The Wicker Man (1973)
Flesh to touch... flesh to burn! Don't keep the Wicker Man waiting!
Year of Release: 1973
Running Time: 89 minutes (1:29)
Director: Robin Hardy
Edward Woodward ... Sergeant Howie
Christopher Lee ... Lord Summerisle
Diane Cilento ... Miss Rose
Britt Ekland ... Willow
Ingrid Pitt ... Librarian
Lindsay Kemp ... Alder MacGreagor
Russell Waters ... Harbour Master
When a young girl mysteriously vanishes, Police Sergeant Howie travels to a remote Scottish island to investigate. But the seemingly quiet community is not as it appears, as the detective uncovers a secretive Pagan society led by the strange Lord Summerisle. While the townsfolk tempt and threaten him with bizarre rituals and wanton lust, Howie must race to discover the truth behind the girl's disappearance before his clash with Lord Summerisle builds to a terrifying conclusion.
The Wicker Man, remindin' us that if there's a correlation between fertility and time spent around a bonfire, there's no better time to invest in Walmart stocks.
And speakin' of people peein' in the ole gene pool, I've been sufferin' from sudden onset agoraphobia ever since the census report came out and revealed that the population of Chickawalka County'd crept all the way up to 2756 from a previously comfortable 2678 a decade ago. 'Course the thing that really sets ya on edge is not knowin' who these people are or what kinda impact they might have on local social dynamics. Could be herbosexual bleedin' hearts from California, could be COVID plague rats from Idaho - heck, for all anybody knows they might be an exploratory branch of Raelians sent to scout suitable locations with natural landin' sites for UFOs within' walkin' distance of a bowlin' alley.
Alls I know for sure is the oxygen was startin' to get thin and I needed to get away for a while, so when Blaine Schwartzberg called and asked about diversifyin' the holdins in the Rural Mural's aquarium I was all over the gig like male pattern baldness on the Senate Budget Committee.
"Hello? Yes, this is Blaine Schwartzberg," he started sayin'.
"Alright, fine, ya found me out. Look, I thought it was your brother's car - you know I wouldn'ta stuck that crappie in the glove box if I'd realized it was yours," I stammered.
"Yes. The worms you slipped down the heating vents were an especially nice touch," he replied, tryin' to maintain a neutral tone.
"Oh, that was Billy Hilliard. He's real sorry too. I told 'im that was goin' too far, but Saul'd called 'im a 'lumbering oaf' in the cereal aisle at the Jiffy Mart the day before and he was still pretty hacked off about it," I explained.
"Fine. Well, it's nothing a $140 an hour mechanic couldn't fix... after three days. Are you available to collect some new fish for the restaurant display? Some of the repeat patrons are tiring of the current selection - specifically, one well-dressed woman who told me our fish were 'trashy,' and that she'd like to see something, 'graceful' and 'without whiskers,'" he summarized.
"Yeah, well, so would 'er husband," I mumbled. "Can getcha some trout if you want, but you'll just be reinforcin'--"
"Wonderful. Just drop them off after hours as usual and I'l leave your payment with the kitchen staff," he finished before I could explain the long-term consequences of Karen appeasement.
Long as no middle-class bimbi start tricklin' into Mack's Stacks of Manly Snacks I couldn't give a flyin' fandangle what they're lookin' at while they fork over $39.95 for a plate of mutilated critter carci, 'sides, it's surprisingly difficult to land a paid fishin' gig without either the support of a Cabela's sponsorship or a Russian disinformation tzar.
Anyway, Billy wanted to make amends for givin' Blaine's ride a worm infestation in the middle of a national Ivermectin shortage, so we threw a coupla coolers in the Sierra, grabbed some ice at the Gas, Grass, or Cash, and took off for Leech Creek. Normally we woulda just gone to Lake Gunkamucka since the water's so low you can fish with a set of salad tongs, but Leech Creek's got Rainbows *and* Brookies, and besides that, I didn't want any 90-year-old men in ratty suspenders comin' over to ask how things're bitin' and then takin' whatever answer we give as an invitation to have a sit and tell us about how things just haven't been the same since foreign agitators framed Nixon at Watergate.
