Psychomania

The thing is, you can’t hesitate. If you don’t want to die you can’t have eternal life. That’s the premise of Psychomania, aka The Death Wheelers, an English horror movie that isn’t a horror movie at all. Yes, the name of the motorcycle gang is The Living Dead; yes, the members of that gang come back from the dead; no, it’s not a horror movie. More on that later.

Tom is the leader of a motorcycle gang called The Living Dead. Even though he’s all grown up now, Tom wears leather pants and a weird helmet and drives around with his motorcycle gang terrorizing the squares. He’s an overgrown child, the kind of kid who pulls the wings off flies. His mother is rich, which is why he’s not in jail.

But Tom wants more from life. His mom made a deal with a toad that gave her eternal life, and Tom wants in. Discovering that the way to immortality is to die, he drives off a bridge. The funeral is awesome. Tom’s biker pals prop him up on his motorcycle, which they put in the grave and then bury. Because it’s the early 70’s, one of the bikers sings a groovy folk song.

Tom doesn’t stay buried long. Back from the dead and endowed with supernatural powers,  he’s a bigger asshole than ever. It’s not long before Tom’s buddies all want in on the fun. Indeed, the best part of Psychomania is watching the creative ways they off themselves. Pretty soon The Living Dead live up to their name. The only party pooper is Tom’s girlfriend Abby. Instead of doing something cool like jumping out of an airplane without a parachute or throwing herself into traffic, she takes a bunch of pills and doesn’t die. Wimp.

Psychomania isn’t a horror movie; it’s a black comedy. Why do I say that? Well, that’s what I say when a movie is funny instead of scary or gory or upsetting. Psychomania is full of funny scenes, but my personal favorite is a reborn Tom revving up his motorcycle and driving it right out of his grave. Psychomania is an early 70’s film that with a bit of editing could be an episode of The Avengers. John Steed and Emma Peel would make short work of these bozos.

House of the Devil

A summary of House of the Devil: nothing happens for the first seventy minutes, and then holy shit. The plot riffs off the Satanic Panic of the early 80’s, involving a babysitter, a total eclipse of the moon and a ceremony to Say-Tan. This is a movie meant to throw you off your game. For instance: the halfway scare is important in horror films, the point halfway through the movie when you can count on something fucked-up happening. The halfway scare in House of the Devil happens fifteen minutes ahead of schedule. It’s just one of the things that’s off about this movie, and I mean off in a good way.

College-student Samantha (Sam) wants to move into her own apartment. She doesn’t get along with her roommate, who is a slob and maybe even a sex-addict. Sam finds the perfect apartment but needs cash for the first month’s rent. Luckily, she finds a Babysitter Wanted flyer hanging on a billboard. On the phone the guy seems weird, but Sam needs the money.

Sam’s friend Megan drives her to a house in the middle of nowhere, where the creepy Mr. Ulman reveals there is no child for her to sit. He wants Sam to watch his wife’s elderly mother and offers her four hundred dollars to do it. Mr. Ulman is the family member who interacts with Sam because he’s the best at imitating a normal human being, and he’s not too good at it. Megan thinks her friend is nuts, and tells her so, but Sam needs the money. I mean, she’s stuck in a house in the boondocks without a car, and the people pretending to own the house are probably related to the Manson Family. What could possibly go wrong?

Supposedly inspired by the horror films of the early 80’s, House of the Devil has more of a 70’s vibe. Sam looks like a combo of Kate Jackson and Jaclyn Smith on Charlie’s Angels. Despite wearing mom jeans for the whole movie, Sam is very attractive. She’s also…I don’t know what you’d call it. Naïve? She’s not stupid. Sam catches the house’s bad vibes right away. As the movie goes on the sense of wrongness grows, and pretty soon she’s peeking around corners armed with a butcher knife.

House of the Devil will either scare or bore the crap out of you. Nothing happens for long periods of time, and this movie foregoes the usual practice of having nameless somethings lurking out of the corner of your eyes. The third act of this movie pays off, big-time, but it all depends on whether you think the ride is worth the wait.

