“You did it beautifully!” The Wicker Man (1973)
“Do sit down, Sergeant. Shocks are so much better absorbed with the knees bent.”
There seems to be a core list of films I return to when those moments of “what the hell should I watch?” hit me. When I’m pretty much exhausted, and anything too taxing or completely new would overload my brain or cause complete mental collapse. In times of feeling disconnected from the world around me, I always seem to settle on The Wicker Man.
Maybe it’s the interest I have in the world of witchcraft, magick, pagan myths and legends that draws me towards it time and time again. Maybe it’s Paul Giovanni’s take on traditional folksongs that fill the soundtrack. Perhaps they have a deep link to my subconscious, stirring up the Akashic records, taking me back to a former life somewhere. One of herbal potions, fertility rites, joyous celebrations, and planting by the cycles of the Moon. Could it be nothing more than the fun of seeing Christopher Lee in some hellish wigs? All those naked women leaping over bonfires and pounding rhythmically on doors? The entrancing lure of Ingrid Pitt?
Above all, it’s the fact that The Wicker Man is one of the best films to come out of Britain in the seventies. The ultimate tale of the hunter becoming the hunted, it’s a classic slice of slowly building psychological horror.
Like Edward Woodward’s Sergeant Howie, the viewer is led through a trail of red herrings and practical jokes, lending an air of lightness and frivolity to proceedings – misdirection that makes that infamous final scene all the more harrowing. Throughout the proceedings, Summerisle’s insular community and their faith in the old religion seem quaint, almost comforting, when placed in direct conflict with the righteous Sergeant – but is this all just a clever ruse to make you take sides?
The exasperation during Howie’s search for the “missing” child is at times amusing, which again serves to throw the viewer off the scent of what’s really going on – so by the time we reach our appointment with the Wicker Man, we’re not entirely prepared for the shock. A jolt that becomes lessened with repeated viewing, even though the lasting impact of the first time is never forgotten.
The charm of the island traditions is thrown out the window, to be replaced by terror as we watch a man who has done no wrong, meet his doom. A fate that could’ve been avoided if only he’d shagged Britt Ekland, eh? But a man with good Christian morals like Howie would never give in to temptation.
In a departure from many films of the era, where illicit sex leads to death and retribution, Sergeant Howie has been lured to his death precisely because of his purity.
So as the joyful singing builds and the flames rise, again I am left with the depressing last thought – salvation for the truly good is never guaranteed.