The Wicker Man

Dir: Robin Hardy
Star: Edward Woodward, Christopher Lee, Britt Ekland, Diane Cilento

I'll start by confessing a couple of heretical thoughts. Much as I love this film, I find the shorter version, edited by the film's producers, to be a superior work to the director's cut, which is desperately overblown and talky, with the extra scenes adding not enough to the film to justify their existence. Also, the soundtrack, particularly the song Corn Rigs, which is pretty much the kind of Aran jersey, bearded, finger-in-ear folk music nonsense I hate. Despite the director proclaiming to his cast in the middle of filming that they were making a musical... no, it's not. I've known a bunch of pagans over the years, and the kind of music this contains, would send most of 'em running.

That the film succeeds in spite of this, is testament to the qualities it does possess. Central to these in Woodward's excellent performance as Police Sergeant Neil Howie, who goes to a remote island in search of a missing girl, only to find a number of things that are deeply unsettling to his own beliefs. The islanders practice alternative religion, which is fertility-based, and Howie is highly unimpressed by the sexual freedom he sees - even when it consists of the landlord's daughter (Ekland), trying to lure him to pay her a visit. In Howie's opinion, the educational system leaves a bit to be desired too, and worst of all is his growing suspicion that the missing girl is to be sacrificed at the behest of Lord Summerisle (Lee), a gift to the gods after the harvest failed.

Howie is a man wildly out of his depth, and utterly unprepared: he may not know what's going on, but what ever it is, he strongly disapproves. Yet, despite that, Woodward makes him a sympathetic character, especially at the end - his expression, when he finally realizes how things will end, is just perfect and the true face of horror. It mixes sex and horror in a way that is very rare, Most horror films add it as a exploitative angle (not that there's anything wrong with that, of course), but here, it's an intrinsic part of the plot and setting. Lee is impeccable as the overlord, who knows the truth about what's going on, but finds it expedient to encourage the beliefs. And, while it's a "surprise" ending, that doesn't hurt the film a bit on subsequent viewings, as you can then enjoy the way Howie is ensnared by his own actions. Marvellous, and a basically unique entry in British horror.

[August 2010]

Woodward becomes a basket-case
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