Interview: Nicky Henson on PSYCHOMANIA

A conversation with the star of the classic British exploitation movie

From its first dreamy frames, as a gang of leather clad, skull faced bikers poured into black leather come charging over a mist drenched hill in slow motion, to its final surreal wind down, with men, women and motorcycles morphing into massive tombstones, to all its cheeky, wonderfully lunatic mayhem in the middle, cinema history has never, ever seen the likes of a picture quite like Don Sharp’s unapologetically mental PSYCHOMANIA.

Released in 1971 (in some markets on a double bill with the equally nuts WEREWOLVES ON WHEELS) and made to crassly ride the coattails of EASY RIDER, A CLOCKWORK ORANGE and NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD with perhaps a dash of ROSEMARY’S BABY added for supernatural spice, PSYCHOMANIA (filmed as THE LIVING DEAD and also known as THE DEATH WHEELERS) is an artifact of post-mod, British kitsch, admired with irony and worshiped by millions, perhaps thousands, even dozens of cult movie fans around the globe.

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On CIRCUS OF HORRORS

In praise of the lurid and pulpy 1960 shocker

Before H.G. Lewis was bathing in cheap stage blood and flipping stomachs at drive-ins everywhere and the same year that Alfred Hitchcock ran chocolate sauce down the drain while a sort-of nude Janet Leigh screamed, there was director Sidney (BURN WITCH BURN) Hayers’ wonderfully pulpy and surprisingly sadistic CIRCUS OF HORRORS, a Grand Guignol shocker with a campy cruel streak that was far ahead of its time.

The film was the product of a partnership between British studio Anglo-Amalgamated (the same studio that brought us PEEPING TOM and Roger Corman’s THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH) and US genre machine American International Pictures, their second after the successful Michael Gough vehicle HORRORS OF THE BLACK MUSEUM. And like that deliciously dark picture, CIRCUS has a rough, lurid edge and trades in cruelty and nasty behavior to provide its frissons.

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On LEGEND OF THE WEREWOLF

A look at the obscure 1975 British werewolf movie

One of the rarest of lycanthrope-centric films is the unfortunately late, Oscar-winning British cinematographer (David Lynch’s The Elephant Man) and noted horror filmmaker (Dracula has Risen from the Grave, Tales from the Crypt) Freddie Francis’ little discussed 1975 Hammer-esque wolfman shocker Legend of the Werewolf. And really, I have to ask why it’s so obscure, because the movie is rather fantastic.

As the films’ star Peter Cushing (whose work here is first rate as always) so helpfully explains in Legend of the Werewolf’s weird opening sequence, it has been said that the beasts of the forest shall watch over and protect human children on Christmas Eve, because, well, their forefathers and mothers did it for Jesus, so if they didn’t do it too they’d be jerks. This bit of made up myth provides credibility for the ensuing tale of poor little Etoile, a baby who, after his immigrant parents are chomped on by a pack of starving wolves, is inexplicably adopted by the now sated pack. He grows up like a sort of lupine Tarzan, a wild untamed thing who is eventually ‘rescued’ by a sleazy carny (the amazing, wild eyed actor Hugh Griffith from, among many, many other fine films, Ben Hur) and top billed in his skid row circus as the feral ‘Wolf Boy’. Eventually Etoile grows into a strapping young lad (played by veteran actor David Rintoul who appeared in Roman Polanski’s excellent thriller The Ghost Writer) who makes the rather startling discovery that, when under pressure of full moon, he grows fangs, sprouts fur, pops his shirt and end up looking a lot like Oliver Reed did in Terence Fisher’s 1961 Hammer horror classic Curse of the Werewolf.

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