The Wicker Man (1973)
The Wicker Man (1973)

Genre: Horror and Psychological Thriller Running Time: 1 hr. 28 min.

Release Date: October 16th, 1973 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Robin Hardy Actors: Edward Woodward, Christopher Lee, Diane Cilento, Britt Ekland, Ingrid Pitt, Lindsay Kemp, Russell Waters, Aubrey Morris, Irene Sunter, Walter Carr

 


 

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ergeant Howie (Edward Woodward), a devout Christian and a stern West Highland policeman who receives little respect from his subordinates, receives an anonymous letter requesting his help at the remote Summerisle Island (part of an archipelago) – apparently only known for its apples. 12-year-old Rowan, a young girl incapable of leaving on her own, has been missing for many months, much to the dismay of the unknown good Samaritan. The mother, Mrs. May Morrison (Irene Sunter), is purportedly told not to get involved in a search.

When Howie journeys to the isolated location, he’s immediately met with aversion by people hesitant to welcome a stranger to their private property. After showing around a photograph of Rowan at the Green Man Inn – another inhospitable area full of unfriendly residents – the British officer is dismayed that no one seems to recognize the lass. That night, he’s kept awake by loud music, slow singing, and the sounds of the barman’s lusty blonde daughter, Willow MacGreagor (Britt Ekland), making love next door.

The following morning, he’s further appalled to witness bizarre ceremonies, the worship of ancient gods, unabashed nudity, and students being taught offensively frank lessons on sexuality. At every turn, his authority is challenged, he’s thwarted by irritated civilians, and he encounters uncooperative employees. Even the girl’s mother insists that she’s never heard of Rowan. And a meeting with the lord of the land (Christopher Lee) confuses Howie just that much more, listening to heathen explanations of pagan spirituality, occult transmutation, reincarnation, and barbaric notions of virginal sacrifice – and a hint at the May Day fertility festival beginning the very next day, which is certain to contain particularly alarming rituals intended to please the goddesses of the sun and the fields.

From the start, there’s a lot of music, including numerous scenes of characters singing, dancing, drunkenly merrymaking, and exhibiting general degeneracy (in the extended cut, even more is present). The filmmakers are clearly trying to make audiences as uncomfortable and perplexed as the sergeant – and the discordant mix of frolicsome music and repugnant visuals does the trick. Unsettling imagery and peculiar behaviors open every scene, setting the tone and mood for a consistently eerie mystery. To make matters even creepier are coldly expressionless animal masks, though the elaborate concluding pageantry, which utilizes all of the strange customs and costumes, is so off-the-wall that it’s almost laughable.

The singular atmosphere is cleverly established through an ensemble of seemingly crazy fanatics all involved in a freakish conspiracy, maddeningly keeping the only source of sensibility at a distance. There’s suspense and wonderment, even when the pacing is a bit slow and the delay of answers a touch frustrating. In the end, it’s an evident, careful build to a grand, shocking, horrific conclusion that scarily illustrates the power of mob mentalities, religious intolerance, and the dangers of irrationally extreme beliefs – here, bordering on unforgettably cinematic witchcraft. As a genre-defying cult classic, “The Wicker Man” is worth seeing for its sensational originality and influence, even if its legacy is more powerful than its actual minutes.

– Mike Massie

  • 7/10