The Death Wheelers (1973)
THE DEATH WHEELERS
WRITER: Screenplay by Arnaud D'usseau and Julian Halevy
DIRECTOR: Don Sharp
STARRING: George Sanders as Shadwell
Beryl Reid as Mrs. Latham
Nicky Henson as Tom
Mary Larkin as Abby
Roy Holder as Bertram
Robert Hardy as Chief Inspecter Hesseltine
Denis Gilmore as Hatchet
Ann Michelle as Jane
Miles Greenwood as Chopped Meat
Peter Whitting as Gash
QUICK CUT: A group of friends bond together as a biker gang in England in the 70s, fighting against culture, society, and expecations.
Tom - The leader of the Living Dead, and your typical punk biker youth stereotype. He's sticking it to the man any way he can, and he wants to do it forever.
Abby - Tom's girlfriend, and she seems mostly like she's caught up with this group just because they were cool and/or dangerous. She's the most level-headed person in the entire movie.
Jane - The bad girl of the Living Dead. She jumps at any chance for power, and is Tom's girl only slightly less than Abby. More of a partner in crime than a full on relationship. But oh, if Abby was out of the way...
Mrs. Latham - Tom's mother, a medium, and a real one at that. No shyster hucksterism here. She's well off, an important member of society, offering comfort to the upper crust.
Shadwell - Apparently, the Latham's butler, but he is so much more, and raises the question of just whom is serving whom.
THE GUTS: Welcome Triskelions. We're still stuck in the 70s, and everyone better have their leathers and helmets ready! Tonight we ride with the Living Dead, in Death Wheelers! Or Psychomania as it is also known, but the version I watched was the former. And also, I think Death Wheelers is a better, more descriptive title.
After the credits roll, The Living Dead are vrooming through the English countryside, and find some poor guy just on a nice Sunday drive, and force him off the road. This leads to his untimely demise as he smashes through the windshield.
The group stops by the local cemetery to celebrate, which pretty much means the gang's leader Tom and his main squeeze Abby get busy making out on someone's grave. Tom takes a break from that to catch a frog, and Abby's had enough. From the reckless behaviour, the occasional muuurder, and the weird behaviour.
Tom tries to convince her to break on through to the other side with him, but she's not having any of that. Yet.
So Tom returns home, where his mom is involved in a seance, and we watch as Anita possesses Anne when it should be Sarah and OH WAIT wrong movie.
Shadwell the butler joins Tom in the kitchen, where he's sticking the frog in a container, as one does. But this also leads to Tom asking several questions about his dead father, a mysterious locked room, Shadwell's inability to age, and 'what is the secret of the living dead'? Well, I hear they like brains, for one...
After his mom's seance, the group contacting their dead child try and offer payment, which Mommy and Shagwell never accept, but especially not this time. The family offers Shaggs an ornate, antique cross, and it's Shadwell who becomes quite cross. A look flashes over his face, and he shouts at the people to get out.
For years, Tom has wanted to know the secret to...something. And he uses his mischief making earlier in the movie to threaten his mother; tell him what is inside the locked room, or he'll just keep being a troublemaker.
So they give Tom the key to his answers, and a protective amulet with very little resistance. In fact, most of this movie is "Shrug, okay sure" and the plot rolls along. Tom enters the room that has been unavailable to him since his father's death and enters into a drug trip that would make Alice jealous.
But while he's freaking out, the Mirror of Erised shows him what he wants, along with a floating toad, his mother about to sacrifice a child, a man with a strange ring matching the amulet showing up, and her signing as contract. Hmm, could it be...SATAN??
As Tom passes out from all the weirdness, his mom recounts her husband dying when he tried to kill himself and come back as an immortal. She also reveals the secret, that when you die, you have to believe with all your being that you'll come back...and you will!
WELL IF IT'S JUST THAT SIMPLE!!
Unfortunately, Tom overhears all this as he was faking being passed out for some time, and now the little devil knows the secret to immortality. He's all gung ho to test this out with his gang. And quite frankly, they all seem kinda okay with suicide.
"But that's suicide!!" "Oh well, you gotta go sometime! :D"
Abby is really the only one with any doubts. Because she is a girl, and has a brain. Good on ya, Abby.
Before they decided to nyoom off this mortal coil, the gang decides to terrorise their nearby town, and drive all around disturbing the peace. Naturally, the cops show up and chase them off, but that's really what they want anyways, so a car chase ensues.
The chase continues until Tom decides now is as good a time as any, and he drives his bike right off a bridge with a hilarious cry. So, that's it, movie's over, I can...aww, damit.
With Tom dead for the moment, Abby meets his mother, and asks if they can bury him in the way of their people. The utterly hilarious way, which I'll come to in a bit, but they want to bury him at the Seven Sisters, the standing stones they like to hang out at.
Oh, and the legend goes that the stones were once seven witches who broke their bargain for the powers they had, and as a punishment, were stoned in the field. No, literally turned to stone.
