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The Wicker Man' follows the story of Sgt. Howie (Edward Woodward) who
travels to the Scottish island of Summerisle to investigate the
disappearance of a young girl. However, the entire population of the island,
including the girl's own mother (Irene Summers), denies that such a girl
ever existed and as the righteous Howie investigates further he learns the
terrifying truth of Summerisle.
Famed for an exceptional yet short performance from the legendary Christopher Lee as Lord Summerisle, The Wicker Man' is a textbook example of how to create a virtually seamless horror/thriller. Director Robin Hardy at one point thought this low-budget movie would never be made as he was forced to work with a very small budget, a short shooting schedule and a studio on the verge of bankruptcy that was in fact declared bankrupt just a few short months after filming was completed. However, The Wicker Man' was made and nowadays is accepted as one of the finest horror/thrillers of all-time despite not receiving the praise it so deserved back in the Seventies. The Wicker Man' was brilliantly written by Anthony Shaffer who chose to add very subtle clues as to what would happen that are made more apparent on further viewings. With the added advantage of obvious research into the pagan rituals The Wicker Man' sought to portray the movie is left with a chilling feel of realism.
An enchanting soundtrack is blended marvellously into The Wicker Man' which seems to lull the viewer into a false sense of security. Despite the constant foreboding feeling created by the intricate plot and top notch acting, there is a certain playful feeling that is brought about by the elegant soundtrack making it difficult to actually envisage any evil events occuring. One could be forgiven for wondering on a first viewing just where this bizarre little movie is going but the story has a quality about it that can grab the viewer and keep their interest all the way to the bitter and awfully haunting ending. The final scene as the credits roll is an image that is now engrained on my mind with all its emptiness and despair. As the curtain falls on this performance (so to speak) it becomes hard not to question the events leading up to the end and the humanity of these islanders. In some ways The Wicker Man' is an unsettling history lesson that makes itself seem all too real.
Edward Woodward gives a tremendous performance as the increasingly baffled Sgt. Howie. He played his character convincingly and Howie's eventual realisation of what is going on around him is portrayed so well that it adds more realism to the movie. Woodward was able to take a character that may be a figure of loathing in another type of horror movie and make the audience feel empathy towards him. The strong religious beliefs within Howie thoroughly clash with the free-loving pagan society which adds humour and distress at the same time. However, as mentioned before, Christopher Lee somehow stole the show playing the relatively small part of Lord Summerisle. His magnificent onscreen presence seems so powerful that one forgets that he is only in the movie for a short amount of time. Added to this great mix was Britt Ekland as Willow, the beautiful landlord's daughter. Her seductive, nude dance (though a double was apparently used in parts) was one of the most erotic moments in horror and helped to contribute further realism to the movie. The scenes featuring the clashing characters of Howie and Willow are both amusing and tense making for some interesting character interaction.
The Wicker Man' is undoubtedly a cult classic of the horror genre which I recommend to all fans of horror/thrillers. Visually pleasing with some superb acting and direction as well as a fine screenplay. My rating for The Wicker Man' 9/10.
The best British horror film ever made? Probably, yes. The best horror
film ever made? No. The best occult thriller ever? Quite possibly.
The film was in part conceived as a vehicle for Christopher Lee to get away from his Hammer roles and give him a chance to demonstrate that, yes, he could actually act. Perversely, however, the film is in many ways homage to the films produced by the Hammer studio and is at the same time their antithesis.
Although Lee's Lord Summerisle was certainly a stronger character than his Hammer caricatures, and was suitably sincere and sinister, it was left to Edward Woodward's bumbling, pious Highland Police Sergeant to carry the film.
The rest of the cast are not as strong as the two central characters. Famously, it was always suggested that Britt Ekland's voice was overdubbed for the entire film. Robin Hardy has now denied that, stating that only her singing was dubbed. Even if the other actors' performances fail to match those of Woodward and Lee, somehow, it doesn't detract from the film.
Almost as famous as The Wicker Man itself are the stories surrounding the film. The version first released was almost completely butchered from an original, almost grandiose cut of 102 minutes to a more concise 87. Christopher Lee has always maintained that this was a crime against the greatest piece of art with which he had ever been involved. The original negatives were then accidentally thrown out!