I hadn't been out to Leech Creek since 2016 when that PETA splinter cell kidnapped our local meteorologist (known affectionately as Murray the Groundhog), but it was downright serene. 'Bout the only things breakin' the silence was the chitterin' of the bark beetles, the occasional splash of a fish snappin' up a mosquito, and one goddamned renegade pine squirrel pitchin' cones at us from the lodgepole we'd set up next to.
Thing to do woulda been to just pop the little wiseass's head off with a .22 and be done with it but Billy left it in the truck, and so for about an hour and a half we'd reel in fish and try ignorin' the smug sombitch till finally he deposited one about six inches from where Billy was gettin' a nibble and scared the fish off. This is about the time that the day's itinerary kinda went sideways.
"Make peaf wif your roden' god, you miverable, furry dick, 'cauv your cone huckin' dayv are over!" Billy growled as he bent down to grab a rock outta the creek.
Realistically, the tree branches were too thick to really believe he could fell the treetop terrorist, and although he did come close enough to make it rethink some of its recent decisions, the squirrel escaped unscathed. That's not to say nothing came down, however, 'cause about six seconds after that rock disappeared into the upper reaches of the tree we found ourselves directly beneath a shower of somethin' that looked an awful lot like bones, which was later confirmed when a pelvis struck my brainpan and crumpled me up like a fat guy's phone number at a sorority party. Woke up a few minutes later to Billy dunkin' my head in the frigid water starin' directly into the empty eye sockets of a human skull, and I don't mind tellin' ya that that experience sucked a lotta the fun outta our fishin' trip.
Come to find out a couple days later the skeleton belonged to a missin' conservationist who'd climbed the tree and gone on a hunger strike to protest a logging operation that was encroaching into the habitat of the great horned mud skink... which, apparently, had to be revealed as a Facebook hoax a few weeks later.
His tree-climbin' spurs were found about 20 feet from the base of the tree, so I'd imagine they prolly slipped off once he'd gotten 'imself into a safe position; leavin' 'im 70' up with no way to climb down. Hopefully the guy can rest a little easier knowin' the whole area's been closed to the public while the forensics team searches for the missin' bits and pieces that were likely carried off by scavengers after the ligaments decomposed and allowed certain parts of the body to fall... but you prolly don't wanna hear about that.
Oh! Almost forgot: Blaine asked me to tell everybody that there's a special on Sloppy Crows at the Rural Mural - this weekend only - so if ya happen to be passin' along the highway, be sure to stop in and grab some authentic rural cuisine.
Havin' the remains of an ill-fated cleft skull come crashin' down on toppa ya makes ya stop and think about the fleeting nature of life; particularly stupid life. One day you're goin' along just mindin' your own business, then, without warnin', you're bein' served up as sacrificial manburger helper to grease the palm of some stingy Pagan god who decided to cut off nature's allowance to a group of nymphomaniacal moorland hippies. It's like gettin' struck by lightnin' - you know it happens, but you assume it'll never happen to you. Maybe I just wanted to see somebody singled out for a godsmack even more improbable than the one I'd just experienced. Maybe it was sour grapes. Or maybe I just felt like seein' Britt Ekland etch tic-tac-toe boards into the drywall of a Scottish hotel usin' nothin' but 'er nipples. Whatever the reason, by the time Billy and I dropped the fish off at the Rural Mural I really wanted to watch The Wicker Man again. I think somethin' people tend to overlook about this one is just how smart it is, which - let's face it - can happen pretty easily when Britt's gets a case of the nekkid hippy shakes. Consequently, I've made a few observations I'd like to share with those of you who may've temporarily lost the use of your higher brain functions due to a lack of sufficient blood flow, so don't say I never did nothin' for ya. First, gettin' a room overlookin' the local orgy scene stops bein' fun after about fifteen minutes. Second, never sample the haggis when you're investigatin' a missing person's report in the Scottish highlands. And third, any hotel that offers complimentary Britt Ekland service gets an automatic 4-star rating regardless of the actual accommodations.
