Day 13: The Wicker Man (1973)

Director: Robin Hardy

Starring: Diane Cilento, Britt Ekland, Christopher Lee, Ingrid Pitt, Edward Woodward

Runtime: 88 min/99 min restored version

I’m behind on my posts due to writing demands for school, so I’m going to have to keep these posts short. What to say about The Wicker Man? It’s quite an unusual horror film. For one thing, it’s very bright, rather than dark, drawing upon traditional pagan designs and culture, which celebrate nature rather than Satan, as some may suppose. It incorporates these pagan elements in a more accurate way than most other horror films. Director Hardy and writer Anthony Shaffer wanted to do something different than the Hammer type horror, and came upon a novel called Ritual about a Christian policeman who investigates the apparent ritual murder of a girl in a small village; they loosely adapted this idea, adding the figure of the Wicker Man, from the writings of Julius Caesar, who claimed that Gaelic tribes sacrificed prisoners inside of this large effigy.

It’s more like a mystery for most of the film, as uptight Sergeant Howie (Edward Woodward) investigates the girl’s disappearance on an isolated island, where the villagers practice the Old Religion, worshipping nature. The people are evasive, eccentric, or too sexually bold for Howie’s taste, but they do not seem evil or malign. As we watch the investigations unfold, including temptations that almost get the better of Howie’s repressed manhood, we get the sense that something isn’t right, that they are definitely hiding something. Howie’s conversation with Lord Summerisle (Christopher Lee), who explains the pagan origin of their community, and their belief in the power of sacrifice, does not set Howie at ease. The end culminates in chilling revelations which are far worse than Howie could have imagined.

Woodward and Lee do excellent jobs at creating opposing characters who, though rigid absolutists, are not as over-the-top as they would be in the hands of lesser artists. Lee, by the way, considers this has greatest role. Britt Ekland also does a good job of playing the seductive Willow, “Willow’s Song” being quite a memorable and haunting piece. Speaking of the music, a number of traditional pagan-themed folk songs are used, to good effect. In conclusion: a quirky, artistic horror film that you should see if you want horror that’s intelligent and offbeat.


I don’t think I could have resisted Willow’s (Britt Ekland) temptation.


2 Responses to Day 13: The Wicker Man (1973)

  1. duplexofthedamned says:

    The mise-en-scene of The Wicker Man is so bright–a “Summerisle” off the dreary British coast–and its pagan fertility rituals and people so seductive, despite Sergeant Howie’s upright/uptight Christian resistance, that the title character’s appearance at the film’s end–looming monstrously over this dream landscape–comes as an indelible shock. Who needs the Devil when you have Christopher Lee–in mellifluous, masculine glory–shredding the mask of civilization to expose the raw heart of tribalism and its inexorable demand for blood sacrifice? What does it mean to be human? This unusual horror film reduces Christianity to the cry of a terrified child, lost forever in the smoke and fire of an ancient nightmare become all too real.

    • duplexofthedamned says:

      P.S. on the photo caption: Get real, horror meister–you KNOW you couldn’t have resisted Willow’s (Britt Ekland) temptation!

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