31 Horror Films (2014) #20 The Wicker Man 1973 Dir. Robin Hardy

The Wicker Man 1973 Dir. Robin Hardy

The Wicker Man is one of those horror films that everyone is aware of, mostly for its iconography and ending. However, this film is never what people expect, showcasing elements of erotic thriller, mystery and musical, telling an engaging tale of religious belief gone awry.

The Wicker Man follows Sergeant Howie, a UK policeman sent to the Scottish island of Summerisle to track down a missing girl. Howie soon finds a village populated with odd and unhelpful characters who obviously know more than they are willing to tell. During his investigation Howie, a staunch Christian, learns that the residents of Summerisle are neo-pagans, cultivating a society of nature worship. This doesn’t go over well with the Sergeant, and as he tries to navigate the investigation, he also finds himself in opposition to the lifestyle of the islanders.

The central theme of The Wicker Man is one of religious tolerance. Sergeant Howie doesn’t abide the beliefs of these islanders, and it is this fervent disapproval that leads to his own destruction. Or is it? This film gives no clear answers. Will Howie’s sacrifice appease the gods and bring back the apple orchards, or are the beliefs of the islanders a delusion that leads to murder? Is Howie’s death punishment for his self righteousness and intolerance? Can all be true?

Beginning as a mystery that unravels at the very end, The Wicker Man does everything in its power to make it’s audience uneasy, but not in the traditional horror sense. This movie makes us uncomfortable because the islanders are so comfortable with their own strangeness. Sex in the park, the frog throat remedy, the open singing of folk songs, while not harmful, all denote a society outside the accepted norm. By default, you attach yourself to this Sergeant who is rude and unkind to the people of Summerisle. Therefore, you never totally feel safe with anyone.

This film has perhaps the best performance by Christopher Lee that I’ve ever seen. Lee showcases a full range of emotion and purpose from a performer usually asked to play one dimensional villains. Lee’s Lord Summerisle is talked about through the first part of the film as the leader of the island people, giving the character a “Harry Lime"-like mystery. When Summerisle is finally introduced, he is not the dark and sinister man we expect, and Lee plays the part like the ultimate party host, kind and helpful to Sergeant Howie. This character is the lynch pin of the entire film and when his true purpose is revealed, you almost agree with it.

The Wicker Man Is a strange a beautiful film that has gone on to inspire other films like Hot Fuzz and Kill List. It exists in a sub genre of pagan or cult horror films that were popular for a time in the 60s and 70s. However The Wicker Man rises above them all and is truly and island unto itself.