Originally Published Saturday 25th October 2008
The Wicker Man
The original Wicker Man from 1973 is a work of art. It really is that simple.
Edward Woodward plays Sgt Howie, a Scottish policeman who travels to the island of Summerisle to investigate the disappearance of a young girl after he receives an anonymous letter requesting help. Howie is a devout Christian and he is shocked by the antics of the islanders who practice a pagan-like nature based religion, including lots of nakedity and public fornication!
The islanders are secretive in the extreme and hamper Howie’s investigation by claiming no knowledge of the girl. They change their collective story when he uncovers evidence of her existence and try to convince him that the missing girl is in fact dead. This proves to be bunkum when Howie has her grave dug up and the coffin contains nothing but the corpse of a hare. Howie does some more policework and comes to the conclusion that she is still alive but is to be used as a human sacrifice to the gods of the fields in order to guarantee a good crop for next harvest. Howie tries to leave the island to get help but his plane won’t start, so he tackles the islanders himself and goes door to door looking for the girl.
After his search proves fruitless (like the islands orchards!) he goes back to his guest house to rest. He is advised by the innkeeper that this is the best thing to do as a man of his beliefs would only be shocked by the festivities planned for that afternoon as it’s May Day, one of their religions most sacred days. Howie pretends to be asleep but is only biding his time. When the right moment comes along he over powers the innkeeper and steals his May Day costume. Dressed as Punch he joins the May Day procession and discovers the missing girl tied up, ready to be sacrificed. He tries to rescue her but finds that he’s been tricked by everyone, including the girl who was playing the victim, and that he is the one who’s going to be sacrificed!
Count Dooku? Hippies? No wonder he turned to the Dark Side!
The Wicker Man is pure art, a tale of terror that is dressed up in all the pretty colours of the last days of flower power and the hippie movement that makes the viewer wonder for a short while if there’s something to what they’re saying. It’s like the first time you see Fight Club and you think that maybe modern life is rubbish and should be torn down. However, like in Fight Club, as you watch The Wicker Man you are dragged along to the point where you realise that the islanders are in fact mad and you feel a pang of guilt for being suckered in.
Woodward gives such a performance as Howie that you really associate with him and his frustration at the islands inhabitants. When the horrific ending comes you are saddened as well as shocked by what happens. The final scene where Howie is praying for himself as he accepts his fate is properly upsetting.
For the most part Wicker Man is a musical. There are several set musical pieces through the first two thirds of the film but their folksy make up actually add to the film as opposed to taking from it. The bit where Howie is tempted by the landlord’s daughter is particularly intriguing.
Two Thumbs Firmly Up for The Wicker Man!