The movie begins with this bobby (Howie) landin' his hydroplane next to some Scottish island to investigate claims of a missin' child and tainted haggis casserole reachin' the mainland, but the Scots don't wanna send a dinghy out for 'im 'cause the last time the fuzz showed up out this way they executed 40 members of the Bean family, decimatin' the local pawn industry and allowin' loudmouth tourists to run amok. Eventually Howie makes it ashore after threatenin' to have Manfred Mann parachuted in to perform Do Wah Diddy on loop, but the harbour master and his senior citizen's rugby league mates all swear they dunno nothin' about any missin' children and that they are but a humble farming community gettin' by on the bounty they reap and whatever they're able to bilk outta the Daily Mail in exchange for doctored photographs of Nessie. From here Howie follows up on his only lead and grabs a room at the inn where the entire town gathers for impromptu folk jam sessions featuring songs challenging the virtue of the innkeeper's daughter (Britt Ekland) before tottering off to bed. Unfortunately, Howie chose Scottish matin' season to come to the island, and between the orgy goin' on on a nearby moor and Britt Ekland doin' the nekkid watusi in the room across the hall while slappin' 'er butt cheeks for percussive musical accompaniment he hasta spend mosta the night on his back tryna deflate bonehenge. The next mornin' the townsfolk erect and dance around a maypole singin' obnoxious songs written in the 9th century designed to rile up Pictish warriors en route to battle the Vikings, and when Howie sees this and finds out they're teachin' half-arsed, supernatural sex-ed in the schoolhouse he gets so P.O.'d that he threatens to call up Mary Whitehouse and request expansion of the English alphabet so there'll be enough scarlet letters to brand the entire village. Then he starts nosin' around till he finds the missin' girl's name (Rowan) in the school registry and the marm starts talkin' a buncha Wiccan hippy jive about the girl returnin' to the elements and He Who Walks Behind the Knolls. Howie just stares at 'er like he can't wait to see 'er try tellin' the story she told him to Saint Peter.
After a little more sleuthin' Howie figures out where Rowan's buried and gets enlightened about the local custom of attachin' human ligament streamers to the grave markers of the deceased before watchin' a class of nekkid yoga students leap over a brazier despite the risk of ignitin' a bush fire and havin' to listen to classified messages intended for Moses. By this point Howie's upper lip ain't the only thing that's gone stiff on 'im, and when he goes to see the king of the Scotomites his Puritan's Pride's got 'im so worked up that he gets in Christopher Lee's face and calls 'im a heretic and tells 'im that his god can kick Chris's god's ass. Chris tries to explain that he and his subjects just wanna be left in peace to worship nature and make the sign of the knock-kneed crag snail in creative positions without bein' arrested for violatin' local obscenity ordinances, but this makes Howie look like he's been in the steam room at the YMCA for two hours until he eventually storms off to exhume the body. Chris thinks Howie just needs to relax and have a good laugh, so he gets one of his flunkies to go bury a hare in the grave and when Howie finds it he crashes Chris' dinner party and threatens to tell the Queen about this and have his royal hinder horsewhipped in a Christian manner. This whole ugly incident could be resolved if Howie'd just loosen up a little and let Britt play under his kilt for a while, but instead he breaks into MacLeod's There Can Only Be One-Hour Photo Processing and finds the negative from last year's Scotchtoberfest that reveals the town's crops failed and that Rowan was selected as the winner of the Shirley Jackson Memorial Lottery. At this point Howie starts to realize a guy could get sacrificed around here - or worse, forced to listen to the Beatles' White Album performed in its entirety by an assembly of bagpipers, so he paddles out to his plane and tries to fly home only to discover his ride's been gimped by mercenary soccer hoodlums.
