Psychomania Blu-ray Review


Riotous British biker horror classic Psychomania gets the deluxe treatment from Arrow Video

As the 1960s wound down and turned into the 1970s, British horror cinema – like most international genre fare – shifted to cater to the more visceral needs of a new generation. And while for a decade , the U.K., had been known and lauded primarily for the Gothic horror films coming from Hammer Studios, several smaller entities popped up and tried to shake the foundations of the formula.

Released the same year as Stanley Kubrick’s landmark adaptation of Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange, Don (Kiss of the Vampire) Sharp’s ludicrous and awesome 1971 undead biker romp Psychomania (aka The Death Wheelers) stood alone. Blending the tropes of the British “angry young man” movie and the post-Easy Rider angst of the American biker romp by way of a quasi-Night of the Living Dead zombie film, Psychomania was about as nutty and unclassifiable a film as one could imagine and, after it faded from theaters, it became a staple for UK kidlets growing up in front of the boob tube. Later, at the dawn of the home video boom in the 1980s, many fledgling US imprints thought the film to be in the public domain and because of this, it became one of the most mass-produced and easily available titles on the market, a bootlegging trend that continued with hard media’s shift to DVD.

RELATED: Composer John Cameron on making the music of Psychomania

Now, 7 years after Severin Films remastered the movie for their own gorgeous, feature-packed DVD release and a year after its Blu-ray premiere via BFI Flipside, Psychomania is getting the Arrow Video treatment and, as one has come to expect from Arrow, the results are superlative. The film has been restored from 3 monochrome interpositves blended with a 35mm print and then given a 2K scan and the movies looks better than it’s ever looked. The black leathers are inky and slick, the reds scream from the screen and the detail is sharp, grainy and wonderfully cinematic.

For those who have not seen Psychomania, the movie stars Witchfinder General’s Nicky Henson ans Tom Latham, the spoiled brat leader of the ramshackle, hell-raising motorcycle gang The Living Dead. Tom lives with his medium mother (The Beast in the Cellar’s Beryl Reid) and grinning, possibly Satanic butler Shadwell (Hollywood legend George Sanders, who killed himself after the film wrapped!) and he’s long been obsessed about the fate of his long missing father, a seeker who went looking for the secret of eternal life and paid a deadly price. Tom pushes his mother and his sinister, patriarchal manservant into giving up the keys to the netherworld and they do, telling the cocky lad that in order to cheat death, he must commit suicide and, at the moment of death, be absolutely confident that he will return from the dead. Soon Tom is staging his wild demise and, after his pals have buried him, he does indeed come roaring out of his grave, committing all manner of murder and mischief. And when the rest of The Living Dead get wind of this, they too begin taking their own lives in various ludicrous, grandiose ways.

Psychomania has a vibe that is entirely its own. It’s never quite convincing and never really mines some of the darker devilish subtext and perversions that simmer under its surface, but its lean, tough, violent (but not gory) and tons of fun. And the score by Led Zeppelin associate John Cameron is a legendary slab of psychedelic fuzz rock extraordinaire.

Arrow packs the back end of their Blu-ray/DVD combo pack with the usual embarrassment of riches, including a riotous interview with the still dashing, self-deprecating Henson who reflects with humor and candor the making of the movie and explains its goofy appeal. He also calls attention to one of the movies more eccentric moments involving a massive baguette sandwich. There’s an amazing archival interview with Cameron breaking down the score, a ported-over featurette with the rest of the living cast a wonderful short feature detailing the restoration of the movie and much, much more.

Psychomania isn’t a guilty pleasure. It’s a great one-shot horror movie filled with weird, something eerie atmosphere, crazy stunt work, cheeky performances, mild kink and a unique charm all its own and it’s truly exciting to know that it’s getting the respect it has long deserved.

Order your copy of Psychomania now.

