Obviously, I'm going to have to unpack that, but I do not say this lightly. I have no truck with the idea that a film can be "so bad it's good". Either you think a film is bad or you think it's good. Watching a film out of irony, or to take pleasure in mocking it, that's unkind to the film and more importantly it's unkind to yourself. If I don't enjoy a film, I probably won't watch it again.
But then, the context in which films are made means that it's impossible to have a perfect film or TV show. If all media products are in some way broken, being products of a broken society, then the most useful thing to do is not to tear down, but to see what you can redeem.
|The mean streets of Walton-on-Thames.|
Sometimes it's easy to find a redemptive reading of something that's a bit messed up when it's something that is formative to you. For example, I first saw Barbarella when I was 17. When you are 17, certain things pass you by. And when you are 17 and you are becoming aware of the limits and directions of your sexuality, and you see a film with images like, oh, for example, this:
|John Philip Law. Anita Pallenberg. Oh my. (Oh, and the other one.)|
Which brings us to Psychomania.
|"Maximus Leopardus, isn't it?" "That's right."|
Tom: Let's get out of it, Abby. Let's cross over.And
Abby: Cross over?
Tom: To the other side!
Abby: How do we do that?
Tom: We kill ourselves.
Abby: Oh, Tom. Not that again.
Tom: Yes! (he moves in to kiss her)
Abby (laughing):Well, I'm sorry, but I can't.
Tom: Why not?
Abby: Well, I promised my mother I'd help her go shopping in the morning.
Tom: You're always saying I'm foolhardy, Shadwell, but I'm not ignorant!And
Shadwell: Except about certain things.
Tom: Three things. So answer me. Why did my father die in that locked room? (He takes a swig of his drink.) Why do you never get any older, Shadwell? (Shadwell raises an eyebrow) And what is the secret of the living dead? (He bites from a baguette that has inexplicably appeared in his hand where the drink was)
Mrs Latham: I've had a telephone call from the Police.(And that's just in the first ten minutes.)
Tom: The word, Mother, is "fuzz".
It's cheap! Its terrifying undead bikers dress up as hippies and ride clapped out old Triumphs. Special effects are sparse. It's on a small scale. It piles absurdity upon absurdity.
|Fatty, Smiffy and Plug not pictured.|
So, Tom (Nicky Henson) is the leader of a biker gang called The Living Dead. Tom does stuff like hang out in stone circles and has sex on gravestones, and do wild things like forcing lorries off roads, and knocking over traffic cones and ladders. And collecting rare frogs. Edgy stuff.
|"Don't cry, Mummy."|
|Tom and his mum.|
Tom takes the first opportunity to go out in style, careening off a bridge at 100mph.
|"I'm going! See you round!"|
He really got it on
He rode that sweet machine just like a bomb
They tried to clip his wings just like a fly
So instead of standing still he chose to die
|"He left those fools behind him."|
|Frogs are a Thing in Psychomania.|
Mrs Latham: How are you?
Tom: Well, I'm dead, Mother, but apart from that I couldn't be better.
|"Look! No hands!"|
And then the whole plan of bringing down the Whole Fabric of Society Itself comes out. By running people over. And kicking over traffic cones.
Meanwhile, the police (sorry, the Fuzz) get on the case. Chief Inspector Hesseltine (Robert Hardy) and his men are hot on the heels of The Living Dead and when Abby fails to top herself, they enlist her to catch them. But the final defeat of Tom's nefarious plan might in the end be down to his mum. And a frog.
|Hesseltine hatches a plan.|
|Abby finds kicking over traffic cones problematic.|
|Look at that helmet design. Look at it.|
Because you have these stone circles and toad-worshipping satanists bikers in a countryside that's both otherwise enclosed and close. Nowhere in the movie is more than a hundred yards from a road, and the bikers bring their zany mischief and, later, murderous frenzy to mundane spaces. Shopping precincts. Road works. The inside of a supermarket. Sure, you might be shopping, or having a drink with your mates at the pub, or pulled up at a layby, but these places aren't safe. It's not really so much that the haunted countryside is domesticated. It's all built, even the countryside, but that doesn't make the countryside safe, it makes the town unsafe. The paraphernalia of mundane life are at risk in Psychomania. The cartoonish, unglued delirium brought by pagan bikers from beyond the grave extends into the ordinary. Like I keep saying. It's terrific.