When a fuller version finally surfaced in 2001, Lee's contentions were (at least in part) proved. The film was overall improved, and save for a couple of points of rather clumsy editing (the flashbacks Edward Woodward has as the penny drops spring to mind) and the pointless scenes before the flight to the island, it ran more smoothly and made more sense.
The film's greatest asset comes through in whichever version you actually see. The eerie sinister atmosphere never fails to be conveyed. Somehow, the fictitious Scottish island setting of Summerisle, which could so easily turn twee at any moment steers clear of the territory occupied by Brigadoon or the now happily deceased BBC TV drama 'Monarch of the Glen'.
The setting's remoteness, which could have been its worst enemy, is actually its greatest ally.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about the film, however, is the way that it steadfastly refuses to fit precisely into any genre. It is all at once a horror, a thriller and even a musical! Unbelievably, these things come together and fit into the film.
The music in The Wicker Man is unique, always adding just the right tone of eeriness or bawdiness to proceedings. A strange mix of elements including traditional folk music, it's as innovative and interesting as the soundtracks to Blade Runner, or The Virgin Suicides. The opening title sequence to the tune of Corn Rigs succeeds in transporting you with the plane over the remote coastal peninsulas and out into the Irish Sea towards Summerisle.
My only criticism of the film (and I really am nitpicking here) is the way it goes about establishing Sergeant Howie's Christianity. I can't conceive of the Howie character adhering to any religion other than one of the obscure forms of Presbyterian Protestantism practised in parts of the Highlands of Scotland. These scenes contain an apparent reverence for the sacraments that appears more Catholic in nature. This distinction in religious backgrounds is important to understanding Howie's attitudes. Nevertheless, I am truly nitpicking when I make this criticism!
But what ultimately makes this film is its ending. Without giving the game away for those who have not yet seen the film, it is inevitable, and yet wholly unexpected when it finally comes.
The Wicker Man would be a classic of its genre - if it had a genre. Instead, it has to be ranked as a classic film.
The bizarre and chilling tale of a fool chosen to be king for a day.
The shocking denouement of this film has stayed with me for many years, far longer than scenes or images from more famous films. A classic of its kind, it deserves the re-release it will probably never get.
Superficially a mystery thriller, this intelligent and well researched story delves into the beliefs and rituals of Ancient Britain, its folk mythologies and music, and reveals some of the un-settling fears that lie at their root. Set on a remote Scottish Island and giving the appearance of being a Whisky Galore, Local Hero type community, there is yet something off-centre about the townspeople that Edward Woodward, as Sergeant Howie, has come to investigate. The presence of Christopher Lee as the eloquent, commanding Lord of the Isle, gives the film an insidiously creepy edge suggesting a Hammer Horror lurks around the next wee wall. He is perfect in the role.
The story un-folds like a cross between Chinatown and Rosemary's Baby, as the dogged Howie gets led all over town, up one blind alley and down another. Clues are dropped all the way about what is really going on, but we don't heed them. Until it's too late. Too late to walk away.
The standard video version runs for 85 minutes, cuts many important scenes and shows others out of sequence. A BBC version shown in 1998 ran around 95 minutes. The full version ran 102 minutes but I have never found it.
However, whilst uneven in parts and certainly flawed this is one of the most intelligent and interesting stories I have ever seen on film. See it yourself and you too will have many meetings with 'The Wicker Man', in your dreams, in the dark, where you cannot escape.
There is an enormous amount of interest in this film, and rightly
It defies a low budget production to deliver that rarest of things in film - atmosphere.
The apparently simple plot-line belies a truly astonishing climax. I have seen this film reduce an entire cinema audience to stunned silence on several occasions.
Edward Woodward gives a performance of such understated power it is difficult to envisage anyone else in the role of Sgt. Howie.
The whole production just weaves its magic spell - music - location - cinematography and direction all combine into a masterpiece.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
It is somewhat strange that some of the best British films of all time are
not very well known outside movie-buff-dom. The Wicker Man is certainly one
of them (another is Get Carter).
The Wicker Man is not just technically very well made, with an excellent cast, a glorious cinematography and a gripping script, it goes beyond that. It is one of those rare treats that manage to question your belief system. It lures you into a foreign system of beliefs, it seduces you into sympathising with an act that is - legally speaking - a murder.
