Friday, 8 April 2016

Cutting Edges: "The Wicker Man" (1973) Film Review

Fig 1: Film Poster

Horror, a thriller, a musical or completely unorthodox? Anthony Shaffer’s “The Wicker Man” (1973) can be described as all of the above. 

“The Wicker Man” was initially considered a flop at the time of its release, but its reputation has improved over the decades to become a must seen classic. The feature is inspired by the book “Ritual”,  written by David Pinner, which began as a rejected piece of screenplay.

Fig 2: Sergent Howie

The story tells of a determined police officer, Sergent Howie (Edward Woodward, Fig 2) on a job to find the mysterious disappearance of a young girl, Rowan Morrison. Flying out to the remote and peculiar island of Summerisle, he asks the residents of her whereabouts, yet is carefully tricked and manipulated by the strange inhabitants.
Elaine Macintyre describes Howie as: “...a policeman with a neat hair-do, clipped Scots accent and no visible sense of humour whatsoever. A devout Christian opposed to singing, dancing and frivolity, he's a virgin who adheres to a strict code of Presbyterian morality, a stickler for rules and regulations and he really seems a bit of a dull stick. Folks, he's our hero.” (Macintyre, 2014). Indeed, Howie is a well mannered and serious figure who finds himself mentally plucked apart by the people of Summerisle. 

Fig 3: Strange events

 So how do the residents treat him? There is an almost alien like ambiance to the personalities of the residents, and their calmness is unsettling for both Howie and the viewer. Macintyre explains: “Howie lands on Summerisle to find himself confronted by a cast of deliberately obtuse comedy villagers, who cheerily deny all knowledge of Rowan, whilst winking knowingly at each other like naughty schoolboys.”  (Macintyre, 2014); so the audience asks themselves, why do the villagers happily deny her existence when Howie knows all too well they are lying?
        The film explains this in a climatic ending: ““Thwarted at every turn by the cheerfully unhelpful islanders, whose pagan worship of nudity and sexuality arouses conflicted passions inside him, Howie learns too late that he has been lured into a terrifying trap.”(Dalton, 2013). The cheerfulness of the residents was a front to trap Howie to become their religious sacrifice, in order for the crops to successfully grow. Rowan is found to be safe and well, but part of the game. 

Fig 4: The parade

Notably peculiar parts of the film include a nude Willow (Britt Ekland) dances and sings to Howie through a wall while he listens and is seemingly having orgasmic expressions; the nude women dancing around a fire, and the May Day festival towards the end of the film; Lord Summerisle, dressed as a woman(Christopher Lee, Fig 4 and Fig 6) leads the group of villagers (and a disguised Howie) towards the sacrifice location, however, Howie is thrown into an enormous wooden statue (Fig 6) filled with animals and he is burnt alive. A truly dark ending for the supposed hero of the movie. 

Fig 5: The ritual

Adding to horror is the triumphant music by Paul Giovanni: “The film’s spellbinding score of haunted folk ballads, composed and arranged by transplanted American songwriter, Paul Giovanni has also earned evergreen cool status among generations of bearded acoustic hipsters. In some scenes it feels like a psychedelic hippie musical, in others a creepy soft-porn thriller.” (Dalton, 2013)

Truly a groundbreaking and unique film, it represents a major divide in traditional British horror. Though “The Wicker Man” can be seen as utterly ridiculous, which may lead to some of its downfall, it can be seen as equally as terrifying and gripping. 

Fig 6: Lord Summerrisle

Much like Matt (of describes: “On its face a horror film with shocking revelations and vice-like tension, Robin Hardy’s "The Wicker Man" is actually study in contrasts; a treatise on modern incomprehensibility in the face of social upheaval.”  (Matt, 2012). 

In the words of director Robin Hardy, “there has never been a film like this”. 

Calhoun, B. (2013) (Accessed on 08/04/2016)
Dalton, S. (2013) (Accessed on 08/04/2016)
Macintyre, E. (2014)
S.D,M. (2012) ruthlessreviews (Accessed on 08/04/2016)

Illustration List: 

Fig 1: "Film Poster" (Accessed on 08/04/2016)
Fig 2: "Sergent Howie" (Accessed on 08/04/2016)
Fig 3: "Strange events" (Accessed on 08/04/2016)
Fig 4: "The parade" (Accessed on 08/04/2016)
Fig 5: "The ritual" (Accessed on 08/04/2016)
Fig 6: "Lord Summerisel" (Accessed on 08/04/2016)

1 comment:

  1. Interesting review... it is hard to gauge whether you enjoyed this or not :) I would say, it is maybe a film to be 'experienced' rather than 'enjoyed' - would you agree?