’s funeral, during which he is placed in the ground astride his bike while the rest of the gang weaves commemorative floral arrangements. Hinky’s memorial song, “Riding Free,” contains such brilliant lines as the couplet “he really got it on/he rode that sweet machine just like a bomb.”  Fans of Italian horror will note that this scene–minus the folk song–is evoked in Michele Soavi’s “Dellamorte Dellamore.”

Nothing that begins this beautifully would disappoint me.

The occult is infused into pretty much every frame of this movie, from that great “slo-mo at the standing stones” intro through the resurrection theme that drives the story to the final (and, sadly, inevitable) come-uppance.  Blending hoodoo witchcraft with astral/metaphysical concepts, the magic in “Psychomania” can be used for benevolent or self-serving ends.  The devil isn’t necessarily a bad dude–he just takes his business deals very seriously.


In this world, frogs hold major occult significance.  Frogs are the only animal mentioned during the movie–none of the photogenic bats, wolves or cats one might expect can be found.  Instead, there’s a very stoical toad who seems to be a locus of resurrection and destruction.  Which–let’s face it–is really absurd and excellent.


Steeped in 70s aesthetics and possessed of a sharp wit, “Psychomania” is a movie that’s very close to my heart. It manages to be a document of its time as well as a genuinely entertaining romp for those who aren’t as obsessed with cinematic anthropology.

Check out more images from “Psychomania” on Flickr.