The Wicker Man (1973)

Synopsis: When a young girl mysteriously disappears, Police Sergeant Howie (Edward Woodward of The Equalizer) travels to a remote Scottish island to investigate. But this pastoral community, led by the strange Lord Summerisle (a brilliant performance by the legendary Christopher Lee), is not what it seems as the devout Christian detective soon uncovers a secret society of wanton lust and pagan blasphemy. Can Howie now stop the cult’s ultimate sacrifice before he himself comes face-to-face with the horror of The Wicker Man?

Britt Ekland, Diane Cilento and Ingrid Pitt co-star in this provocative shocker written by Anthony Shaffer (Sleuth, Frenzy) that fans and critics worldwide still consider a true cult classic and modern horror masterpiece.

The Wicker Man (1973) 7.5 (but my enthusiasm for it is a 8.0)

A police inspector receives a letter imploring him to investigate the disappearance of a young girl from a secluded island. He decides to take a seaplane to the island and find out what happened. Once there, he constantly gets railroaded by the locals – but it’s not enough for him to back down and, as the mystery slowly unravels, his persistence spells doom.

‘The Wicker Man’ is an odd little bird. It’s an early ‘70s British low-budget production that almost got buried upon completion – despite a cast that included Hammer film icons such as Ingrid Pitt and Christopher Lee (who waived his fee to make the film), star Edward Woodward and Swedish sexpot Britt Ekland. The movie even suffered from an edit that was out of the director’s control before getting a token release and going into the dustbin.

But it was a couple of American movie buffs who managed to get a print for a special showing a few years later who started it all.

Once it was shown in the US, word of mouth helped build a reputation for this surreal psycho-sexual thriller and it eventually became a cult classic. It is now considered one of the great b-movie horror films of the ‘70s, has been re-released on home video countless times, has its own yearly fan convention and was even the (unfortunate) subject of a recent remake featuring Nicolas Cage.

As a film, it’s a mixed bag: the editing is sometimes dubious, the performances wobble between stolid to frantic and the fact that a decision was made halfway through the production to turn it into a musical severely hampers the tone. However, it does give the film a quaint quality, being as the songs are mostly folky numbers that are not completely out of context in this setting.

On the plus side is the island itself: it creates a sense of isolation much needed for this film, and which couldn’t be reproduced in a big city. Secondly, there’s the slightly psychedelic feel of the film, which works in parallel with the mind-numbingly difficult encounters of the inspector whilst on his search for clues. And then there’s the story itself, which is on the contrived side of things but is captivating and original enough to elicit interest… and a good bumps.

Oh, and then there’s the ending… which I will not reveal here but which is still memorable enough to rocket this film into the b-movie stratosphere.

All in all, despite being a dated affair, ‘The Wicker Man’ remains a poignant tale that can send chills down the viewer’s spine. However, one has to be ready for low-budget film-making that is a clear product of its time: this is not a slick, high-budgeted thriller with modern sensibilities – and it should be watched with those expectations in mind.

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