The Wicker Man (15)
What do you mean, you’ve never seen The Wicker Man?
Misunderstood and mishandled on its initial abortive release in the 1970s, the quietly subversive detective story cum chiller builds to an unforgettable climax that asks urgent questions about the nature of faith.
Edward Woodward is the dogged Christian policeman lured to Summerisle, an island of hedonistic heathens on the pretext of finding a missing child. But his wide-eyed shock at the centuries-old rites embraced by 20th century pagans leads him to only one conclusion: the girl has been murdered in ritualistic fashion.
But is she dead? And if she is alive what fate awaits her. It is this clash of ancient and modern – the battle between faiths – that drives The Wicker Man. Less a horror story than an intelligent debate over tradition and the evolution of religion it remains unique in the annals of British cinema of the 1970s. Or any decade, come to that.
Woodward’s uptight and inflexible Sergeant Howie is an outsider in more ways than one. Mocked for his strict adherence to his own moral code – he is engaged to be married, and thus a virgin – it is this deep-rooted morality and refusal to be corrupted by the sins of the flesh (Britt Ekland as a very Scandinavian landlord’s daughter) that makes him the perfect visitor to Summerisle.
As written by Anthony Shaffer The Wicker Man’s central theme is embodied by the figures of Woodward’s pious copper and Christopher Lee as the island’s all-powerful laird – a lord of misrule dedicated to maintaining Summerisle’s strange bubble of existence.
Underlining this is the islanders’ fondness for song – The Wicker Man is littered with musical numbers – and dance. But throughout it all is woven a strange thread of dread and unease.
Newly restored for its 40th anniversary under the guidance of director Robin Hardy The Wicker Man remains a weird little picture. Be it a horror film, a semi-musical or an unsettling treatise on good versus evil, this is a picture that every buff should see and savour.
Star rating: *****