As you can imagine the guy's EKG's startin' to become indistinguishable from a landscape paintin' of a New Zealand mountain range, but he's pretty sure Rowan's alive and bein' held somewhere in the village so he decides to go kick in every door in town like he's back home searchin' for uncensored VHS copies of The Driller Killer until his Doc Martens finally give out and he hasta stop to grab a nap at the inn. 'Course, when you realize it's 45 minutes past check out time you can hardly blame the hotelier for tryin' to asphyxiate the douche with toxic nail fungus fumes from a lit severed hand, but Howie wakes up before that happens and chins the bugger before stealin' his jester getup and decidin' to infiltrate the festivities in the guise of a fool. Then Chris leads the parade procession dressed as a gay kabuki warrior while the rest of the townspeople put on masks like they're about to do a live-action presentation of Animal Farm, and everyone walks down to the beach so Chris can dump a half dozen kegs of perfectly good Scottish whiskey into the ocean to appease the god of the sun and get Leviathan too trollied to make any mischief. Finally, Chris reveals his get-outta-potato-famine free card, and when Howie sees Rowan up on a rocky promontory he ditches his costume, breaks character, and the two of 'em flee through a nearby cave system, only to find Chris, sans parade garb, waitin' on the other side where he gives Rowan the Academy Award for best actress while Howie gets this look on his face like he's tryin' to figure out what wine goes best with crow. Gonna hafta stop here so I don't spoil the endin', but you can safely assume a whole village wouldn't bother carryin' off a ruse this elaborate to throw the guy a surprise birthday party. So if you haven't seen this one or at least the cover of the video, you'll definitely wanna check it out.
Alrighty, so, I don't wanna overhype this flick, but I'd just like to say that The Wicker Man is the finest cautionary police procedural religious satire ever made to feature the nekkid dancin' talents of Britt Ekland. Originally released on a double bill with Don't Look Now, The Wicker Man kinda got pissed on after a changing of the guard at the studio that made it, and consequently, didn't really get the release it deserved. It was initially slated to be released by Roger Corman's New World Pictures before the distribution rights were snatched up by a larger studio that offered more money. Unfortunately, said studio seemed to lack access to the network of suitable venues Corman had and failed to make much of a showing during its initial run. To make matters worse, the powers that were at British Lion thought the original runtime (99 minutes) bogged the film down and trimmed about 11 minutes out of it before "accidentally" destroying nearly all of the original film elements. Fortunately, Roger still had the print he'd been given when the movie was bein' shopped around, thus allowing for a director's cut to be released roughly 30 years after its original theatrical run, and saving most of the lost footage from disappearing down the memory hole. Christopher Lee considered it to be the best picture he ever did, and while you may not agree with that assessment, it's certainly his most unique. At first glance, without knowing anything about the plot, you'd likely assume from the cast and artwork that it's a Hammer-esque production, but there's a lot more goin' on beneath the surface of The Wicker Man than what you're used to getting from Hammer's trademark brand of gothic chiller. The most obvious underlying theme is the profuse throwing of shade in the general direction of organized religion, whose repressive attitudes society had only recently begun to wrest itself free from during the counter culture movement in the U.K. And while the experience of watching the flick in 1973 is, admittedly, far different from seeing it in 2021, going in with a more modern perspective can actually result in the audience (at least temporarily) sympathizing more with the Pagans on the island instead of Woodward, who comes off as a bigoted, puritanical asshole, despite his good intentions. Don't get me wrong - I'm not claiming that simply by having layers and subtext that makes it something all filmmakers should aspire to, rather, I just figure it's important to know what you're gettin' into goin' in so that it can be viewed with the proper perspective. After all, when measured in terms of quality pitchfork impalements, it really tanks.
In any event, it's time to see if The Wicker Man delivers the goods, or whether it would have been more appropriately dubbed The Straw Man. The plot is well structured, intricate, and honestly, a little hard to swallow. I'm gonna make a comparison that'll probably cause some genre purists to vomit in disgust, but The Wicker Man and Saw both adhere to the principle that: "if you're good at anticipating the human mind you leave nothing to chance." To completely enjoy the plot of The Wicker Man you must accept that the townsfolk of Summerisle all have psych degrees from Oxford, and thus, are able to anticipate the every move and thought of their intended victim so as to properly plan for every contingency that could arise. I like the story, and it's both entertaining and amusing that the characters seem so tuned-in to the mind of the protagonist that they're always one step ahead of him, but from a pragmatic point of view, there're just way too many moving parts to really buy into the premise.