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‘Logan’ Is an Extraordinary X-Men Film That’s Unlike Any Other [Spoiler-Free Review]

logan trailer

After nearly two decades, the X-Men franchise under 20th Century Fox’s stewardship has begun to feel too constrained by storytelling mechanics and full of characters that are warmed over. After the third or fourth time that you’ve seen the X-Men crew go up against a powerful supervillain and face off against a city- or world-destroying force (often accompanied by a blue beam shooting towards the sky), you begin to wonder whether this franchise still has new stories to tell.

These days, films that deviate heavily from the formula have felt refreshing (e.g., Deadpool, Days of Future Past), while those that hew closely to it are tiresome (e.g., X-Men: Apocalypse). This is why James Mangold’s Logan is a goddamn miracle. It unapologetically blazes its own trail in the X-Men universe. Logan throws the whole X-Men chessboard into the air, settles on the few pieces it wants to use, and then plays them off each other in ways we’ve never seen. The results are thrilling, and give me hope that the genre as a whole can still be fresh and inventive. It’s a near-perfect film, and one that I’ll be thinking about for a very long time.

Spoiler-free thoughts on Logan follow.

From its opening credits, Logan shows a different side of Hugh Jackman’s iconic character. Burnt out, grizzled, and physically ailing, Wolverine (or Logan, as he’s referred to throughout the film) is a shell of his former self, even though he still knows how to kill.

And kill he does, gruesomely and viciously throughout the film. Forget about the Wolverine of previous films that would bloodlessly thrust his claws into a hapless enemy’s chest. In Logan, the audience feels the full force of every injury that Logan inflicts. This movie is bloody, graphic, and full of viscera and F-bombs. It’s the R-rated X-Men film that some fans have wanted for years.

But the R-rated accoutrements aren’t just there for their own sake; they serve a storytelling purpose. By this point, Logan has killed dozens, if not hundreds, of people. In finally showing us the visual consequences of his actions, the film helps us feel the moral weight of these killings. We understand on a deeper level why this guy is tired of life among humans and why that drives him to make some of the decisions in this film. (Also: the kills look spectacular).

Since this review is spoiler-free, I won’t say much about the plot. But what I do feel comfortable saying is that the way the relationship between Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and Logan is depicted in this film is unexpectedly intimate and powerful. Logan cares more about paying off this relationship than it does about any of its plot machinations. What still motivates these two characters? What have they been through together, and how are they dealing with it? The movie explores these questions in ways that will reward fans of the X-Men franchise but still welcome those that have no familiarity with it.

In addition, newcomer Dafne Keen plays Laura, a girl with a mysterious past placed into Logan’s care. She figures into the plot in major ways that aren’t really glimpsed in the trailers, but I thought she brought an incredible physicality and presence that helped to carry the film. Much is asked of her in this movie, but she delivers in a big way.

What makes Logan special is how it effortlessly navigates different genres and tones. It’s a road movie, but it’s also an action film with ambitious set pieces. It’s a sci-fi superhero film, but it’s also infused with a lot of humor and tenderness. Most importantly, it’s a fitting conclusion for one of the most iconic comic book character portrayals of the past 20 years.

I laughed. I cried. And I was grateful to have gone on the entire cinematic journey with Hugh Jackman’s character all these years. Logan is an incredible film. It’s my favorite X-Men film. And it might even be my favorite superhero film of all time.

/Film rating: 9.5 out of 10

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‘Legion’ Spoiler Review: Thoughts on “Chapter 1”

legion series premiere

Let’s get the high praise out of the way first: it’s rare for a television pilot to feel as fresh and weird and fully formed as Legion, which feels more like the first 70 minutes of a particularly daring X-Men movie than the first chapter of an ongoing series airing on FX. There is a distinctive personality on display here, a carefully modulated tone that folds horror and dark comedy and mindfuckery into the typical superhero structure. It doesn’t shatter the mold, but it leaves a giant crack in it – I literally have no idea what to expect from the next episode and man-oh-man, is that a nice feeling.

And it looks like we’ll be covering Legion on a weekly basis from here on out, with all other spoiler reviews arriving the morning after the new episode airs. Hi. Like the show itself, these reviews aren’t going to follow a rigid structure. We’re just going to pick up the threads of interest and run with them until we can figure out exactly what kind of show we’re dealing with here.

legion series premiere

Who Is David Haller?

