Retro Review: The Wicker Man (1973)

The Wicker Man
The Wicker Man

Id had The Wicker Man (1973) on DVD for a few weeks before I had even given it a chance.  After loaning it out I heard groans of a 1970s musical, and some blonde chick doin some weird dance and slappin her own ass.  So one late night around 2am – with Nicholas Cage’s remake due to be released on DVD December 19th – I decided to give the old British fuddydud a shot and see what it was all about.  All I can say is, the person who borrowed it was but a fool!  Anyone who’s dropped a hit of acid in their time or has English/Irish in their geneology cannot help but appreciate its psychedelicness and spellbinding format.  Forget whatever prejudice is stopping you from watching this “old” film.  Turn on your lava lamps and roll up a fattie – cuz The Wicker Man (1973) was one of the most bizarre, unique horror stories I have ever watched get played out on film!

In this tale, policeman Sgt. Howie (Edward Woodward) comes from the mainland to the island of Summerisle.  He has received a postcard from one of its residents, fearing that her daughter has been abducted and killed.  He comes to this private island off the coast of Scotland (filmed on location) with the good hearted intention of locating the missing young girl Rowan Morrison.  For those who have not seen the film, what unravels is an evasive town reluctant to share its ancient ways, and a pompous Lord Summerisle (played incredibly by Christopher Lee), who laughingly tosses aside the oddities of naked children dancing through fire in the gardens, or talk of blood sacrifice.  It an interesting enough story in itself as Sgt. Howie attempts to uphold the well intended morals of the christian mainland amongst a private island of paegans and cultist nude women.
Upon first glance, it looks like a faded, stuffy old British program with a tightwad in a uniform and a lot of toofy-spaced individuals singing songs for the better part of its first half.  From afar it seems very uninteresting but if you watch it, you realize why.  Its not just Cop Rock – its a celtic spell – the song of the siren – as Sgt. Howie is spun along and guided into his every eventual move.  The song sung by Willow from her bedroom, as she gyrates naked sending the aura of a fondled statuette out her window to the Sgt’s room below – her dance and that song weave a weird psychedelic spell that you can’t explain unless you watch it.  Its captivating.  Its like no other film you’ve ever seen.  It’ll make you feel weird, and then you’ll get it.  Thats why theyre all singing and dancing around…

There is a religious contrast underlying the mood of the plot that is, in opposite, as dark as Sgt. Howie’s intentions are  good.  The end of the film is very dark and sinister.  From first frame, this good man has been spun and spellbound into his every manouver – until he is ultimately self willingly the part of a sacrifice in which he is the intended victim.  A paegan crowd of ancient sun worshippers sing song and bring him to the wicker man, as the good seargeant cries the word of Jesus Christ – bellowing out to his god in verse – only to be unanswered.  The sun god prevails, the murderers sing on, and this good man screeches the cries of a carcass burned alive.  Its dark, and gets under your skin.

Final analysis:  The Wicker Man has so much to offer in its psychedelic weirdness and spellbinding song that its worth checking out for that alone.  But what seems stuffy and non-genre ends up a dark and twisted tale of religion, sirens, blood sacrifice, and inevitable death.  The end is fucked up – when he burns alive – he didnt deserve it man!  The ladies are beautiful and naked, and the whole thing just cries out to the ancient Irish and English ancestry interwoven in your blood.  Its not bloody, but the ending has a death that is outright chilling, and the religious twist is as damned as any devil flick.  The Wicker Man looked silly to me upon first glance, but as things stand now, it may just be one of my personal favorite horror films of all time.

Pre-order your copy of the new DVD of the 1973 classic The Wicker Man – available as of December 19th.

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