Movie Reviews 177 – The Wicker Man (1973)

The Wicker ManIt’s hard to take the tagline “The Citizen Kane of horror movies” too seriously, but don’t take it too lightly either. The Wicker Man (not to be confused with the 2006 remake) is a landmark film, and one of the strangest gems you may have overlooked.

The first time I started watching The Wicker Man years ago, I had no idea what I was in for. I thought I was in for a Hammer horror movie, after all, the stars include the great Christopher Lee and Ingrid Pitt. But this ain’t no Hammer horror although it does qualify as a horror in some respects. Brought to us by British Lion, a company still kicking around today despite it’s meager output over the years, the story of how this movie got made and was then unceremoniously dumped by the company is almost as fascinating as the film itself.

Starting off as a simple police investigation on the remote Scottish island of Summerisle, all we know when constable Howie (Edward Woodward) arrives on the island is that he is not wanted and thwarted in every step in his investigation of a missing girl. Replete with phallic imagery, prancing naked women at every turn and group sex taking place out in the open in front of the local Green Man Inn, Howie is besieged by the pagan pageantry paraded before him. His deep Christian beliefs under assault, his disdain for the townsfolk and the island’s leader, Lord Summerisle (Lee) boil to the surface, almost setting aside the crux of his primary investigation. Little does he realize that it is those very pagan rituals are at the heart of the mystery he is trying to solve.

The Wicker Man-Howie

The audience is confronted along with Howie by the film’s brazen depiction of the May pole rituals the kids play and other islander quirks such as the medicinal remedy of putting a live frog in the mouths of children and a pharmacy that boasts a jar full of foreskins and the embalmed fetus of deformed pigs right next to a jar of bubblegum. (Not as intentional but just as shocking are the garish hairdos sported but Lee, both as a ‘normal’ Lord and then in the finale pagan parade. But that’s just a 70’s thing.) The ending addresses every aspect of the crime Howie was investigating, but we are left with one final shocking scene.

The Wicker Man - masks

The one thought that went through my head as I watched was how great a film it could have been with Peter Cushing as inspector Howie (with all respect to Woodward). Imagine my surprise watching the DVD extra featurette “The Enigma of the Wicker Man” to learn that Cushing was offered the part but could not accept due to other film commitments. It’s a fascinating documentary about the trials and tribulations this movie has undergone from inception, fickle release and eventual cult status and should be savored just as much as the movie.

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