Evola on Wheels:
James J. O'Meara
Psychomania as Hermetic Initiation
Here’s another flick I fondly recall from some late night broadcast in my teens or so, which has been made accessible again through the miracle of DVD. Needless to say, it has its ’net fans as well, one of which give this summary:
If you haven’t ever seen Psychomania it’s a unique British horror and is quite hilarious in terms of language and actual horror, but remains a classic all the same. The opening title with these Bikers from hell weaving in and out of a large stone circle has to be the most memorable you will see. Briefly it’s the story of a gang of Bikers called the Living Dead. The gang leader (Henson) has a weird mother (our Beryl) who is immortal, as is her sinister butler (Sanders). Henson finds the secret of his mother immortality (this involves a frog), then tells his gang members how they can comeback alive and wreak havoc. They then all commit suicide. It really is funny. They all get turned into stone at the end. There are some great scenes and some superb furniture along the way. Only the British could make such a daft movie.
OK, everyone set with the premise? That opening scene was really the only part I recalled, due to either falling asleep or being sent to bed, so I can attest to it really being memorable.
A group of motorcyclists — The Living Dead, we’ll soon learn — perform various maneuvers in and around a sort of mini-Stonehenge — as we’ll also soon learn, a local monument, the “Stone Witches,” a coven supposedly turned to stone for some devilish misdemeanor — all shrouded in fog, filmed in slo-mo, and above all, accompanied by some amazing creepy prog-music — not unlike to music being created at the same time in Germany that we now know as Krautrock — that instantly catapults this film into Suspiria (Goblin) or even Man Hunter (Shriekback) territory. Or not, actually.
It would be hard for any movie to keep up with that opening, and this one sure doesn’t. But there are some rewards here for readers of Counter-Currents.
First, this is not just a British film, but a very British film. That means, apart from a subdued, vaguely melancholy color palette of foggy grays and damp greens and blues — the whole film looks like it was filmed at the bottom of an aquarium, which is appropriate, given the unusually large role frogs play — it’s a very white film — in fact, I’d say it’s entirely white. Not even Sidney Poitier is in sight.
It’s quite a relief, in today’s culture and environment — when even our crypto-Traditionalist directors like Christopher Nolan feel the need to include not just Negro characters but even as heroes — to sink into this cooling British aquarium of a film, like a soothing ice mask after a hot day.
“British” also means we can expect the subtle pleasures consequent on a low-budget and a strangely reticent, almost downright shy approach to film making.
Take, for instance, a very early scene that presents us with one of the gang’s “outrages.” Now I for one will admit that having a motorcycle, to say nothing of half a dozen or so, zip right by you while out walking around the town shopping center would be a rather unpleasant, perhaps even scary, experience. But really, this is supposed to be a horror film, and the sight of the Living Dead, even with their home-made skull visors, zooming alongside shoppers at quite reasonable speeds, knocking over a few prop fruit stands and what not, doesn’t even bring to mind the rather sedate The Wild One but rather the Monty Python sketch, “Hells Grannies”; even a Benny Hill skit would have speeded things up. In fact, the gang’s suicides, as they follow Tom’s lead, are rendered in a quick sequence all played for laughs.
On the other hand, cheapness and restraint can produce remarkable effects themselves, as any connoisseur of B-films can attest. In a later scene, when — not give too much away — our now back from the dead gang dispatches two constables and an inspector who are waiting unsuspecting in the morgue, the camera simply shifts away from the three, slowly revolves full circle to reveal — hey presto! — our three new corpses laid out in their conveniently see-through drawers, with nary a sound, mark or drop of blood, leaving Martin Scorsese to ask, “how’d they do that?”
But the film’s greatest and most famous sequence occurs when Tom, having driven himself off a bridge and then buried by the gang — on his motorcycle — revs up from underground and explodes up and out of the burial mound, good as new and ready for some more of the old ultra-violence.
I defy anyone to watch this amazing sequence without screaming out:
“Like a bat out of Helllllllllllllllllllllllll!”
It’s when Tom learns the secret of immortality — or whatever it is; as we’ll see, it’s a little hard to pinpoint just what kind of state he achieves — that my Traditionalist spidey-sense started to tingle.
The secret turns out to be: kill yourself, but only if you can maintain constant, unwavering concentration on the belief that you will live again.
The secret, in fact, turns out to be a kinda suicidal version of Oprah’s beloved Secret, the dumbed down residuum of America’s 19th-century “New Thought” movement.
But where had I heard this before? Of course — Baron Evola!