It is impossible to categorize the film into a genre. Some have described it as a horror film, which in a strict sense is completely wrong as there are no shock elements here, no gore whatsoever, and just one killing; but in a more relaxed sense this is not such a bad characterisation after all, because the film uses the language of horror films, e.g. permanently hinting at that something mysterious and horrific is going on. Similarly flawed are characterisations as a fantasy film (nothing supernatural) or sci-fi (no science), but the film takes a little bit each from the flavour of these genres.
A quite unique and very creative mystery horror.
Superb acting from Edward Woodward as the prim Seargant Howie, and Christopher Lee as Lord Summerisle. Fascinating from start to finish and a real twister of a plot that keeps you hooked right until the final twenty minutes, what appears at first sight to be an innocent search for a missing girl turns into a fascinating exploration of pagan rituals on a remote and sex obsessed Scottish island.
One of the best elements of the film is the classic early 70's folk soundtrack which gives indication of how the era in which this was filmed influenced the subject matter.
Definitely not a 'horror' in the true sense of the word, but more mysterious and chilling than any gore-fest. A quality piece of cinema!
On an island off the Scottish coast is a very strange community that
Sgt Howie (Edward Woodward) ventures to in search of a missing teenaged
girl. On landing he is astonished to find that the crowd of old men has
never heard of the girl. His quest will be stranger yet.
The island is "ruled" by Lord Summerisle (Christopher Lee) who is the descendant of a scientist who introduced exotic cultivars of fruits and re-introduced druidic or pagan beliefs. As the island prospered with its exported fruits the paganism became more deep rooted. The Sgt finds more and more mystery as he continues his quest for the girl.
Pitting Christianity against early pagan druidic rituals is just one of the intellectual pleasures of this cult film. As the local teacher (Diane Cilento) tells the Sgt, it's easier for a child's mind to understand reincarnation than resurrection. It gets them past all those rotting bodies.
Part mystery story, part horror, The Wicker Man blends several genres into one fascinating film. The May Day Festival is a throwback to pagan rites of a thousand years ago (a bit of which continues today in Morris dancing) and are a highlight of this film. The bizarre procession to the sea to offer sacrifices to the sea gods and sun god is historically accurate and sets up a surprise ending not to be forgotten.
Woodward is splendid as the pompous officer who clings to his religion. Lee is terrific as the eccentric lord. Cilento is a hoot as the teacher. Britt Ekland is the landlord's daughter Willow and Ingrid Pitt is the librarian. Blending folk and Enya-like music (by Paul Giovanni), director Robin Hardy creates a bawdy pagan world in the midst of the 20th century. The Celtic symbolism (Nuada the Sun God) is beautiful and helps set the tone.
A visual treat with great music, this film really gives the viewer something to think about. Highly recommended.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Edward Woodward (later star of "The Equalizer" TV series) is a devoutly
religious police inspector who travels to the small island of
Summerisle to investigate the disappearance of a young girl. There's a
cover up to the girls whereabouts by the entire community and he finds
himself equally appalled by their free-living lifestyle...simple
pleasures which include drinkin', singin', swingin' sex...and pagan
human sacrifice. The title refers to a giant wooden idol necessary for
climactic May Day ceremony.
THE WICKER MAN opens fairly slowly (and some complain it has too many musical numbers), but after the first pub scene it becomes suspenseful, creepy (without a stitch of violence) and brilliantly atmospheric, creating a seemingly authentic (and unusual) society not dependent on standard moral or religious codes. It's safe to say that the strong and unflinching religious subject matter in this film carries with it the potential to infuriate Christians and Catholics. It's also extremely ironic that this same close-minded worldview is perfectly reflected in the bullheaded lead character, and also helps to seal his fate. Not that the pagans in this film aren't equally unwavering in their beliefs, but the "power of in numbers" philosophy rings true here. Imagine a small place in this world NOT adversely affected by standard organized religion and you get the gist of Summerisle.