The acting is excellent and unusually laid back by the standards of British films in the '70s. I suppose it was by necessity, in the sense that there must be a clear line drawn between the happy-go-lucky villagers to stand in sharp contrast against the hard-nosed, pious police sergeant, but they play off each other perfectly as the villagers' heretical behavior slowly gnaws at Woodward and sends him near the breaking point. Woodward could have carried the movie on his own, but Lee is there to help shoulder the burden as only he can in what might be the strangest role of his career as the smiling, ever practical cult leader tryin' to make sure the human sacrifice goes off without a hitch so his community of nymphomaniacal hippies don't starve to death from back-to-back crop failures. The supporting cast is equally capable, with performances by Hammer stalwart Ingrid Pitt, future Bond Girl Britt Ekland, and one of the most authentic assemblies of salty, unkempt, blue-collar character actors ever put to film. The townspeople in this movie are so believable that you almost forget they're actors and just assume the crew showed up to film one day and found all these people hangin' out at the inn doin' what rural people do during their off time, and every single one of them pulls their weight.
Here's who matters and why (gonna go ahead and do credit lists for Ingrid Pitt and Britt Ekland even though they might be popular enough that it ain't necessary, though there's definitely no need to do one for Christopher Lee, and I'm not just sayin' that 'cause it'd take an hour): Edward Woodward (The Appointment, Incense for the Damned), Diane Cilento (Z.P.G.), Britt Ekland (Beverly Hills Vamp, Moon in Scorpio, Satan's Mistress, The Monster Club, The Six Million Dollar Man: Wine, Women, and War, What the Peeper Saw, Asylum 1972), Ingrid Pitt (Beyond the Rave, Sea of Dust, Minotaur, Dominator, The Asylum, Transmutations, The House that Dripped Blood, Countess Dracula, The Vampire Lovers, Sound of Horror), Russell Waters (Endless Night, The Devil Rides Out), Aubrey Morris (Lifeforce, A Clockwork Orange, She Creature 2001, Legend of the Mummy, Bordello of Blood, Project Shadowchaser 3, Blood from the Mummy's Tomb, Goodbye Gemini, Blood Beast from Outer Space), Roy Boyd (The Omen 1976, Twins of Evil), Ian Campbell (Blood Clan), Donald Eccles (The Hunchback of Notre Dame 1982, The Quatermass Conclusion), John Hallam (Flash Gordon 1980, Dragonslayer, Kull the Conqueror, Lifeforce, The People that Time Forgot), John Sharp (The Bride, And Now the Screaming Starts!), Ian Wilson (Vampire Over London, Day of the Triffids, The Phantom of the Opera 1962, Quatermass II, Quatermass and the Pit), John Young (Time Bandits), S. Newton Anderson (Slipstream 1989, Quatermass, 2001: A Space Odyssey, They Came from Beyond Space), Pauline Chamberlain (The Shining, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde 1973, Hands of the Ripper, Taste the Blood of Dracula, Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed, Dr. Terror's House of Horrors, Witchcraft 1964), Mabel Etherington (Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde 1973, Trog, Day of the Triffids, The Quatermass Xperiment).