So the funeral comes, and they have Tom posed. On his bike. In his full biker gear, in a hole of dirt. It is one of the most absurdly hilarious things I've seen, and you know the things I have seen.
Also, one of the bikers is strumming away and singing, which is nice and touching, and not at all what I'd expect from a biker funeral. And most notable is the lyric, "You can see the ghostly rider passing by".
Just as Abby is getting ready to start burying Tom, Jane decides this is the completely appropriate time to declare she's the new leader of the pack. But before any of that can be dealt with, Shadwell shows up to toss the protective frogulet into the grave.
So he just tossed the thing into the dirt, says hey to the kids, and drives off. Well, needs must when the devil drives...
Meanwhile, a couple gets a flat, and the dude decides to walk back to the garage to get help. But he can save time by passing through the Seven Witches, even though he's apprehensive about all that, what with the reputation and spiritualism.
Rather than look like a McFly in front of his girl, he decides to hoof it through the spooky side of town, little knowing there's a dead biker in the middle of the field.
He hears rumblings of a motor trying to start, and I am just gonna skip past how a dude buried in dirt could even move to get the bike going. Why? We're talking magical resurrection at the minimum, so I can roll with the punches.
Naturally, the bike explodes out of the dirt, and Tom knocks over the guy as he nyooms down the road. I see death has not increased his chill.
But the gang didn't exactly leave Tom with a full tank of gas, and he needs to fill up. He either fakes having forgotten his wallet, or legit just wasn't buried with one. The gas station attendant tries to get his due and Tom chokes him just off screen.
He stops at a pub so ET can phone home, and check in with mother like a good son. He reassures her that he's okay, aside from that pesky dying inconvenience, and will be home after taking care of a few things.
One of the girls there takes his actions too seriously, and when she pushes the issue, he decides to kill her too, amongst screams and panicked calls to the police. By the time they show up, Tom has added a few more bodies to the pile.
They harass the gang, since no one's gonna suspect the dead guy. The gang gathers near the grave, and discover it's empty. And they come to the *entirely logical* solution that someone has dug him up, stolen his clothes and bike, to commit the murders.
But Undead Tom drives up and reintroduces himself to Abby, Jane, Inky, Chopped Meat, Gash, and sigh. A whole jolly club with jolly pirate nicknames!.
Hatchet decides to make sure Tom stays dead, or kill this pretender ruining his bad name, but we find out that once you've died once, you can't be killed. So now he's an immortal mischievous asshole.
And that's all the rest of the crew has to hear to be totally on board with killing themselves. Like I said, WAY too eager.
Cue a very rapid drive into traffic, and a few more funerals, as the Living Dead becomes just the dead. But are they Grateful, that's the real question.
Tom and Jane nyoom around since she's the first to come back, and they do their mischief thing, wrecking places and people, culminating in running a truck off the road...which promptly rolls over and explodes. Ahhh, even in England, the cars explode.
Ghost Dick heads over to Abby's to say hey, not dead! and Jane comes along, to give Abby a fright by dangling from a rope in a tree.
The cops make a laughably brief attempt to be in this movie, what with all the murders. Unfortunately, they're dealing with immortal biker assholes. They think they've brought in the whole gang for these murders spreading around, but they JUST so happen to see Tom and Jane riding right in front of them. This is why advertising your gang name on your jackets is a bad idea.
Following the bikes to Tom's mom's house, and the cops confront her about the deaths and mysterious reappearances. She freaks out about Jane being back, saying she's evil, and they must stay away from her. Because the rest of this is PERFECTLY NORMAL. But seriously, I presume this is where the magic frog pendant factors in.
The pair of Unliving Living Dead decide to bust the gang out of jail where they're being held for questioning, and continue to flip the bird at authority. Oh, and Abby decides she's ready to die and be immortal too.
The musician biker decides to take his turn. He parks his bike in a no parking zone, climbs up to an apartment in a highrise, just as a cop shows up to ticket him. He shouts down that's his bike, the cop tells him to get down there, and you can guess what happens next.
We get a montage of the gang killing themselves in various ways, including one of them skydiving and not pulling the chute. Which begs the question how would a puddle of fragments come back, but I digress for now.
Abby tries to give into peer pressure with pills, but she actually doesn't succeed in killing herself, and instead lies to Tom about it to stay with him.
Down in the morgue, the autopsies are about to begin, when the bodies wake up and bugger off, as one does.
Tom hears that Abby is dead, and rejoices. His mom asks what his plans are for the future, and does he expect to get married and settle down? A clue: No. They pretty much include continuing to be a dick and agent of chaos for all of eternity. You can tell she's starting to have buyer's remorse on this whole pact with Satan thing.
Inspector Plotdevice enlists Abby's help with agreeing to play dead, and hopefully lure out whomever is killing everyone, and stealing the bodies of the Living Dead members. Oh, if he only had the slightest idea, right?
Unfortunately, this plan doesn't exactly go the way he expects, and when the bikers come to the morgue, they take Abby and leave a lot more dead cops in their wake.
