Tuesday, October 19, 2010


The onscreen cable guide described this movie thusly: "British bikers bury their leader (George Sanders) then join him back from the dead." Knowing this was Sanders' last film, shot not long before he killed himself at the age of 65, I was deathly afraid of scenes featuring an elderly Sanders trying desperately to stay on a roaring motorcycle. Luckily, the guide had that detail wrong. Actually, the young Nicky Henson plays the leader of the gang, called The Living Dead, who spend their time riding motorcycles around their small village committing mayhem and circling in and out of a mini-Stonehenge site called "Seven Witches" for seven stone slabs that are supposed to be the bodies of witches who broke their pacts with the devil. His widowed mother (Beryl Reid) belongs to a devil worship cult (as does her butler, played by Sanders); Henson, who is obsessed with the idea of "crossing over" into the world of the dead, finds out that his mom has made some kind of pact with the devil and he discovers he can return from the dead if he just believes hard enough that he can. He kills himself, is buried by his gang astride his beloved motorcycle, and sure enough comes back to life, roaring out of the ground on his bike. Once dead, you can't die a second time, so the gang members all commit suicide and return to life, subjecting the town to a reign of terror (mostly theft and vandalism, with some murders thrown in when needed). When Reid finds out what he's doing with his second life, she is determined to break her Satanic deal in order to put an end to his nasty ways.

I'd avoided seeing this movie in the past because it has a bad reputation, and, believe me, this is no one's idea of a good movie, but it's got its enjoyable bits. The story has potential, but the details about devil-worshipping are never worked out very well; Reid's cult has something to do with frogs, and a frog plays an important role in the climax, but the frog connection is never explained. It's also not clear why the gang members, who technically never signed deals with the devil, are able to come back from the dead. When they're not in their leather drag, they look about as threatening as flower-power hippies, and in fact, one guy sits around strumming a guitar and playing a faux-Donovan song at Henson's funeral. Henson is properly youthful and cocky, but the acting here is not strong; Reid and Sanders don't give it their all, and the rest of the young cast is barely adequate. I also found it problematic that the resurrected folks don't look any different than when they were alive; certainly some zombification should be apparent. The motorcycle stunts are pulled off nicely, and the parade of suicides is suitably ghoulish. The overall tone is pitched a bit toward the camp side, intentionally, I think, and it's best viewed with that in mind. (Yes, the picture above is a totally gratuitous shot of one of the half-naked dead cyclists on a slab, about to come back to life.) [TCM]

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