As is well known, Evola was quite pessimistic about the possibilities of finding a true source of initiation in today’s world; ultimately passing from pessimism to nihilism. Unlike Guénon, who held out slender hopes, Evola simply denied the existence of a valid and effective initiatory stream, without contact with which no chance of enlightenment, or immortality, is possible.
What to do? Evola counseled the “differentiated man,” the man aware of some element of the transcendent within himself — which would be the requisite material to be acted on by initiation — to
Give ever more emphasis to the dimension of transcendence in oneself, more or less concealed as it may be. Study of traditional wisdom and knowledge of its doctrines may assist, but they will not be effective without a progressive change affecting the existential plane, and more particularly, the basic life force of oneself . . . that for most people is bound to the world and is simply the will to live.
One can, then, with some effort and luck, and of course a predisposition, effect a change of polarity, like “the induction of magnetism in a piece of iron” and thereby reverse the direction of one’s life force: from willing to live ordinary life to the urge to attain “the life which is more than life.”
When the orientation toward the transcendent no longer has a merely mental or emotional character, but has come to penetrate a person’s being, the most essential work is done, the seen has penetrated the earth, and the rest is in a way, secondary and consequential.
As I read this, the idea seems to be that one should concentrate as much of one’s consciousness as one can on the Transcendent, within oneself, so that a certain direction, and even force or momentum, is built up, allowing one to spring forward at death, into the Beyond, rather than passively submitting to the dispersal of the elements and return to the racial root that is the fate of the un-initiated.
Although Evola counsels against suicide in the same book, as an all-too-human failure of will — except for those who are already enlightened, who may well choose to take themselves off the scene — we might draw a parallel to Evola’s own ill-advised “testing of my fate” by walking about Vienna during Allied bombing runs, which ultimately resulted in the injuries that left him unable to walk.
And now the occult synchronicity of Tom’s burial becomes clear; buried upright, astride his motorcycle, no doubt facing East (the movie gives no clue), just as Evola, by his request, was wheeled over to a window so that he would die as his Aryan ancestors would wish, upright and facing the rising sun.
The Evola connection also solves the major puzzle critics have with the movie. The re-born cyclists are usually called “zombies” by critics but they bear no resemblance to the now canonical rotting, brain-eating ones. TV Tropes has cited the film under the trope “Our Zombies are Different” but observed:
Psychomania has gained some notoriety as “zombies on motorcycles,” but are really zombies only in retrospect. More accurately, they’re willing participants in a ritual that grants eternal life. The ritual requires that they first die. On revival, they carry on as before; they are essentially their own creator.
“Their own creator.” This is a tremendously important point, which links the film’s formula of immortality with Evola’s discussion of the “magical heroes” who are a “kingless race” of “self-rulers” after having, unlike the contrary archetype of the “religious saint,” taken control of their own destiny and fate.
Here we also find the significance of the “turn to stone” motif, in which Tom and the gang are “punished” at the end of the film by being transformed into megaliths, presumably just as the Seven Witches were years before the film began.
The Stone, briefly, symbolizes The Center, the Axis Mundi along which transformation is accomplished (rising to a higher level); thus the stones are fittingly located on the lush green heath, which alludes to the equally central symbol of the Garden of Eden. The Stone also signifies the Transformed Man himself, solid, unmoved, upright; as well as the instrument of transformation, the alchemical Philosopher’s Stone or even perhaps The Grail (which Evola suggests was fashioned from the green gem — or stone– that fell from Lucifer’s crown. The color green ties in with the green frogs and the green frog medallion — the frog is the snake in the Garden which is also Satan — that are involved in the rituals conducted by Shadwell and Tom’s mom.
We’re already starting to find here elements of both repetition and the phenomenon I’ve called “passing the buck” — The Superior Man does not “work off” his own karma, as in so many crypto-protestant interpretations, but instead demonstrates his superiority precisely by offloading it onto some sucker or mark.
To explore the Stone some more, we need to look at some of these repetitions. The basic repetition occurs in the First Act, when Tom demands to be allowed into The Locked Room in order to learn The Secret, an ordeal that his father failed, fatally. As Evola explains, in the traditions of the “religious saint,” the quest for immorality or enlightenment or perfection is presented as a danger; as a result of our ancestor’s catastrophic failure — Adam and Eve, of course — the pursuit is not only forbidden, but we are subject to a sinful debt that will result in our own damnation unless we can obtain Jehovah’s forgiveness.
Tom, however, presents us with the Hero of the alchemical traditions, who dares — and succeeds.
Of course, we’ve seen that in the film, Tom and the gang are “punished,” but that’s just the cover story; “turning to stone” is the goal, or the reward, of their efforts. (We can assume that the Witches succeeded as well). This is also presented as a punishment because to the naïve, worldly man, the Enlightened Man seems more dead than alive; impassive as a stone, unmoved, not subject to the worldly man’s endless, unsatisfied desires that “make life worth living.”
