Classic Review: The Wicker Man (1973)

Certificate: 18

Director: Robin Hardy

Screenwriter: Anthony Shaffer

Starring: Edward Woodward, Christopher Lee, Diane Cilento

Genre: Horror, Mystery

Runtime: 88 Minutes

Language: English

Rating: 4

Reviewed by: Pearl

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Devout Christian Sergeant Howie travels to the Island of Summerisle off the Scottish coast when he receives an anonymous letter claiming that a local teenage girl is missing. When he arrives the locals claim not to know the girl and appear ignorant of her disappearance. Howie suspects there is something more sinister going on when he begins to uncover secret, pagan practices on the island. The evidence seems to suggest that Rowan Morrison was sacrificed, but the truth is even more disturbing.

Sometimes, when things are paraded around as classics of a genre, and one of the ones that everyone should watch, upon watching them yourself, they are inevitably going to fall short of your high estimations.  The Wicker Man was not one of those films.  This surpassed my expectations and then some.  I didn’t know exactly what to expect from the story going in, but I was hooked very early on and loved the slow, mysterious way that things were revealed to us.  I have managed to get to this point of my movie watching existence and not have the ending of the film spoiled for me, so other than the iconic moments right at the very end, I was discovering all this for the first time.

Other than the obvious dubbing of Britt Ekland’s character, all the performances were outstanding, but particularly those of Edward Woodward and Christopher Lee.  Whose performances in this film have become legendary at this point.  Christopher Lee just plays villains so well, and while it is type casting at this point, when you have a good formula why mess with it.  But saying that there is never any doubt who the mastermind behind it all is, because he is played by Christopher Lee.

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Being made in the era of Free Love, and the sexual revolution that was happening in the mid sixties and early seventies, like a lot of films at that time, there is a lot of nudity and sexual content.  I love the way the films of this time really reflect the feelings and politics of this era.  And because of that a lot of them have a trippy almost dreamlike quality too them that you don’t get in any other time.  And a lot of them are just damn right weird, and The Wicker Man ticks all those boxes.  The pagan festival celebrations in particular are equal parts awkward and riveting to watch.  And the scene where Willow is trying to seduce Howie is almost ethereal in it’s dreamlike imagery. 

The discussions about religion are interesting but, especially from Howie, very heavy handed.  I got mighty tired of him preaching at everyone he met very quickly, and while I respect everyone’s religious beliefs, don’t think it needed to be laid on this thick.  But that is my only real gripe with the film.

Long story short, if you are a horror fan, or like films about cults (I fall into both these categories)  I would highly recommend checking this out if you haven’t already.

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