Rest in peace, Christopher Lee — one of my favourite actors. Please check out Sean Munger’s excellent tribute to this fine performer. Weirdly enough, he had a heavy metal career too. Check Sean’s site for the scoop.
THE WICKER MAN (1973, Anchor Bay numbered box)
Directed by Robin Hardy
Please, whatever you do — do not see the Nicholas Cage “remake” (I use that term loosely) of The Wicker Man. Do not waste your time. See this version, the classic Christopher Lee/Edward Woodward original.
Police Sgt. Howie (a young Woodward) receives a tip about a missing girl on Summerisle, a fictitious island in the north of Scotland. He takes a seaplane to the island where he is greeted very cooly by the locals. Strangely, none of the elders claim to know of the girl, Rowan Morrison. Howie is not dissuaded and refuses to leave. He sets up in a local hotel to learn more about the island and the girl.
Nothing adds up, as he finds her desk at the school and her name in the school registers, proof that the girl did exist. Howie, a devout Christian, is horrified to find that there are no Christians on Summerisle — only Pagans. Their rituals are strange and disgusting to him, and the local church is rundown and obviously unused for quite some time. The things he witnesses on Summerisle are some of the most interesting images in the film, qualifying it a work of true art, and impossible for serious cinema fans to ignore.
Howie finds the grave of Rowan Morrison and wishes to exhume the body, but to do that he needs permission from the owner of the island, Lord Summerisle (Lee). Lee’s presence in this film is magnificent. Some consider this to be the best work of his career. As Lord Summerisle, he is regal, mysterious and dignified. But is he guilty of obstructing justice, or even accessory to murder? What is the secret history of Summerisle, which has suffered failed crops in the recent past? Who sent Howie the tip about the missing girl, and why?
Disturbingly and suddenly, Howie’s seaplane will not start and he cannot return to the mainland. As the plot slowly begins to unfold, and stranger and stranger things are witnessed upon the island, Howie comes to believe that young Rowan is not dead, but soon will be if he does not act. He aims to stop her sacrifice, and comes face to face with the wicker man himself. (If you don’t know what a wicker man is, look it up.) By the end of the movie, you will be haunted by the song “The Lord is My Shepherd” and the words, “Oh Jesus Christ!”
The horror in this movie is not gore, or monsters, or traditional horror frights. It lies in the situations that Howie gets himself into, by refusing to leave. The film is not for everybody. I know some people who watch it regularly, and others (like my dad) who have found it so chilling that they will never watch it again. Check it out cautiously. Only then will you know if you have the fortitude to face The Wicker Man!
This DVD edition by Anchor Bay is excellent. Two cuts of the film are included. The extended cut features some of the once-lost footage that enhances the experience. The extended version is the version to watch. There is also documentary footage on the DVD, including speculation as to where the last, lost bits of film may be hidden!
The only thing about The Wicker Man that I find hard to swallow is some of the music (some). Music is critical to the film, yes, but face it…Britt Ekland couldn’t sing!
This is a work of fiction. It is not meant to offend anybody of any religion. It is a simply a horror movie, or more accurately a thriller. The only thing offensive about The Wicker Man is that an American film studio thought it was a good idea to try to remake it!