‘The Wicker Man’ is Bizarre, Bawdy, and Bleak
Robin Hardy’s 1973 film is a study in incremental horror and the blunt force of unflinching belief.
NOTE: For the month of October, I’ll be watching and reviewing classic horror movies that I somehow never made it around to seeing. Bring on your commentary in the comments — and happy Halloween!
There are several ways for a horror movie to connect with its audience. The tropes, the creativity, the aesthetics, the lore, the psychology — it’s an entire language that frequent fans expect. When a horror movie succeeds, I usually come away from it feeling daunted or exhilarated or thoughtful or properly spooked.
I don’t, however, get upset at horror movies… and I was coasting along just fine during The Wicker Man until the last half-hour rolled around. By the time the last 15 minutes were underway, I felt a sudden fight-or-flight impulse kick in — absolutely not, turn it off — but I watched anyway. I’m still extremely upset about it.
Sergeant Neil Howie (Edward Woodward) is called off of the Scottish mainland to the remote island of Summerisle — he’s been personally sent an anonymous tip that a young girl named Rowan has disappeared. His welcome to Summerisle is strange: the locals waffle back and forth about whether Rowan is even from the island. The landlord’s daughter, Willow (Britt Ekland), immediately launches an hours-long seduction effort that lasts into the night. Couples are copulating in a nearby field like it’s Free Yoga Saturday. Kids are presented with literal and symbolic ideas about sex, nature, regeneration, and the spirit.
Howie, a devout Christian, is indignant and disturbed. He vows to report their degeneracy to his superiors: “brawling, public indecency, [and] corruption of the young.” He meets Lord Summerisle (Christopher Lee), who schools him on their pagan beliefs (read: sacrifice as a means of compensation in lieu of a failed harvest). As the island’s inhabitants gear up for a Midsummer celebration…