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The Wicker Man (1973)

The Wicker Man is widely regarded as one of the best horror films ever made, and is regularly trotted out in the top 10 of every poncey film critic's list of influential movies. Not bad for a bloodless musical thriller-cum-travelogue through the Western Isles which was disowned by its makers on release.

We start (as if you didn't know) with a plane making its way over the sea to Summerisle, with some nice music playing. Unfortunately, the nice music doesn't last long. Corn rigs and barley rigs my arse. The plane is piloted by policeman Sgt Howie (Edward Woodward), who immediately falls out with the locals when they refuse to send a dinghy out to pick him up.

When he finally makes it onto land, he starts his quest for a missing girl, Rowan Morrison. But no-one's heard of her - not even her supposed mother.

That evening he walks into the local pub, where, in the best tradition of Hammer horror, everything goes silent. However, it doesn't take long for the lusty locals to break into a chorus of "The Landlord's Daughter" on the entrance of Britt Ekland (Willow, the landlord's daughter). Would it have been the same, we ask, if The Village Paedophile had walked in?

After a "disgusting" meal, Officer Howie makes his way back outside, where he finds lots of couples shagging in the open air - not to mention someone watering a grave and a naked woman crying on a gravestone. Back in the pub, he goes to bed and Britt starts her naked wall-banging shenanigans, making Howie go all sweaty - but he steadfastly refuses to relent to her off-key singing and body arse double.

"I thought you were gonna come and see me last night," says Willow, the next morning. "I invited you."

But Howie explains he doesn't believe in "it" before marriage.

After finding out that paganism is taught at the local school ("everywhere I go on this island I see there's degeneracy"), Howie finds that Rowan's name IS in the register: "You're liars - you are despicable little liars!"

But what he doesn't realise is that he has seen himself trapped inside one of the school desks - in the form of a beetle attached by a piece of string to a pin. "Little old beetle goes round and round," says a girl. "Poor old thing."

Back at the sweet shop, Mrs Morrison asks him: "Can I help you, Sergeant?"

"Oh I doubt it," he replies: "Seeing as you're all raving mad."

What is remarkable is that so far, very little has happened, yet the film is over half way through. We've also not seen Christopher Lee's character of Lord Summerisle, a part which Lee ranks as one of his best, and which was apparently written specially for him.

Finally, Howie travels to see Summerisle (past phallic hedges and naked virgins dancing around fires - the look on Woodward's face is priceless). "I trust the sight of the young people refreshes you?" asks Summerisle. "They are naked." replies Howie.

"Naturally, it's much too dangerous to jump through fires with your clothes on." (Fair point)

In his discussions with the Lord, it's Howie who comes across as the zealot. On God, Summerisle explains: "He had his chance - and, in modern parlance - he blew it."

After discovering that Rowan's grave is empty (another Hammerish scene - a night time exhumation) and that this year's harvest failed, Howie leaps to the conclusion that the islanders plans to sacrifice the young girl in order to appease their gods. After reading up on the May Day celebrations (and getting all the clues as to what's actually going on, but not realising it), Howie rushes towards his appointment.

Right up until the last few minutes, the Wicker Man isn't brilliant - it's a bit cringemaking with its awful songs and Prisoner-like imagery, and everything is a bit jokey. It's only when Rowan finally appears that the everything falls into place. And it doesn't matter how many times you see it, or whether you know exactly what to expect (and everyone does) - the look on Howie's face when he realises what the smiling, dancing islanders have in store for him and his useless screams for mercy and absolution are truly terrifying - and something which stay with you long after the Wicker Man has bowed his head to the setting sun.

Last updated: February 27, 2010

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