It’s the usual “he tampered in God’s domain” cautionary tale, dating back from Frankenstein through Faust through Don Juan through Dante all the way back to the Eden myth — but we don’t care about that, nor whether the producers had any of this in mind. It may be the case, as Trevor Lynch suggests, that under contemporary conditions — and really, that would be the whole post-Constantine period — Traditional ideas can only appear in the mouths of villains and madmen. But even beyond this, this is how Traditional ideas have always been transmitted — embedded in “folk” tales that the folk grooved on but never really understood, hidden safely in plain sight until someone like Guenon or Evola could decode them for us once again.
On the purely cinematic level, Tom is channeling Alex from 1971’s A Clockwork Orange. Of course, Kubrick was an American and had a big budget, so although made and set in England, the film seemed startlingly brightly lit, violent and explicit at the time.
And yet, Tom, though admittedly a nice lad who lives with Mum — in a very groovy, all too British manor house with just the right swinging ’60s touches, unlike Alex’s futurist hellhole — is far more violent than Alex; just more reticent about it. No sooner do we meet him than he’s forced a car off the road and sent some British git through the windshield — I mean, windscreen. Of course, being British, we don’t see any exploding heads or even a slight cut, so it’s hard to tell if he’s unconscious or dead. No one in authority, at least, seems too concerned; whereas Alex’s one murder results in a very British “now you’ve done it lad” and straight to the Ludovico room.
On revival, though, all bets are off. Tom kills a couple of blokes just on general principle, then heads for a pub to chats up a couple birds. The scene looks like it will play out like Alex‘s teenage girl ménage a trois, but instead he winds up killing everyone else in the place — off camera of course.
We’ve already commented on the Pythonesque qualities of the shopping center attack. And of course, as we now expect, they return. But TV Tropes is wrong to say they “carry on as before.” No, this time they do it right, mate. Dozens of people are injured or worse as the gang invades a Sainsbury — Sainsbury’s! — on wheels; red leather girl even runs over a baby carriage, child inside — now when did you ever see that, outside of a Warhol film? But again, no blood, no flying limbs; no need to blow the special effects budget this late in the film.
Given the andro-centric nature of the Hermetic Tradition, we can anticipate that the sucker will be a woman. There’s Tom’s goody-goody girlfriend — unlike the rest of the gang, she wears a denim jacket, with her name cutely appliquéd to the front, not the back, in Holly Hobby font — who refuses to join him in the — overlife? — and will no doubt be psychologically scarred for life.
But mostly, it’s Tom’s mom, who resolves to stop his reign of genteel terror by reneging on her “oath” (of what? Who knows?) and, rather than petrifying, turns into a frog. Finally, the frog motif resolved, Chekhov-style!
The circular, literally “hermetic” structure of the film — like the Locked Room itself — is now clear. We begin with the Living Dead — ordinary men and women, but with some spark of the transcendent that renders them unable to tolerate the banality of “the whole Establishment” (as Tom describes the targets of his undead mischief). Dying to this world, they are reborn as Immortals subject to no authority but themselves; but ultimately, having thrown off karmic ties, they are fully transformed into Men — and the red leather chick — of Stone, no longer weaving among the stones but upright and unmoving.
Finally, as usual with horror flicks, the creepiest story is backstage. George Sanders is the star name here, but unlike later work by Christopher Lee or Peter Cushing, he doesn’t look like he’s having any late career fun in this two-bit Brit flick. He mumbles his lines throughout — unless that’s an artifact of the poor production or the DVD transfer — and looks bored — terminally so. As it happens, as soon as the picture wrapped, Sanders killed himself. Perhaps he was more inspired by the script in real life than he seems on film? Whether he came back is unknown,
1. Actually, there’s a Blu-ray that just came out, “packed” with special features, which I can’t afford at the moment, but dig it if you can. Like similar low-budget Brit horror films of the time — such as The Wicker Man — it seems to exist in various different versions with various cuts and runtimes. Oddly enough a version close to the Blu-ray can be had on an otherwise disgusting “Laugh Track” DVD — a “white rapper” version of MST3K that, mercifully, can be run without said rapping, and for only a couple of bucks on Amazon.
