The Wicker Man
- Edward Woodward as Sergeant Neil Howie
- Christopher Lee as Lord Summerisle
- Britt Ekland as Willow MacGregor
- Diane Cilento as Miss Rose
- Ingrid Pitt as the Librarian
A seminal work of British horror, The Wicker Man stands as an unusual and highly chilling film cloaked in mystery, eroticism and spellbinding strangeness.
Sergeant Neil Howie journeys to the island of Summerisle, located in the Hebrides. He is there to investigate the disappearance of a young girl by the name of Rowan Morrison. Yet upon his arrival on the island, many of the townsfolk deny knowledge of the young girl ever existing. Howie, a devout Christian, is further appalled by the Pagan beliefs of the residents and is in full dismay of their liberated activities such as copulating in fields, children learning about phallic symbols in school and worshiping God’s of nature. An immediate clash of ideas becomes very apparent as Howie discovers proof that there was a Rowan Morrison and that the various tales from the uncooperative folk are merely to put him off the scent of something sinister. Continuing his search, he comes up against opposition in the form of Lord Summerisle, an oily but charismatic leader of the people and is teased by the seductive Willow, the daughter of the landlord of the inn Howie stays in while investigating the increasingly strange and very mysterious case. This battle of beliefs ultimately sets in motion the build up to a horrifying climax on the May Day celebrations as a result of Howie’s unwillingness to accept the islanders way of thinking.
The first thing to notice about The Wicker Man is that while it is a horror film, it is one of the atypical variety. Instead of senseless gore and blood flowing, it relies on the horror of the things unfamiliar to us and the unusual customs of the islanders. From the very beginning, we can see that the beliefs of the townsfolk are somewhat different from anything we’ve seen before. This also helps with the clash of religions that becomes very apparent with the arrival of Howie, whose obstinate belief in God makes him unable to accept any other belief whatsoever. The fact that The Wicker Man is set predominately during the daytime also adds to the eeriness of the piece, as it is the time when most people feel safe and free from harm. By setting most of the film in daylight, director Robin Hardy has added an extra layer of eccentricity to an already bizarre but enthralling mysterious branch of horror. Hardy perfectly paces The Wicker Man as a slow burning horror, that doesn’t rely on jump scares or flowing of blood, but instead gradually rises up with mystery and creepiness towards an unforgettable climax that will linger for a long time in the memory of viewers. There is a lyrical eye to detail throughout this film that captures the stunning scenery of the island, but basks it in an enigmatic and spellbinding glow of something a lot more sinister beneath the surface. The extremely memorable folk score provided adds another touch of hypnotizing glory to The Wicker Man, bringing us the beliefs of the people and nature yet also filling the songs and various lilting lullabies with symbolism and bristling eroticism.
Edward Woodward excellently plays the pious Howie, whose investigation is complicated by the islander’s evasive attitude and his disturbance at seeing their various beliefs that are at odds with his cloistered doctrines. In a sense, Howie is our eyes and ears at bringing us the unusual beliefs of the people and exposing his obstinate attitude towards them. Woodward is wonderfully effective in the role and manages to make Howie a complex character to watch. Christopher Lee is perfectly cast as Lord Summerisle, and he imbues the island leader with charm, witty intelligence and underlying menace. Britt Ekland brings slinky sex appeal to the role of the libidinous Willow, whose erotic singing and dancing in the nude in an attempt to lure the virginal Howie into her carnal bed represents one of the more sensual and bizarre highlights of the picture. Diane Cilento and Ingrid Pitt bring enigmatic life to their characters of school teacher/ priestess and evasive librarian.
Unusual, provocative and altogether an unforgettable experience, The Wicker Man is a film that will haunt your dreams from its interesting opening to jaw-dropping finale.