Sunday, September 22, 2013

'The Wicker Man' (movie review)

'The Wicker Man' (from Wikipedia)

The Wicker Man is a 1973 British horror film directed by Robin Hardy and written by Anthony Shaffer. The film stars Edward Woodward, Christopher Lee, Diane Cilento, Ingrid Pitt, and Britt Ekland. Paul Giovanni composed the soundtrack. The film is now considered a cult classic. Inspired by the basic scenario of David Pinner's 1967 novel Ritual, the story centres on the visit of Police Sergeant Neil Howie to the isolated island of Summerisle, in search of a missing girl the locals claim never existed. Howie, a devout Christian, is appalled to find that the inhabitants of the island practise a form of Celtic paganism.

The Wicker Man is generally well regarded by critics. Film magazine Cinefantastique described it as "The Citizen Kane of horror movies", and during 2004 the magazine Total Film named The Wicker Man the sixth greatest British film of all time. It also won the 1978 Saturn Award for Best Horror Film. A scene from this film was #45 on Bravo's 100 Scariest Movie Moments. During the 2012 Summer Olympics opening ceremony, the film was included as part of a sequence that celebrated British cinema.


2013 marks marks forty years since 'The Wicker Man' was released. This is one movie that I can recall watching as a kid on the local Creature Features weekend horror double features. Some don't see it as a "horror movie" at all, but more of a mystery-drama-thriller. For me, this movie has a little different feel to it each time as I've viewed it over many years. Naturally now, I saw more in the pagan element to it. There was a lot of symbolism in it; more than I can spend time regressing in this text. I didn't see it as any great statement of somehow "the pagans getting revenge," however the Christian vs. Pagan theme was played up... but more in line within the artistic mystery of the movie.

Edward Woodward is a familiar face from a lot of work from the UK, and is the protagonist.. as a policeman who is lured to the remote Scottish Island to search for a missing little girl. Famed British actor Christopher Lee is well suited as the chief official or Lord of the island community of Summerisle. According to the movie, he actually owned the island. A number of those from the cast are very well-known actors. I was familiar with Britt Ekland, a Swedish actress who played one of the island women. "Summerisle" is fictional, and the film was shot on the west coast of Scotland.

One aspect to the film, which is very memorable, is the neopagan-style music. After viewing it this time, I would like to purchase the soundtrack. I really enjoy that type of music. The main theme--'Willow's Song'--reminds one strongly of the movie, but the rest could fit in well within that genre that has developed mostly since the film; although it remains something of an underground genre.

I can see that there is a lot online about this movie, and it is one of those that a big film buff could have a field day researching and collecting. It's a very unique movie, and although presented in a semi-horror movie style, in many ways it captured a certain non-violent Heathen spirit. The sun flag of "Summerisle" was a sun face on white background, and I think it is a flag of some part of that region of the world.

There was so much symbolism that I can't recall all of it, but the "Green Man Inn" pub with the green face on the sign was one. I even thought that Sergeant Howie's police cap, with the Masonic-occult checkerboard pattern on it, was a symbol of something... perhaps an irony of the Christian society that he came from. Maybe a masked clue that the "Christian society" had it's own element of deep-rooted secrecy and occultism. The island society was clearly Celtic-pagan. Another interesting symbol was the ancient symbol of Saturn, known to the modern world as the Star of David. I don't think the Celts/Druids ever used that symbol, but it was curious that they presented it. The standing stones with the simple center altar was another strong symbol.

The early scene in the Green Man Inn pub caught my attention a bit in a cultural way. The local festive patrons were singing and dancing, and the songs reminded me of some combination of Irish folk songs, fisherman's hymns, and of course pagan elements. Also, the outward expressions of pagan sexuality stood out, and frustrated the equally-dedicated Christian Sergeant Howie.

The sergeant, throughout the entire movie, just couldn't wrap his mind around the essentric local culture. Not just the frustrations he encounters during his investigation, but just the fact that they "had the nerve to even be pagan." Apparently the character was Scottish, therefore the conflict was paganism vs. mainstream society at large... and not "English vs. Scottish."

I don't want to give away the movie in case any of you haven't seen it. I'm basically just bouncing around some of the themes. This is a movie that would be fun to research in-depth.

Another strong image was the power of ritual. Costumes, masks, singing, musical instruments, etc., can have a powerful affect on the mood... and work well with ceremony. There's a certain cutesy and festive thingie with those masks... especially animal masks! It was the festival of Beltane after all. Another theme portrayed in this film, which has been shown in many other movies, is the powerful human expression of "singing upon one's own death."

If you have already seen the movie, Elaine MacIntyre gives a really charming review of it here. There is so much to read online about this film! I know I barely grazed the surface. You could watch this movie and be engrossed in the protagonist's plight; and maybe at some later point you could just watch and enjoy the music, mood, and festival of it all. I think it's a special movie that also strongly captured the time period it was from.. in sort've a rural way.

"Thriller, fantasy or musical. art house film or horror flick... undisputed cult classic. Call it what you will, there's no doubt that The Wicker Man is a truly great film. In the words of director Robin Hardy, 'there has never been a film like this' - and there probably never will." --Elaine MacIntyre

Spoiler alert beyond this point!




There's a certain feel to the end. The dusk sun is lowering in the ocean horizon. I felt more sorry for Sergeant Howie while viewing this time than during the times I watched in the past. I guess I thought of him as more of a victim of circumstances. As the wicker man burned... there was something eery about those flames roaring along the cool winds of the north Atlantic coast as twilight approached. That would have been a scene that existed in different environments in past milleniums. Perhaps on a mountain top, along a lake, in a forest, or on a grassy plane. A ritual of hope.


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