2. MST3K, “The Starfighters.”
3. It turns out to be the veddy British John Cameron who recently reminisced for the release of the soundtrack:
Jazz and session musicians playing pre-punk ‘trash-rock’ for a tale of supernatural gore and mayhem, on a Shepperton recording stage more suited to the LSO than a rock line-up, complete with ‘suit-and-tie’ recording engineer is one of my more unexpected memories. In a pre-synthesizer age every trick was used: Musser vibes through phase and wah-wah pedals, phased bowed bass, drumsticks inside a grand piano, electric harpsichord through a compressor, Hammond organ fed through a phase unit and Leslie speakers, and wordless solo voice. . . . Sorry my recollection is a little blurred, hell, it was the 1970s!
4. Imported a few years earlier to play the Magic Negro in To Sir With Love, a vile film redeemed only barely by the transcendental Lulu.
5. “In the morning if my face is a little puffy I’ll put on an ice pack while doing stomach crunches. I can do 1000 now.” — Patrick Bateman, American Psycho.
6. One can only imagine there must have been some influence here on the cover of Mr. Loaf’s 1977 opus; I don’t know of any other previous use of this trope. One might also compare Mr. Loaf’s character, Eddie, in another Brit-horror film, 1975’s Rocky Horror Picture Show, who rides a motorcycle out when he escapes from the freezer prison-grave [?], only to also wind up dead again. There is also a very similar looking character (though still, as noted, very neat and clean) in the Living Dead named — Chopped Meat. Both Tom and Dr. Frankenfurter live in very British gothic mansions with all the latest mod cons, though Riff Raff is a sadly decayed Shadwell. The swaggering, always in leather Tom is sort of a combination of Eddie and Rocky, and thus would have made a more suitable companion for the Dr. than either.
7. Derived from colonial readings of Hegel and Emerson, and serious enough to warrant William James devoting a chapter — “The Religion of Healthy-Mindedness” — in his lectures on the Varieties of Religious Experience. For an alt-Historical account, see The Secret Source (Feral House) that traces it back to the Egyptian Hermetics — rightly so, as we shall soon see.
8. Ride the Tiger, pp. 216–17. See also the remarks on the very last page, p. 227.
9. Evola discusses these contrasting fates in many places, for example, Chapter 8 of Revolt Against the Modern World, “The Two Paths of the Afterlife.”
10. Evola himself discusses the incident in The Path of Cinnabar, pp. 183–4, where he disavows any “occult attack” interpretations. If it seems rude to speculate thus around Evola’s personal situation, there are distinguished precedents; no less than Eliade speculated in a letter that Evola had been wounded in the chakra that governed pride and arrogance — “and what do you think about that?”
11. See The Hermetic Tradition, especially the “Introduction to Part One: The Tree, the Serpent and the Titans.”
12. It’s a not too impressive time-lapse effect. Brit John Boorman, in 1974’s Zardoz, will subvert this trope, ending with a time-lapse disintegration of Sean Connery and Charlotte Rampling, who have accepted mortality. This “self-creation” seems to correspond to the process Evola describes as the sage re-creating his body cell by cell, producing an immortal, indestructible “body of light” or, in Pauline terms, “resurrection body.” See The Hermetic Tradition but especially The Yoga of Power, Chapter 15, “The Diamond Thunderbolt Body.”
13. See Evola, op. cit. and also The Mysteries of the Grail, especially Chapter 15, “The Luciferian Stone.”
14. In fact, Christianity recognizes that the debt is so great as to require Jehovah to kill his own Son; a titanic example of “passing the buck.”
15. Towards the end of The Hermetic Tradition Evola devotes some pages to considering how the Realized Man may well appear as a broken down failure beset with worries, due to his desire not to stand out, as well as the results of “karmic repercussions” from his activities in the higher dimensions — hence our idea of the need to “pass the buck” to someone else. Guénon, at the end of his book, Man and His Becoming, has an interesting discussion of how the Realized Man, having climbed the World Axis, would literally pop out of view, like a three-dimensional being in Flatland
16. The verdict delivered in Bride of the Monster; see the collection of these tropes here.
17. In fact, the most British thing about Tom, as opposed to Alex, is that he’s more interested in the ultra-violence than the old in-out. He seems only to be interested in the red-leathered bad girl in the group as a partner in crime, while constantly hectoring his still-living goody-goody girlfriend to just off herself already, though what he intends to do with here is unclear. No sex please, we’re British!
18. The producers of the German version seem to have thrown up their hands and titled it “Der Frosh.”
19. Either by design or incompetence, it’s not clear until the very end that Tom’s mom is a mortal who’s made a deal with some occult power, perhaps an occultist in over her head, rather than being a witch or demon herself. Sanders’ character is never clear, right to the very last shot, when he drives up at the stone circle . . . what? Is he just a butler, a fellow initiate, perhaps of a higher level, like Crowley — whom Sanders seems to be channeling — a minion of Satan, or Satan himself? As the ’bots say, perhaps I should just relax.