FIVE STAR FILMS #17 : The Wicker Man (1973)

Turns out that 1973 was a great year for horror films – William Friedkin’s The Exorcist,  Nicholas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now and Robin Hardy’s The Wicker Man. This cult classic is a chilling, unpredictable and unconventional departure from British horror tradition at the time and is unlike any horror film I have ever seen.

1. UNCONVENTIONAL

Opening with beautiful aerial shots of the Scottish Coast and this strangely catchy gospel music, we are tricked into a false sense of security. This fish-out-of-water police procedural – which introduces Howie to a community that believes swallowing a frog will cure a sore throat and condones rituals where young girls jump naked over fires – builds an eerie and unsettling atmosphere and tells a gripping mystery. Who are these people and what happened to Rowan?

2. OPPOSING IDEOLOGIES

When Howie meets some of the locals they initially seem jovial and content, if completely bonkers. Howie, a man who adheres to a strict code of Presbyterian morality, who possesses no clear sense of humour and has no tolerance for singing, dancing and frivolity, is suspicious and soon becomes repulsed and aggravated by their peculiar behaviour. Different worlds/beliefs collide, perpetuated by the strong characters. Howie is a man who believes in directly opposing ideologies; good vs. evil, Christianity vs. Paganism, reality vs. unreality, and on one level we sympathise with his plight – he’s simply a cop trying to solve a case. On another level it appears (for a while, at least) that the charming Lord Summerisle, who discusses his community’s beliefs (and current predicament) with authority and conviction, is relatively harmless too. The townsfolk ‘could’ be offended by Howie’s narrow-mindedness and threats to report them. 

3. ‘THAT’ ENDING

If you don’t yet know how this one ends, then you are in for a treat. It features one of the most bloodcurdling moments ever put on film. It is enough to keep you up at nights. I will say no more.

4. PERFORMANCES

The performances from Edward Woodward and Christopher Lee are outstanding. Woodward never puts a foot wrong with his Scottish accent, and he gives his character convincing complexity. He is not only an uptight officer of the law, but a virgin. He has repressed sexual desires and we respect him for not falling victim to himself on Summerisle, especially with Brit Ekland’s alluring presence. I can’t remember seeing too many films starring Lee, but he has declared that this role has always been one of his favourites.

5. DIRECTOR’S CUT

The Wicker Man has become somewhat legendary, famous for its different versions and the belief for some time that Robin Hardy’s original print of the film was lost forever. In 1979, following the discovery of what might have been the only existing print – in the possession of Roger Corman – Hardy restored and reconstructed the film. On the 30th Anniversary Collector’s Edition DVD (which I own – and so should you), there is a Director’s Cut that features an extra fifteen minutes of raw low-quality footage and a very different narrative structure to the original Theatrical Version. Both are fascinating, but the Director’s Cut offers up a few crucial sequences which enhance the film’s ironies and reveals more about Lord Sumerisle’s motivations and the influence he has over his minions.

Andrew Buckle - follow Andy on Twitter here: @buckle22