The Wicker Man

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Year: 1973
Director: Robin Hardy
Writer: Anthony Shaffer
Music: Paul Giovanni
Starring: Edward Woodward, Christopher Lee, Diane Cilento, Britt Ekland, Gerry Cowper, Irene Sunters, Ingrid Pitt
Favorite Quote: “Do sit down, Sergeant. Shocks are so much better absorbed with the knees bent.”

The Wicker Man is one of those films that I had read of in various film magazines and some of my better movie appreciation books. But I was not able to see it for myself until the 90’s. Oh, I had seen the cover at my local video store for many years back in the early 80’s but for some reason the cover always kind of turned me away from it. It didn’t look particularly scary and to be honest my love of film hadn’t matured enough to appreciate the movie even if I had watched it. I can say it is now though one of my favorite movies and considering that Anthony Shaffer (writer of the absolutely fantastic 1972 Sleuth) wrote the screenplay I shouldn’t have ever been doubting.

As the film begins proper Police Sergeant Howie (Woodward) is flying his seaplane to the remote isle of Summerisle to investigate the disappearance of one of their local children, Rowan Morrison (Cowper), after receiving an anonymous letter asking him to come and investigate the incident. At the beginning of the film (at least the director’s cut) we learn that Howie is a deeply devout Christian, a very by the book police officer and is made fun of behind his back by his fellow officers for his beliefs. This is a man who ‘knows’ he is making the world a better place by his actions and example.

Arriving at the isle he finds himself immediately at odds with the island’s residents. The Harbor Master initially refusing to send a dinghy over to the Sergeant without written permission from Lord Summerisle (Lee) himself. The good Sergeant begins to lose his temper, which isn’t hard to make him do, by explaining the letter he received makes it a criminal investigation and his authority supersedes that of Summerisle’s in this case. The Harbor Master agrees to send over the requested boat and when he reaches land, Howie hands a photo that was sent with the letter. The small group of men with the harbor master are in unison, they’ve never seen that little girl before on the island. Howie takes out the letter and reads to them, “None of us have seen May Morrison’s daughter Rowan since last year. She’s only twelve and been missing from her home for many months.” As soon as the Officer mentions May’s (Sunters) name the group of men laugh good-naturedly and explain her name completely slipped their minds. They direct him to her Post Office in the town where she seems quite surprised that Howie has come to see her, when shown the picture of Rowan she explains she has no idea who the little girl is, her daughter, Myrtle is in the backroom painting. Howie meets Myrtle and asks if she knows who Rowan is, the girl says she does but when pushed further tells him that Rowan is a Hare that lives in a field.

Unfortunately for Howie he doesn’t find the rest of the island’s inhabitants any more helpful. He is aghast to learn that Summerisle is a pagan worshiping community, worshiping the Sun and engaging in fertility rituals. The Officer even storms into the school house when he realizes that Miss Rose (Cilento), the school mistress, is teaching the young girls of the island about the phallic symbolism of the maypole they are seen dancing around earlier. He demands to see the school register but is told he must speak with Lord Summerisle, the Officer obtains the folder for himself with apparent disdain, finding Rowan Morrison’s name on the registry along with her address which states the Post Office. Leaving the school in anger he happens upon the town cemetery where he finds the caretaker who is happy enough to show him to Rowan’s grave.

Howie is at odds with everyone on Summerisle and even himself when he finds that he is attracted to the Innkeeper’s daughter, Willow (Ekland). He overhears from his room as Willow seduces a young man that Lord Summerisle has sent to her the night before, the older Lord referring to her as Aphrodite, below her window as he presents the youth. Willow also tries to seduce Howie, by singing to him, banging on the wall to keep him awake in the hopes he will be tempted to her room.

Finally Howie goes to meet Lord Summerisle in the hopes of getting aid by exhuming Rowan’s corpse and bringing it to the mainland so it might be tested. Lord Summerisle agrees heartily but when the Officer with the caretaker’s aid opens the wooden coffin that night he finds only a Hare within. So here do we end the spoilers.

Besides the wonderful script by Shaffer, I would be remiss in not mentioning the awesome score by Giovanni. The Celtic like songs are beautiful, and I put this CD in the player every Halloween. The Wicker Man is, to quote Cinefantastique, “The Citizen Kane of horror movies”. I do agree with that statement as well. I bestow five pumpkins out of five on this modern classic.

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VicSage

Editor at Retroist
Searching through the alleys for useful knowledge in the city of Nostalgia. Huge cinema fanatic and sometimes carrier of the flame for the weirding ways of 80s gaming, toys, and television. When his wife lets him he is quite happy sitting in the corner eating buckets of beef jerky.

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2 thoughts on “The Wicker Man

  1. Atari Adventure Square says:

    Forgive my upcoming wordiness, but this movie is also one of my favorite movies of all time.

    I’m so very glad you enjoyed this, VicSage, cuz everyone I try to convince into seeing this masterpiece of horror just looks at me, puzzled, at the mention of the details.
    I caught this in the mid-80s, on TV, and watched the taped edit, mesmerized, over and over.
    It once played again, on the same channel, and I didn’t tape it anew but instead just watched it live.
    Imagine my surprise (and chagrin) when it turned out to be the extended version and I was seeing new or different scenes, all the while constantly regretting not having a tape in the player.
    Anyway, was glad when Anchor Bay finally gave me peace of mind with their terrific wooden box set.

    Such a unique motion picture. Chris Lee apparently did this one without pay and proudly proclaims it to be his best work (I agree, and considering his career, that’s saying something).
    The TV version I saw did *not* have the lovely Miss Eckland dancing bare and breaking the fourth wall and I must admit I find my initial visioning of the flick to be a superior experience because of it (and that whole scene, along with Howie’s sudden loss of stoicism, is a bit off with the rest of the movie).
    But nowadays I love it all (it’s so uniquely fun to have different cuts of a beloved movie – allows you to watch it over and over with less ‘film fatigue’).

    Oh and I agree the soundtrack is incredible and so intricately designed with the story it elevates the experience of watching the movie into something unforgettable.

    Great review of an underrated thriller/musical/horror/drama.
    Indeed the Citizen Kane of horror!

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