Directed by Don Sharp
Starring George Sanders, Beryl Reid, Nicky Henson, Mary Larkin, Roy Holder, Robert Hardy, Patrick Holt, Denis Gilmore, Ann Michelle, Miles Greenwood, Peter Whitting, Rocky Taylor
The film, also known as The Death Wheelers, is about a biker gang that call themselves The Living Dead, that tools around England causing the usually sort of trouble like forcing cars off the road and just being royal pains. But their leader Tom is getting bored with the normal stuff. In fact, he often thinks of doing something really wild like killing himself. When he learns a little secret from his mother, that if you really believe that you’ll come back when you kill yourself, you will. It’s apparently that simple. Even better though is when you do rise from the grave, you can’t die and seem to be super strong. So he convinces the rest of his gang to follow his lead, in usually interesting ways.
The most memorable thing from this movie for a lot of fans are the helmets the gang wears, that features a giant skull and crossbones painted on the front. Very unique and different and really does stand out in the film. I’m surprised we haven’t seen replicas made based on these designs. Sure, they may look a bit cheesy, but they are memorable.
The concept of this movie, a biker gang called the Living Dead that really do come back from the grave, sounds like it would simply be awesome. But unfortunately, watching it now feels very dated. When the gang comes back from the dead, they look exactly the same as they did when they were alive. No makeup, not even a little shadow around the eyes. I do have to give them credit for burying Tom sitting on his motorcycle upright in the grave. When he does return, he literally comes bursting out of the ground on his bike. Very cool shot, indeed. Same goes for when he rides his bike through a brick wall.
Veteran actor George Sanders plays the butler Shadwell, who seems to be more than just a butler to Tom’s mom. Sanders has appeared in countless genre pics, such as The Lodger (1944), The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945), and Village of the Damned (1960), and was always wonderful to watch. The real shame is that, as the rumor goes, right after watching a work print of this movie, he went to his home and killed himself, leaving a note stating “Dear World, I am leaving because I am bored. I feel I have lived long enough. I am leaving you with your worries in this sweet cesspool. Good luck.” Apparently he didn’t want to come back hard enough.
The rest of the cast does a decent job playing some very old delinquents, that just think it’s a real gas causing trouble like they do. Nicky Henson plays Tom, the leader of the group, who has some sort of a personality that keeps you interested. Not a total jerk, but surely not one to create sympathy for.
Directed by Sharp, who had worked several times in the genre, always turning out some good and entertaining titles. They may never have been 5 Star rated movies, but always fun to sit down with. I think the biggest issue with this picture is just the bare-bones story and not much for the characters to do before or after they come back from the dead.
Arrow has released on blu-ray in a wonderful edition. The print has been restored from an original 35mm print and it looks great. There is a new interview with star Nicky Henson, who has some wonderful stories about the film, as well those early acting days for him. Some of these stories are repeated from an older featurette called Return of the Living Dead, which features interviews with Henson, as well as actors Mary Larkin, Denis Gilmore, Roy Holder, and Rocky Taylor, who also have some interesting stories from the making of the film.
If you’re a fan of British horror and cult movies from the early ’70s, then you’ve probably already seen this movie before. And if you enjoyed it then, then you’ll definitely want to pick up this new release since it is probably the best it has ever looked.