The Wicker Man (Robin Hardy, 1973)
Often praised by critics and recommended by one of my friends, Christian Audet an Independent filmmaker and Horror aficionado, The Wicker Man is an intriguing and very interesting movie. Sgt Neil Howie (Edward Woodward) is a catholic investigating the Summerisle community about a missing young girl. The people of the village don’t want to collaborate and Howie witnesses many pagan rituals that alarm him. Those are Celtic pre-catholic rituals including couples copulating in public fields, teaching children the importance of the maypole as a phallic symbol, women dancing around a fire naked to celebrate the coming of a child, and strange cures like putting a frog in the mouth for a sore throat.
The culmination of the film is the final scene in which a giant man made of wicker is burnt as an offering for abundant crops. The strenght of the story is how its writer, Anthony Shaffer, wanted it to be genuine and true to folk songs and rituals. Many songs are sang by the cast and at some point, the movie could have been categorized as a musical. Songs and dances are however well incorporated into the story and they flow very well with the evolution of the investigation. We are initiated just as Howie is with the culture of the village.
Forty years after its initial release, The Wicker Man still got a huge cult following and even had an American remake in 2006, that by the way wasn’t well received, still has a special vibe mixing the pagan rituals and the climax that reveals the whole mystery. It does not however include scares but strange events and the illustration of events that catholics may or may not find profane. It is a movie that sets a particular atmosphere and it characterizes many great horror movies. The Wicker Man is original in the depth of its story and the actual way the it is told. Never involving supernatural elements or beliefs of it, it is more about the elements and Celtic pagan rituals. There’s a will to render rightly the traditional customs of the ancient gods and beliefs.
On the technical side of things, The Wicker Man is well executed but actually is made in a very conventional cinematic way. As a film of 1973, one of the most interesting decades in film history, it seems like a film lacking the spirit of the decade. Even if it is a British film and the new age was mostly American. British cinema seemed to have been stuck into its old manners and didn’t evolved much getting into the 1970’s. Sgt. Howie would have had a much more deeper character study if it was done by the New Hollywood.
Even if now considered as a cult classic, The Wicker Man might be a lesser and bleak horror film than his peers of the same decade like Halloween, Don’t Look Now, Carrie, Dawn of the Dead, Suspiria, or Nosferatu the Vampyre.