The Wicker Man (1973)
In the Cinemas in 1973 but made a few years earlier, The Wicker Man is an exceptional and very classy horror movie, dealing with a seemingly gentle though unusual society, seen through the eyes of a stout Christian.
A policeman is sent to a remote Scottish island called Summer Isle to investigate the disappearance of a young girl. He’s a dedicated old-school Christian, and is first disconcerted by the strangeness of the community, then shaken by its open sexuality and possibly passive-aggressive stance to his questions, and then finally disgusted by its adherence to Pagan rituals. Finally his investigations lead him to the truth behind the girl’s disappearance, and the more startling secret behind that…
This film is wonderful. Edward Woodward (probably known to many of you as the star of ‘The Equalizer’) is excellent casting for the dour and grim hero of this piece, as is Christopher Lee as ‘Lord Summerisle’, leader of this community. This film is also whimsical (in the folky music) and erotic (with Britt Ekland playing the pub landlord’s daughter Willow, who tries to entice the policeman by singing a slightly bawldy song while dancing). Woodward convinces you he is deeply tempted, but also a man of conviction that can hold out to such temptation.
This is a slow-burn movie, but does convey a sense of off-kilter from the very beginning, as the policeman arrives. We are aware he is an outsider given his uniform and his obvious fish-out-of-water demeanour, and we empathise with his dislocation, I think. The growing dread of the policeman as he nears the truth of the disappearance is obvious and palpable. The film builds confidently as it goes, and the different elements (music, sex, ritual, mysticism) are conveyed brilliantly through the dialogue and direction. This wouldn’t have worked with a less talented director and screenwriter, but here it is just wonderful. The sense of creeping, dawning dread has you on the edge of your seat at times, just waiting to see the next discovery in the investigation.
The film is also remarkable as it is one of the most cliche-free movies you’ll see. It doesn’t rely on the usual horror movie conventions to frame and create its tension…it’s more like a detective movie with a touch of the eerie and erotic much of the time, but it is definitely tense and ultimately horrific.
I’ve been very careful not to give away too much here, as the whole film should be a pleasure taken first-hand, and if you’ve not seen it and don’t know about the story from start to end, I envy you and urge you to see it.
Rating: ODD, 8/10
Suitable for adults only.