The Wicker Man (1973)
October 13, 2014 2:02 PM - Subscribe

Cult film club: Edward Woodward stars as Sergeant Howie, a naive young police officer sent to Summerisle, a secluded island off the coast of Scotland, to investigate the disappearance of a young girl named Rowan. When he arrives there, he finds a very tight-knit community that is mistrustful and hostile to outsiders. Soon, Howie begins to realize that the town might be a strange pagan cult, one given to unbridled sexuality and possible human sacrifice. Seeking an audience with the oddly civilized Lord Summerisle (Christopher Lee), Howie hopes to get to the bottom of the mystery, but instead he finds something more shocking than he could have ever imagined.

All links potentially NSFW, as The Wicker Man features nudity.

The Novel that inspired The Wicker Man: Ritual by David Pinner.

On screenwriter Anthony Shaffer and the scripting of the film, which was heavily inspired by The Golden Bough. Shaffer also wrote the novelization and a never-pursued treatment for a sequel inspired by the legend of the Lambton Worm.

Director Robin Hardy discusses the film; Hardy wrote a "spiritual sequel" to the film called Cowboys for Christ, later adapted by him into the film The Wicker Tree. Hardy has a third sequel in the works titled The Wrath of the Gods.

Hardy surprised his cast early on by telling them the film would be a musical -- it isn't, precisely, but characters do sing throughout the film, and features a folk-rock soundtrack by Paul Giovanni and Magnet (recent graduates of the Royal College of Music). The soundtrack includes two poems by Robert Burns ("The Highland Widow's Lament" and "Rigs O' Barley") combined into a song called "Corn Rigs," as well as the 13th century medieval English rota "Sumer Is Icumen In", memorably sung at the film's horrifying climax.

The Wicker Man had a troubled production as was nearly scrapped, and, as a result, bits of it are missing and there have been different edits released. The film was almost buried, and were it no for Christopher Lee's own promotion of the film (which he has long claimed is his favorite), it might have been lost.

The film has since been adapted to the stage and remade with Nicolas Cage, which we shall discuss next week.

More:
How We Made the Wicker Man
To celebrate the 40th anniversary of the gothic cult classic, AnOther present their top 10 Wicker Man facts
A Modern Pagan Perspective: An Appointment With The Wicker Man
posted by maxsparber (8 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
 
I love this movie. (And it is a musical -- absolutely!) I like that we're initially supposed to identify with Howie, but he's terrible so we don't, so we try to identify with the islanders but they're evil so we can't ... and the viewer is abandoned a point of view. Like I hated Howie throughout but I still felt sorry for him.

It's also just fun and gorgeous and scary in a really intense, upsetting way.

Plus, Christopher Lee forever in everything.

Also, lots of covers of "Willow's Song" exist. It seems to have a life of its own, divorced from the movie.
posted by darksong at 7:12 PM on October 13, 2014 [3 favorites]


The islanders aren't really evil, they are doing what they think is necessary to survive. It's gradually revealed that their situation is quite desperate before they send for Howie. And they give Howie every possible chance to show that he isn't suitable for their ceremony. And then when they do kill him they make it clear that they are doing a thing Howie himself has wished for and, by his own beliefs, should exalt him.

To me the darker implication was that having surrendered to the literal demands of their religion, which they know was made up as a modern reconstruction of what ancient rites might have looked like, and having done a rather evil thing, they might find it doesn't save them because their gods are as silent and unresponsive as Howie's.
posted by localroger at 7:27 PM on October 13, 2014 [3 favorites]


"Those girls were jumping over a fire naked!"
"We wouldn't have them jump over a fine with clothes on! That would be very dangerous...."
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:11 AM on October 15, 2014


I first found out about this movie from watching Shallow Grave, in which there's a scene where Alex is watching the villagers drag Howie up to the Man.

"Wow, what is that?" I asked my dad.

"I think it's called The Wicker Man," he said.

I then spent all of my college years looking for it. When I finally found it to rent, I fell in love.

Now I have several copies on DVD, "making of" books, the novelization (so delightfully ridiculous!), the soundtrack (on CD and on vinyl), and a t-shirt or two.

It's the glorious shots, the vivid scenes, Christopher Lee at his prime, and the sheer wonderful futility of it all. Christianity doesn't save Howie. The sacrifice will not make the apples grow. They're both just trying to hang on to outmoded ancient ways, and none of them will work.

I really do wish Cowboys For Christ/The Wicker Tree had been an actual sequel. I wanted to see a desolate and empty Summerisle, where most of the youngsters had moved to the mainland, where heroin had made its way in, where there were no more apples, and the rituals were still performed, but only by the doddering old fools who still believed.

Because I love this movie. I love it so much.
posted by Katemonkey at 5:15 AM on October 16, 2014 [6 favorites]


Plus, Christopher Lee forever in everything.

always and forever
posted by poffin boffin at 12:20 AM on October 17, 2014 [4 favorites]


If you are ever get a chance to see The League of Gentlemen, there are plenty of Wicker Man references (there's a pub called the Salmon of Knowledge, for example). And of course Hot Fuzz is the Wicker Man turned on its head, complete with Edward Woodward!
posted by potsmokinghippieoverlord at 12:55 AM on October 23, 2014


I fell in love with this film when I was in my teens and working at a video shop. I've inflicted it on many people over the years, some of whom will never forgive me for it. I have the film on VHS (a good version) and DVD (a horribly-edited version) and found a copy of the book in a secondhand bookshop and bought the CD soundtrack, which is just a goldmine of interesting Wicker Man trivia. I wrote a paper on it when I was at uni (I was taking a class in horror films). I've never really been able to explain why I find it so compelling.

The clever dialogue, especially from Christopher Lee and Diane Cilento ("himself the son of a virgin, impregnated, I believe, by a ghost"). The music. The nostalgic simplicity of returning to the old ways. The sex-positiveness was awesome when I was a teen and making my own discoveries (yes, Willow was hot!) The sense of people being creative and fun and humorous with their religion, as opposed to Howie's uptight straightness. And then the complete mercilessness they show after Howie has passed (or failed, depending on your perspective) every test they set him, every chance they give him to demonstrate that he is an unsuitable sacrifice. What would they have done if he hadn't? Would poor little Rowan have been burnt up after all?

And for me, part of the horror and the fascination both is the fanaticism. Both religions are ultimately off-putting in their extremism. Leaving you, as darksong points out, no one to identify with. That sense of meaninglessness and futility. Not positive things, so why do I love it? I may never really understand.

I'm just glad some of you agree. And not just because Willow is hot.
posted by Athanassiel at 6:30 PM on October 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


RIP director Robin Hardy.
posted by Etrigan at 7:04 PM on July 2, 2016


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