Of all the potential X-Men comic book characters to get their own television show, David “Legion” Haller can’t help but feel like an off-kilter choice. Your average television watcher (and your average viewer of comic book movies and shows) probably isn’t familiar with him and that’s a double-edged sword. On one hand, you have to introduce him to the masses and explain why they need to care about his problems. On the other hand, the lack of the public’s familiarity with him gives creator and showrunner Noah Hawley a flexibility you won’t find in many big screen superhero outings, where the template is tested and expected and in the case of the recent core X-Men movies, painfully boring.

The pilot for Legion leaves certain aspects of David a deliberate question mark. For those average TV viewers, that’s the mystery at hand: what are his powers, how do they manifest, and when will he learn how to control them? For comic book fans, there’s a different question at hand: how will the show adapt, and will they tone down, one of the weirder characters in Marvel comics? Because the live-action version of David looks nothing like his comic book counterpart, with his very silly, very tall flat-top haircut, the only immediate connection between the two versions is how his superpowers manifest from mental illness. The exact nature of the connection between the voices in his head and the incredible powers he cannot control remains unexplored when the credits roll on “Chapter 1” and for that reason, we’re going to hold off on diagnosing his mutant skill set – that may prove to be too much of a spoiler, even for a so-called “spoiler review.”

Besides, Jean Smart is here and she’s surely going to start explaining things in the next episode. Surely.

legion series premiere

A Cast of “Crazies”

It was inevitable that Dan Stevens was eventually going to get around to playing a superhero – it’s what all the up-and-coming actors are doing these days. And thankfully, Legion gives Stevens plenty to chew on, letting him do dramatic and funny and just a little bit of badass. That little bit is very important here, as David Haller is no superhero. He’s falling apart. He’s a mess. We first meet his grown-up self in an institution where he lives under constant observation and can’t even accept a cupcake from his visiting sister. To Stevens’ credit (and to the show’s), David’s illness isn’t portrayed as sexy or cool or even mysterious, as is often the trend with shows built around “crazy” characters. His life is all about navigating uncontrollable emotions and overcoming obstacles that make basic socialization difficult. Stevens is a good looking guy, but this may be one of the least sexy characters to ever sit center stage in a comic book property. And he owns it.

Stevens’ performance is the highlight here, but “Chapter 1” does surround him with a promising supporting cast. Rachel Keller‘s Sydney “Syd” Barrett (whose name is a cheeky Pink Floyd reference) leaves a strong impression as a potential love interest. Katie Aselton‘s Amy Haller gives us a “normal” person to act as an audience surrogate (and her quickly removing every sharp implement from David’s basement room after his latest telekinetic outburst is a much-needed laugh at that point in the episode). Most promising is Aubrey Plaza‘s Lenny Busker, who meets a violent end about halfway through “Chapter 1” but lives on as some kind of psychic echo within David’s mind. Plaza’s natural deadpan is perfect for this material and the thought of her serving as a Greek chorus to a troubled mutant is an enticing thought.

Continue Reading Legion “Chapter 1” Review >>

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Review: ‘John Wick: Chapter 2’ is a Perfect, Blood-Soaked Action Sequel

John Wick: Chapter 2

John Wick can come back any time he damn well pleases. That was the message delivered by the 2014 action hit that not only saw the eponymous assassin returning to his death-dealing ways, it was a return of sorts for the film’s star, Keanu Reeves. Keanu is back, John Wick is back, and the film that follows, John Wick: Chapter 2, is a perfect, action-packed, bullet-riddled, blood-soaked sequel. The follow-up does precisely what a sequel should do. It’s bigger than its predecessor, and more elaborate than the efficient, streamlined actioner it follows. It isn’t necessarily better. That would truly be an impossible task, but John Wick: Chapter 2 delivers on all this new franchise promises, an action extravaganza that keeps us amped for more. ›››

Continue reading Review: ‘John Wick: Chapter 2’ is a Perfect, Blood-Soaked Action Sequel

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