The Wicker Man (1973)
In the early Seventies, Robin Hardy created a film that fed on the period’s hippie- versus-straight hysteria. Uptight Brit constable Sgt. Howie (Edward Woodward) flies to the private island Summerisle, investigating charges of a missing child. His sleuthing leads him into a pagan world incompatible with his sternly Christian point of view.
The deftly crafted moral ambiguity of the picture keeps the audience off kilter. Surely we aren’t to root for these heathens, with their nudey business right out in the open? But how can we side with the self-righteous prig Howie?
Hardy and his cast have wicked fun with Anthony Shaffer’s sly screenplay, no one more so than the ever-glorious Christopher Lee. Oh, that saucy baritone! We love him in the role of Lord Summerisle, though it helps that he gets all the great lines. For instance, “Shocks are so much better absorbed with the knees bent,” he deadpans.
When Howie asks, “And what of the one true God?”
Summerisle responds, “Well, he’s dead. He had his chance and, in modern parlance, blew it.”
Blasphemy indeed! No wonder Howie’s so up in arms. Plus there’s that naked barmaid and her sexy come-hither dance.
Truth be told, Brit Eckland’s seductive dancing looks more like a temper tantrum mixed with a seizure, but on Summerisle you can let your freak flag fly.
Howie won’t be tempted by the barmaid, though. And as the tale meanders unpredictably forward, he might have wanted to rethink that.
The film is hardly a horror movie at all –more of a subversive comedy of sorts – until the final reel or so. Starting with the creepy animal masks (that would become pretty popular in the genre a few decades later), then the parade and the finale, things take quite a creepy turn.
It’s a different type of horror film, one with a cheery disposition and sense of wicked fun that puts you in an uncomfortable position. Brilliantly told, impeccably filmed and hard to forget, it’s worth digging up this season.