Additionally: Tina Hart (Fahrenheit 451), Aileen Lewis (Britannia Hospital, An American Werewolf in London, The Shining, The Chosen 1977, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Frankenstein: The True Story, Burke & Hare 1972, Fright, Berserk, Fahrenheit 451, The Skull 1965, Repulsion, Devils of Darkness, Witchraft 1964, The Old Dark House 1963, The Day the Earth Caught Fire, The Hands of Orlac 1960, Horrors of the Black Museum), George Oliver (An American Werewolf in London, Theater of Blood, The Vault of Horror, All the Colors of the Dark, Cry of the Banshee, Quatermass and the Pit, Eye of the Devil, Island of Terror), Ian Selby (The Elephant Man, Dr. Terror's House of Horrors, Devil Doll, The Giant Behemoth), Fred Wood (The Fifth Element, Judge Dredd, Batman 1989, Willow, Morons from Outer Space, Brazil, Nineteen Eighty-Four 1984, Superman II - III, Britannia Hospital, The Hunchback of Notre Dame 1982, Time Bandits, Dragonslayer, Clash of the Titans 1981, The Elephant Man, Quatermass, Star Wars: A New Hope, Queen Kong, The Freakmaker, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde 1973, The Creeping Flesh, Demons of the Mind, Doomwatch, Tales from the Crypt, Burke & Hare 1972, I Monster, Twins of Evil, Lust for a Vampire, Cry of the Banshee, The Crimson Cult, Berserk, Theatre of Death, Frankenstein Created Woman, Eye of the Devil, Daleks' Invasion Earth 2150 A.D., Psycho-Circus, Dracula: Prince of Darkness, The Plague of the Zombies, The Tomb of Ligeia, The Masque of the Red Death 1964, The Evil of Frankenstein, The Kiss of the Vampire, Day of the Triffids, Night Creatures, The Phantom of the Opera 1962, The Curse of the Werewolf, The Snake Woman, Konga, Gorgo, The Curse of Frankenstein.
Mainstream credits are as follows: Edward Woodward (Harry Morant in Breaker Morant, Robert McCall on The Equalizer, The Ghost of Christmas Present in A Christmas Carol 1984, David Callan on Callan), Diane Cilento (Jessie in Hombre), Britt Ekland (Goodnight in The Man with the Golden Gun, Anna in Get Carter), Roy Boyd (Dryden Hogben on Emmerdale Farm), Barbara Rafferty (Ella Cotter on Rab C. Nesbitt), Juliet Cadzow (Edie McCredie on Balamory), Ross Campbell (Cowper Rosie on EastEnders), Tony Roper (Jamesie Cotter on Rab C. Nesbitt), John Young (Reverend Ian McPherson on High Road).
The special effects are pretty scant up until the last five minutes of the flick, and consist of one dead rabbit (possibly real, if not it's a good effect), a strip of flesh attached to a grave marker (not bad), and the "hand of glory." The hand of glory is a severed hand whose fingers have been lit on fire so as to emit some kind of power that'll put ya into a temporary coma, and other than being a little large, it's not bad. Of course, the climax features one of the most memorable constructions in the history of horror, but everyone who's seen the poster already knows that. In short - not a lot in the way of gore, but well-executed where utilized.
The shooting locations are superb, despite the film being shot in October/November and being set in the spring. Over 20 different locations around Scotland were used, but the opening sequence had to be shot in South Africa due to much of the vegetation in Scotland having lost its springtime freshness. All these different areas made filming a royal hassle, as the crew would constantly have to pack up and move to another area as the shooting schedule/weather dictated, but the result is spectacular and gives the movie a unique atmosphere and air of mysticism that accompanies places largely unchanged by man. And while the exteriors may be the more important ones given the nature of the characters' relationship with the land, the interiors are charmingly humble and serve to further cement this as a place where traditions largely lost to history remain at the forefront of local society.
The soundtrack, while not especially catchy, fits the medieval Europe motif to a tee. Whole lot of simple woodwind/string arrangements, and a great deal of Celtic folk singing in general. The musical lyrics were well written by Paul Giovanni (and performed by Lee and Cilento in a couple instances), though a few of the songs were dredged up out of Celtic folklore as well to give the score a touch of antiquity. Outside the movie it's nothing special - but within its confines is very effective and helps tie everything together atmospherically. Overall, I find the pacing of this one a little slow, though the climax mostly makes up for it. Fortunately, the production values are so good that the movie doesn't need my personal approval to earn a solid score, as it's nearly a perfect film from a technical standpoint. The Wicker Man is a must-see, despite my personal impatience, but be sure to seek out the Director's Cut to get the full effect.