The Wicker Man-1973
Starring-Edward Woodward, Christopher Lee
Scott’s Review #245
Reviewed May 31, 2015
The Wicker Man is a cult horror film from 1973 that is considered one of the finest by horror critics. While the film does not enamor me quite as much as some other favorites in the horror genre (Halloween, Rosemary’s Baby, The Shining, Dressed to Kill, and Suspiria) immediately spring to mind while thinking of 1970’s style horror gems, I cannot help but admire The Wicker Man’s creativity and religious overtones. In fact, despite not awarding the film a solid “A” rating, I look forward to viewing this film again and, perhaps over time, as some films do, it will see an adjustment in scoring.
Set on an island in the Scottish Hebrides, named Summerisle, a devout Christian (Edward Woodward) named Sergeant Howie travels to the island in search of a missing young girl named Rowan Morrison, thought to have disappeared under mysterious circumstances. The inhabitants are vague, aloof, or hostile towards the policeman. He immediately is disturbed to notice the group worships Celtic gods and notices other strange acts of worship and sexual behavior (a naked dance), which he resists and disapproves of. He is tempted by gorgeous seductress, Willow, played by Britt Ekland- most notably known as a Bond girl in The Man with the Golden Gun, and butts heads with the island leader, Lord Summerisle, played by horror legend Christopher Lee. As he attempts to locate the missing girl, he uncovers some very dark goings-on around the island as the annual Mayday harvest celebration is about to occur. He deduces that Rowan is slated to be the sacrifice at the celebration and he races to find her before it is too late. But is there more to the island than meets the eye?
The Wicker Man is not mainstream fare and that is what I admire most about it, as well as its British flare. It strives to challenge the norm in horror and question who is right and who is wrong and who the audience should champion. Certainly religion and the occult have been portrayed in horror films for eons, but rarely given a normal face. Typically, the villains are scary, horrid, or even cartoonish, clearly defined as bad. Despite all of the townspeople being in on the sacrifice, they are seemingly quite ordinary appearing. They raise their kids, farm, run stores, and teach the kids in a classroom setting. On the surface they appear wholesome and that is part of what makes The Wicker Man so scary. Rosemary’s Baby did the same thing. Typically, any sort of satanic overtones or human/animal sacrifices, frighten audiences, especially if the culprits could be their neighbors, friends, or even loved ones. The realness is unnerving.
Differing, controversial, religious beliefs are a prevalent theme throughout The Wicker Man as are elements of good vs. evil. The film is not predictable. It delves into questions of morals and beliefs- for example, Howie is a virgin- saving himself for marriage and trying to be a good, decent person. He is the moral center of the film and, in his belief everyone on the island is either perverted, crazy, or a sinner. By this logic Howie looks down on others who are dissimilar to him and comes across as preachy. I do not get the impression that the film wants the audience to love Howie- nor hate him. The balance between the old gods (Christianity) and new gods (Celtic paganism) makes the film interesting.
The shocking conclusion involving an enormous, life-sized burning wicker man is terrifying beyond belief and by far the best part of the film, as the hero must come to terms with his fate. The final thirty minutes is quite spectacular from the final twist through the ending. My lacking of an exceptional grade for The Wicker Man stems from it being a tad too slow moving. Perhaps with a few additional jumps or frights along the way would have been beneficial, but, on the other hand, it is not a scary film, nor does it try to be. It is, however, quite intelligent and, I suspect will increase my enjoyment with each subsequent viewing. A fine addition to the relics of classic horror, The Wicker Man is creative, mysterious, and left of center film.