Bonus Reviews: Psychomania aka Death Wheelers (1972) and Daughter of Dr. Jekyll (1957)
Horror Bulletin Bonus Reviews for week 169
For this week’s bonus films, we’ll look at a couple of fun horror movies, “Daughter of Dr. Jekyll” fro 1957, and the “Psychomania,” also known as “The Death Wheelers,” about a not-so-good demonic undead motorcycle gang from 1972.
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AKA “The Death Wheelers”
Directed by Don Sharp
Written by Armaud d’Usseau, Julian Zimet
Stars Nicky Henson, Mary Larkin, Ann Michelle
Run Time: 1 Hour, 25 Minutes
Spoiler-Free Judgment Zone
Young hooligans on motorcycles are scary. 70s decor is cool. These were the big takeaways. There is witchery and devilry and life after death. The horror guys are split on this one, with one of us digging this groovy film and the other kind of hating it. You’ll have to see it for yourself to decide.
Motorcyclists ride through a mini-version of a foggy Stonehenge as credits roll. They all wear the same strange face mask and helmets. They all wear jackets proclaiming them “The Living Dead.” The run a car off the road and then go back to terrorize the driver.
Tom and Abby are about to have sex in the cemetery when he suddenly stops to catch a frog. He says they need to cross over and reach the other side; they should kill themselves. She laughs and says no because she has to go shopping tomorrow morning.
Tom goes home to find his mother holding a seance for her guests. Shadwell the butler approves of the frog, but calls Tom ignorant for taking the frog out of the cemetery. Tom wants to know three things: how his father died in the locked room upstairs, why Shadwell never seems to age, and what is the secret of the living dead.
In the next room, Mrs. Latham, Tom’s mother, passes out at the end of the seance. It’s a very strange family. Tom nags his mother about the locked room. She and Shadwell decide it’s time to go up and learn the truth, so they give him the key. He goes inside and the door behind him vanishes. He puts on a strange pair of glasses and the room changes. In the mirror, he sees a huge frog and then that Stonehenge-y place. He then watches his younger mother make a contract with the devil and sign her baby over to him. He wakes up downstairs, and we see that Shadwell has the same ring as the devil in the vision.
The next day, Tom meets up with Abby and the bike gang. They ride to a busy shopping center and annoy the people there. The police chase them, and Tom decides it’s time. He rides off the bridge into the river (which doesn’t look high enough to be fatal at all). But he dies.
Abby comes to see Tom’s mother. She already knows Tom killed himself on purpose. Abby wants to bury Tom according to the gang’s way, and Shadwell and Mrs. Latham say that it’s fine. They know he’ll be coming back.
Later, the bike gang have the most hippie funeral they possibly could, with a guitar ballad, lots of flower power, and funky outfits. Tom is there, posed on his motorcycle in the grave to be buried, bike and all. Shadwell shows up, and he approves. He wants to bury an amulet with Tom and then leaves.
Elsewhere, a car breaks down and a man walks across the field of stones to get to the gas station. He hears an engine coming to life and then sees Tom, on the motorcycle, rise up from the grave and drive away. Tom kills the gas station attendant after filling his tank. He calls home to tell them he’s not dead anymore.
The gang members talk the next day about the crimes from last night, but none of them admit having anything to do with it. Abby says the witnesses describe Tom, right down to his name tag. He rides up and reveals himself to the others. The gang all decides to drive into traffic and die at the same time. Jane comes back, but Hinky doesn’t because he hesitated. The undead bikers then cause traffic issues for old people.
The inspector orders all the young folks to be brought in. The police order their arrest, and there’s another car chase. They follow Tom to his mother’s house. She, of course, says he’s dead, so he couldn’t have been there. She warns the inspector to tell Abby’s family that if she comes back that they shouldn’t have anything to do with her. They do arrest the surviving gang members.
Tom and June break into the police station to free the others. The rest of the gang kill themselves in creative ways. Except for Abby, who fails with her overdose. The police inspector wants an explanation of what all the deaths are about.
Tom gets a phone call saying that Abby died during the night, and he is overjoyed. She’s not, it’s a trap set by the inspector. He thinks there’s a body snatcher on the loose; he doesn’t believe in the undead.
The inspector and two policemen lay down in the morgue waiting for the body snatchers while Abby sneaks out to join up with the gang. Tom figures out pretty quickly that Abby isn’t dead. He hands her a pistol and tells her to do it herself.
Mrs. Latham tells Shadwell that she’s going to break their bargain, as she wants all this to end. She sets up a ritual involving a frog, a dagger, and some candles. Shadwell asks if she understands what she will become. And her son and the others will be punished as well. She does.
As the ritual commences, Abby takes the gun. Mrs. Latham becomes a frog, and Abby shoots Tom repeatedly. Tom reaches out to kill Abby, but turns to stone instead, as does the rest of the gang. Only Abby is left alive. They all become part of the mini Stonehenge.
Shadwell drives up and leaves with Abby. Maybe he’ll have a “deal” for her next.
Oh, that decor in Tom’s mother’s house. That couldn’t be more early 70s if it tried. Actually, this whole thing is just insanely dated, which is a big part of why it’s worth watching. Fifty years ago, this stuff was all modern pop culture and considered cool. I think the very idea of a bike gang was supposed to be terrifying in itself.
It’s really slow moving. The gang doesn’t revive until 16 minutes before the end of the film. Nothing is really explained. Why did the dead rise? What is their plan? Who is Shadwell? Stuff happens because Tom is into “Anarchy,” I guess. If I ever figure out a way to become immortal, my reason for existing will have to be something bigger than trashing a grocery store.