Horror Hotel/City of the Dead

I learned about Horror Hotel, aka City of the Dead, in an article I read about folk horror. To be honest, I’d never heard of this movie and thus didn’t expect much. I was pleasantly surprised. Released in 1960 in black-and-white, Horror Hotel is one of the better horror flicks I’ve seen in the past few months.

The plot: college student Nan Barlow travels to the town of Whitewood, Massachusetts on the recommendation of her professor (Christopher Lee) to research witchcraft. She goes despite the protests of her boyfriend and her brother, who are so obnoxious I think she makes the trek to get away from them. Nan picks up a hitchhiker named Jethrow enroute to Whitewood. When Jethrow vanishes upon arrival Nan doesn’t blink an eye, which means she either doesn’t believe in the supernatural or isn’t too smart. She definitely didn’t read the script.

Whitewood is the type of place that would make most sane people turn around and drive away. It’s always foggy and dark. The blind priest warns Nan off. Ghostly singing voices drift up from the trapdoor in our heroine’s room. The woman who owns the Raven’s Inn looks just like Elizabeth Selwyn, burned for witchcraft almost three hundred years ago. Clueless Nan soldiers on, at one point reading a treatise on human sacrifice to the head witch, who does a fine job keeping a straight face.

Horror Hotel is not perfect. Neither of the movie’s titles fit. The jazzy bebop soundtrack doesn’t work. Mr. Lee is great as usual, but some of the other acting is dreadful. However, Horror Hotel is well written and atmospheric, with a few genuinely disturbing scenes and a riveting ending.

Recommended!

Hostage to the Devil

Hostage to the Devil is not a movie about exorcism, nor is it based on Malachi Martin’s book “Hostage to the Devil,” which deals with exorcism. This is a documentary about Malachi Martin himself. Full disclosure: I read Mr. Martin’s book “Hostage to the Devil” last year and formed definite opinions about the author.

Hostage to the Devil makes no claims to being unbiased about its subject. The movie is full of sincere people talking about what a great man Malachi was, making it clear that Mr. Martin attracted a band of devoted followers. Demonologists (Lorraine Warren) and conspiracy theorists (Art Bell) make appearances or pay tribute. There are clips of Mr. Martin being witty. The lone dissenter states that Mr. Martin was a huckster who started believing his own horseshit; he also thinks Mr. Martin had an affair with his wife, making it unclear if he’s a lunatic.

Mr. Martin was no longer a Jesuit when he wrote “Hostage to the Devil” and cashed in on the success of “The Exorcist,” but if this documentary is to be believed he and his posse went around performing exorcisms in New York City for years. The movie shows us footage of a few ‘possessed’ people being exorcised, which is disturbing in that we are watching the mentally ill being exploited. Mr. Martin does not appear in this footage, so I don’t know if he participated in these exorcisms.

Unless you are obsessed with Malachi Martin – and apparently some people are – Hostage to the Devil is a bore. The documentary tries to build suspense by reenacting an encounter Mr. Martin had with The Devil in Connecticut, and there are those who believe Satan murdered him. What can you say to that? I’m sorry Mr. Martin passed away.

If you want to learn more about Mr. Martin’s beliefs concerning exorcism I’d recommend his book “Hostage to the Devil.” Mr. Martin was a traditionalist, in that he thought Vatican II turned back the clock (before Vatican II, the Catholic Church conducted its services in Latin) and unleashed Satan upon an unsuspecting world. The book rails against such social ills as belief in evolution, sexual expression, self-exploration, yoga, the counterculture, women’s rights, etc., etc., etc. It’s quite a long list. Mr. Martin also believed The Satanic Panic of the 80’s really happened. Ironically, despite Mr. Martin’s professed hostility to New Age beliefs, the book “Hostage to the Devil” is at its core a New Age book because of the author’s willingness to believe anything couched in religious jargon.

I’ve seen a number of good horror documentaries over the past few years, including Cropsey, The Imposter, Killer Legends, Lost Soul and Room 237. I’ll even throw My Amityville Horror in there, because of Mr. Lutz’s onscreen charisma. Unfortunately, Hostage to the Devil was not one of them.

Not recommended.