Director: Robin Hardy
The Wicker Man is a strange addition to the horror genre and is perhaps one of the most unique films ever made. It just may be due to the film’s strangeness that it’s so critically acclaimed yet so unfamiliar to the public.
To most of today’s youngsters The Wicker Man is known as that shitty 2006 movie where Nicolas Cage gave his worst and most hilarious performance. Now, I love “bad” Nicolas Cage almost as much as I love “good” Nicolas Cage, but it’s a shame that the story of The Wicker Man was introduced to contemporary audiences with an awful film because the original 1973 picture is a masterpiece.
What is this movie? The story follows a police officer, Sergeant Howie (Edward Woodward), to a remote Scottish island in search of a missing girl. Howie, being a devout and celibate Christian, is shocked to find that the islanders all follow a peculiar pagan religion. What’s worse is that no one seems to know anything about the missing girl and Howie must plunge himself deeper into the island’s strange and haunting society in order to uncover this conspiracy.
There is nothing supernatural about this film. The horror comes from the surreal and elaborate rituals the islanders take part in, and the alienation we feel being thrown into this incredibly cliquey society. Welcome to the land of public fornication, chanting children and enchanting hippy song numbers. Unless you’re a devout Christian, like our protagonist, you’ll find that there’s nothing inherently wrong with these people’s habits, but the fear comes from what they’re not telling us. Mystery is equally fascinating and threatening and that’s exactly how I would describe The Wicker Man.
One of the most intriguing elements of The Wicker Man is its religious content. There’s this battle between Christianity and paganism and, as a non-religious viewer, you’re constantly at war with yourself deciding who you should be rooting for. Howie is such a Christian extremist that you find yourself hoping the pagans get the better of him. Conversely, Howie is so morally pure that you’re hoping he shakes up the pagans and comes home with the truth.
You also get the pleasure of seeing Christopher Lee, in arguably his best role, as the community leader, Lord Summerisle. His two dimensional, yet captivating, camp, villainous antics take on a third dimension in this more restrained performance. Edward Woodward, however, has the most difficult role as the film’s Christian protagonist. His ability to physically express his devotion and spiritual struggle under pressure and temptation is spellbinding and adds to the horror of the film.
If you’re looking for a truly different experience in cinema that’s easy to follow and thematically challenging seek out The Wicker Man: The Director’s Cut. Whether you like it or not, you won’t be able to turn away till the credits roll and you’ll be talking about it for a while longer.