Ah man. I hate to gush but for this one, I simply have to. This is the finest horror film to ever emerge from Britain.
Almost forty years after it’s release, Robin Hardy’s seminal 1973 chiller The Wicker Man has lost none of it’s humour, it’s charm or it’s impact. This is a film that continues to defy time. It is a fantastic achievement and one that has truly earned it’s place among my favourite films.
Why? Well, many reasons really. It’s blend of sexuality, music, old world religious imagery and downright weirdness combine to lend the film a uniqueness that is close to untouchable. The fact that it’s filmed entirely in my native Scotland is yet another bonus.
The Wicker Man is the story of West Highland Police Sergeant, Neil Howie. A good man, Howie is a devout Christian with a strong moral compass and sense of propriety. He receives a letter from a resident of the Hebridean island of Summerisle, a remote island famous for it’s unusually abundant fruit crops, that implores him to offer his personal assistance in the search for a missing local girl.
Of course, Howie immediately heads to Summerisle and arrives to find an island teeming with peculiar characters, red herrings, deceit and misdirection. Does the missing girl exist at all? Howie’s Christian sensibilities are jarred by the locals Pagan practises and overt sexuality. His visit brings him into contact with the island’s Laird and de facto leader, the charismatic and cool, Lord Summerisle.
As Howie’s search continues, he finds himself tempted by the locals and played for a fool as the film leads to it’s horrific, fiery conclusion.
AND WHAT A CONCLUSION!!! What a film!!
Aside from Hardy’s wonderfully controlled direction, Anthony Shaffer’s fantastic script and Paul Giovanni’s excellent folksy music score, it’s the cast that truly sells The Wicker Man. The late, great Equalizer himself, Edward Woodward is just magnificent as the stuffy, all business Sgt. Howie, his role made all the more sweet in the third act where he truly sells the horror of his predicament. The living legend that is Sir Christopher Lee is sinister cool personified and his performance as Lord Summerisle is one of the finest of his illustrious career.
The scenes involving Woodward and Lee together are spectacular. The interactions between the unflappable Summerisle and the increasingly stressed, disgusted and confused Howie are nothing short of a joy to watch.
The film also featured appearances by Swedish sex-pot Britt Ekland (The Man With The Golden Gun), a role famous for Ekland’s naked seduction dance, and late Hammer icon Ingrid Pitt (The House That Dripped Blood, Countess Dracula) as an obstructive librarian.
As previously mentioned, the third act of the film is where the game all comes together, and it is a game. A chase of sorts, culminating in one of the most fantastic set-pieces in horror. We all know how it ends. Howie’s appeals for leniency as he is led off for his appointment with The Wicker Man are deeply unsettling and the finale where the residents dance and sing as the wicker man burns against the blood red sky is just beyond creepy.
As mentioned in previous articles, I truly despise the 2006 remake. It’s a fuckin’ mess and one that Robin Hardy was quick to distance himself from. A shrewd move. It stands beside The Fog 2005 and Prom Night 2008 as one of the worst remakes of all time. I should not have to say that I am referring to Hardy’s film when talking about The Wicker Man. There should be only one.
Hardy recently toured the companion piece to The Wicker Man, entitled The Wicker Tree, around the festival circuits. I was lucky enough to catch up with Hardy at Grimm Up North in Manchester where we chatted about the third instalment in his trilogy, the soon to be filmed Wrath of The Gods.
The Wicker Man will stay with me forever as one of the finest examples, not just of British horror but of British cinema. It’s a film I have seen countless times and will watch many, many more. It’s a film I will pass on to my kids and is truly one film that will outlive many contemporary “classics”.