If you want gore, you won't find any here. If you can't go into this film with an open mind, you simply won't appreciate what it has to offer. And if you are looking for a standard horror film you may be disappointed (or you may be like me and be pleasantly surprised). The ending is simultaneously chilling and oddly amusing. Both Woodward and Christopher Lee (with great hair) as Lord Summerisle are excellent in their roles.
Much censored over the years, try to avoid any version running under 94 minutes.
Score: 9 out of 10
A police sergeant (Edward Woodward) goes to a remote island near
Scotland hearing that a young girl is missing. When he gets there it
seems no one has ever heard of her...and most say she never existed. He
continues to search and the mystery gets deeper and deeper leading up
to a very disturbing conclusion.
I saw this during it's theatrical reissue in 1980--it was the cut 88 minute version. I was disappointed. It was advertised as a horror film and the edited version leaves gaping plot holes. I just saw the extended version on the DVD and loved it!
For one thing, as I said, it is NOT a horror film. I went in expecting that and didn't get it. It's actually a thriller with strong religious and sexual overtures. There's WAY too much to get into about the religious views in this film, and the sexual element is STRONG! There's a whole circle of nude young women dancing around a fire, and an exceptional sequence in which a very erotic song is sung by a nude Britt Ekland. The mystery itself is fascinating but I really got caught up in the religious and social aspects presented in this film. Credit writer Anthony Shaffer for his script.
Also the acting is great on all counts. Woodward deserves credit for playing such an unlikable character--and STILL getting you to sympathize with him! Also Hammer stars Christopher Lee and Ingrid Pitt (whose part is brutally reduced in the short version) are just great! For one thing it's interesting to see them playing fairly "normal" people (instead of vampires) and they give out excellent performances. Lee especially is enjoying himself--he did the film for free! To this day he said it's his best movie--he's right.
An excellent, haunting thriller but it might be too much for some people. There's next to no blood or violence, but I do know some people who just found the ending a bit too much to handle. Still, it's a definite must-see.
A deserved cult classic.
I've been fascinated by 'The Wicker Man' ever since I first saw it on TV in the late 1970s. I was very young then and probably didn't completely understand it, but I knew immediately that it was a very special movie, unlike anything I'd ever seen before. Twenty five years, and literally thousands of movies later, I think even more highly of it, especially now that I'm able to see the cut available on the 30th Anniversary DVD, which is over fifteen minutes longer than the version I already own on video. And, yes, 'The Wicker Man' is still unlike any other movie I've ever seen. I think this is mainly down to the brilliant script by Anthony Shaffer, who also wrote 'Sleuth' and Hitchcock's 'Frenzy'. There hasn't been anything made remotely like it since. I think it's the greatest British horror movie ever made, but the description "horror" only gives you half the story. It's also a thriller, a mystery, a Christian morality tale, and in a weird way, a musical. Christopher Lee regards it as the best movie he's ever been involved with, and describes it as one of the three or four greatest movies ever made in Britain, and I agree with him. Lee is very good in the movie as the enigmatic Lord Summerisle, but Edward Woodward is the real star. Woodward is best know for his TV work, as either 'Callan' or 'The Equalizer', depending what generation you're from, but he's superb as the deeply religious Sgt. Howie. Apparently Peter Cushing was initially suggested for the role, as was Michael York, but I really can't imagine either of then being half as good as Woodward is. The supporting cast are all superb - Diane Cilento as the school teacher, famous mime Lindsay Kemp as the publican, and especially Britt Ekland as the publican's daughter Willow. Ekland's seduction dance scene is the second most famous scene in the movie. She claims her speaking voice was dubbed throughout , director Robin Hardy disputes this, though her singing voice certainly was, and she used a (ahem) butt double. I also get a kick out of Aubrey Morris' graveyard scene. Morris is a great Brit character actor and was also in 'A Clockwork Orange', Hammer's 'Blood From The Mummy's Tomb' and sci fi trash classic 'Lifeforce'. Another Hammer alumni Ingrid Pitt ('The Vampire Lovers', 'Countess Dracula', etc.) is also in the cast as a librarian, but sadly in underused. Still, I'm glad she was involved. Inexplicably some people seem to hate this movie. I can't for the life of me understand why. It's utterly brilliant, utterly unique, and I never tire of watching it. If you've never seen it before I envy you! It's a cliche, but believe me, you have never seen anything like it before!
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