As you can imagine, now that the surviving gang members are all immortal and reuinted, or so they think, they go on a rampage through town, because no one can stop them. Living Dead Girl Jane puts the icing on the cake, by running over a baby's pram, complete with baby.
Tom decides to go drive through a brick wall, and invites Abby along. But he noticed she's been hesitant in their chaos bringing and risk taking, and especially when she decides not to smash through walls with him.
Abby and Tom head back to his place, and she tells him the truth, with the rest of the gang not far behind.
Tommy mommy hears about all the chaos, and decides she has to stop him. But Shadwell reminds her she can't, she made a bargain for all time, and much like the legend of the Seven Sisters, there will be consequences if she breaks it.
So the gang rides out to the standing stones, and try and convince Abby to join them for realsies, while Momma Latham tries to break her contract with Shadwell.
Oh, and because her son was part of their bargain, he's gonna pay too, because there must be one last little twist of the knife and consequences. I think it's a little foggy there with the details, but eh, especially when it ropes in the whole gang of Deadites.
Breaking the deal turns momma into a frog, and surprise! If you guessed that Tom and friends all get turned into a new circle of standing stones, give yourself a gold star!
Fortunately for Abby, it happens right as she's about to strangled by Tom because she doesn't want to kill herself. And that's pretty much it. Everyone gets turned to stone, except for Abby, and she rides off into the sunset with Shagwell while all her friends get stoned.
Video: WHAT IS COLOUR. These images are so deceptive. The colour vaires WILDLY in the version I watched. It shifts from a green tint, to a magenta, through yellow, finds some stability in normal shades for a bit, then back again. It DOES somehow settle down after awhile, with only the occasional trip through the Light Fantastic, The Living Dead ride the Rainbow Road, and it's the loneliest road they've ever known. On top of that, there's a lot of scratches and artifacts all over the place. Now, there IS another version, from Severin Films, under the origina Psychomania name, which I've also watched as of last night, and while it still has some flaws, it looks MUCH MUCH MUCH better. No scratches, and the colour is stable. While the version from Cheezy Flicks is literally the third worst looking movie I've ever seen, The Psychomania version is more than tolerable.
Audio: The sound is scratchy and warbly throughout it. And yet, with those flaws, it's still very workable, and understandable. It's just got extra.
Sound Bite: "Are you okay, Tom?" "Well, I'm dead, mother. But aside from that, I'm fine!"
Body Count: Even with the resurrections, there's still a pile of bodies brought on by the Living Dead!
1 - Dude in car going through the windshiel almost five minutes in.
2 - Tom takes a long drive off a short bridge, but that's okay, he'll be back in a bit.
3 - He probably kills the poor schmuck with a flat tire.
4 - Gas station attendant chokes and dies.
5 - Random girl bites it at the bar thanks to Tom.
6 - A random body is found
7 - And another.
8 - Jane lives, Jane dies, Jane lives again.
9 - Hinky is less fortunate, and just dies.
10 - Jane slices the tires on a truck, sending it off the road, and the driver surely dying in the fireball.
11 - One dead cop
12 - Two dead cops.
13 - One of the bikers jumps to his not so certain death.
14 - Another drowns himself.
15 - Yet another skydives without a parachute.
16 - Hatchet jumps off a bridge and gets run over by a car.
17 - One dead morgue assistant.
18 - 20 - Dead cops everywhere
Best Corpse: None of them really stand out, but I am impressed that the guy who skydove actually came back when he became a fine red mist.
Blood Type - F-: Failing grade. Zero blood. Zero effects.
Sex Appeal: Nada here too.
Drink Up! Every time you see a frog.
Video Nasties: Chopper's demise by jumping out of an apartment with a witty bon mot to a cop is great humour.
Movie Review: I actually really enjoyed this. I mean, c'mon. I bought two copies of it. If I had first seen this 20-25 years ago when I was a teen, it might have even landed more with me. It really speaks to that rebel teenager spirit, and really embraces that 70s punk ethos of going against authority, and anarchy. Beyond that, it's got a solid story, the flummoxed cops trying to sort this out, and the sheer fun of the Living Dead being holy terrors throughout town. The logic is maybe a bit glossed over, and it might not be the most dynamic looking movie, but it's solid enough with loads of fun. Three out of five skull helmets.
Entertainment Value: As enjoyable as it is, it IS pretty campy, and the plot logic is lacking at times, as I said. The obsession with frogs is weird. But the cast is solid. Tom's acting is great, and I love this nasty, mischievous streak in him, that becomes all the worse when he becomes immortal. He's going to live forever, and all he wants to do is continue to terrorise people and police for all time. The bike action is good, the effects are surprisingly effective with the stone transformation, and the acting is good at times, and silly and over the top as others. They take this plot deathly serious at times, but still manage to have fun and inject the proceedings with its due silliness. It manages to strike a strange balance between everyone being serious, but somehow silly and knowingly winking at the same time. Four out of five frog medallions.