I kept trying to nod off during this one, and my only regret was not going along with that. Do yourself a favor: if it’s a choice between “Psychomania” and nap... pleasant dreams! Yeah, it’s just all kinds of dumb. Really, really, dated dumb
Daughter of Dr. Jekyll (1957)
Directed by Edgar G, Ulmer
Written by Jack Pollexfen
Stars John Agar, Gloria Talbott, Arthur Shields
Run Time: 1 Hour, 11 Minutes
The narrator explains about what happened to Dr. Jekyll and how he died at the end. “We’ll never see an evil like that again,” he states confidently. Mr. Hyde cackles at the screen, “Are you sure?” Credits roll.
Janet arrives at the huge old house of her guardian. Mrs. Merchant the housekeeper invites her in. Janet has brought along George Hastings with her. Jacob is the creepy servant that all old castles seem to have around.
Maggie the maid helps Janet unpack but gets worried when the moon starts to rise. Maggie walks home to the village every night; no one in the village would dare sleep in that house. Maggie ends up leaving later than she would have liked and walks home in the dark, terrified.
Mrs. Merchant explains about the backward villagers and local nonsense. Dr. Lomas, Janet’s guardian, finally comes home and meets George. He’s her fiancé, and she’s about to turn 21 in a few days. They explain to Dr. Lomas that they don’t want his money. Lomas laughs because he’s dead broke. All the land and the estate are Janet’s and he’s just been watching over things until she comes of age. She’s wealthy and didn’t even know it. They’re all pretty happy with the way things worked out.
Not only did she inherit the house and land, but there’s more that Lomas doesn’t want to talk about until morning. They start exploring the house and soon find a secret room containing a dusty old laboratory. Lomas finds them there and explains that it all belonged to Janet’s father— Dr. Jekyll.
Janet breaks off the engagement with George. She can’t marry him now. The three go down to the family tomb and creepy old Jacob follows them. Lomas explains that he and Jekyll went to school together until Jekyll became obsessed with his weird experiments. The locals still believe that Dr. Jekyll prowls the woods as a werewolf when the moon rises. Janet fears that Jekyll’s madness is hereditary, but Lomas can’t say one way or the other. George doesn’t care, he just wants Janet.
Dr. Lomas hypnotizes Janet to calm her down before bed time. Maggie helps get Janet into bed, but by the time they’re done, the moon rises. “That’s when the monster Jekyll rises from his tomb,” Maggie proclaims.
Janet dreams of following Maggie through the woods and killing her. When she wakes up, she finds dirt on her nightgown and mud on her shoes. Uh-oh.
Maggie doesn’t come to work the next morning. Jacob comes in carrying her body. “What kind of animal could make marks like that?” Jacob says it’s the werewolf. Jacob complains to Mrs. Merchant about the monster, and he’s been talking to the lads in the pub, “They knew how to take care of the father, and they’re ready to take care of the daughter.”
That night, Janet insists that Lomas lock her into the bedroom. Janet “dreams” of a young couple making out in the woods. Janet follows the girl home and attacks her. Once again, Janet wakes up screaming and bloody. George and Lomas see the evidence this time, but they still don’t think she’s a killer. Jacob, on the other hand, is convinced, and Mrs. Merchant quits on the spot.
Janet wants to be killed with a stake through the heart and buried next to her father. “Please kill me! Please!” she begs George, who isn’t on board for any of this nonsense.
Dr. Lomas talks the constable out of arresting Janet, but the coroner is going to call Janet as a witness at the inquest, so they can’t just leave town.
George finds Janet outside the tomb., while Jacob whittles away on a stake just a few feet away. George takes Janet home while Lomas throws Jacob off their land.
Tonight, Dr. Lomas agrees to sit up and literally keep watch over Janet to make sure nothing happens. The full moon comes out, and Dr. Lomas examines Janet’s eyes. Janet once again dreams of murder. This time, she gets up and Lomas lets her out of the bedroom. George is still awake and follows them upstairs. They go into Jekyll’s old lab and Lomas hypnotizes Janet. He orders her to dream of being a werewolf and to go outside and murder someone then kill herself.
Then… Dr. Lomas turns into an actual werewolf and attacks George. Lomas then runs off into the woods. He watches through the window as a girl gets dressed, and he likes that. He breaks in and kills her, but some of the villagers overhear the screams and chase the werewolf through the trees.
Meanwhile, Janet strings up some rope to hang herself, but George grabs her before it’s too late. He explains to her that the doctor made her do everything; she was under hypnosis the whole time to gain control of the estate.
One of the villagers shoots Lomas, and as he staggers back toward the tomb, Janet lays back down and pretends to be in a trance. Loomis wipes blood in Janet’s dress to frame her for the murders. George and the werewolf fight, but Jacob arrives and impales the werewolf, who reverts back to Lomas.
There’s a fine line between drinking a formula and turning into a monster and simply being cursed to do it under the full moon. Either way, it’s an uncontrolled transformation into a monster. It only makes sense that someone would conflate the two ideas.
It’s very atmospheric. The fog machine was working overtime here, but it mostly works in this film. The transformation scene is slow and not nearly as “complete” as in many films of the time; he still looks mostly human. It’s really more “Hyde” than “Werewolf,” but they call the monster a werewolf throughout.
It’s curious how everyone pronounces it “Jay-kull” instead of the usual “Jek-ill.” John Agar as George comes off as a rude jerk in the beginning, but as the film progresses, he’s the only character with any sense.
Overall, it’s nothing groundbreaking, but it’s a decent enough attempt. It’s a Jekyll-and-Hyde movie with no mad scientist, no formulas, and no Mr. Hyde. On the other hand, it can’t quite decide if it’s a werewolf movie or not, so at best, it’s a little bit schizophrenic in itself.
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