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Wicker Man, The (1973)

Reviewed By MP Bartley
Posted 10/30/04 00:48:28

"Apples and Oranges and...human sacrifice?"
4 stars (Worth A Look)

The British film industry is in a pretty poor state, and arguably always has been, with a lack of funding preventing any great strides being made. However, once thing we Brits can do well is a good horror. 'Night of the Demon', 'Dracula', and through to current offerings like '28 Days Later'. 'The Wicker Man' is often regarded as the best and is certainly the one with the biggest cult of fans. Whether it is the scariest horror film ever made by Britain is a matter of opinion, but one thing's for certain - it's certainly the weirdest.

Edward Woodward (try saying his name without the d's) is the uptight, ramrod straight, fiercely Christian, Police Seargeant Neil Howie working on the coast of Scotland. He receives a mysterious from an anonymous source on the coastal village of Summerisle who claims that a young girl has gone missing months ago and no-one has seen her since. Howie sets off to visit Summerisle but finds things are certainly different from the Scotland that he knows. The villagers dance around the maypoles, teach young schoolgirls about phallic symbols and use pagan cures for illnesses. There is an absolute lack of Christianity which disturbs Howie but is cheerfully supported by the slightly creepy Lord Summerisle (Christopher Lee). As Howie's investigation begins he finds the villagers strangely quiet and reticent which drives him ever deeper into the secrets of Summerisle.

Watching 'The Wicker Man' for the first time may provide some unintentional laughs. Folk songs abound, sung merrily by old men in fishing gear, and by the end the villagers are skipping around in animal costumes while Christoper Lee dons an unfeasibly long wig and lollops around swinging his arms in the air. But once you settle into it, you realise that it's no laughing matter. Robin Hardy directs without fuss, quietly, with no sensationalism, thus emphasising the strangeness and increasing surreality of the situation.

There's something just a little bit creepy about the fact that all the villagers are hiding something and refusing to come clean about it that draws you in, as it does Howie. The fact that all this oddness is in contrast to the beauty of the surroundings emphasises just how odd things are. And things do get very odd. Think of a British version of 'Deliverance'. But with added songs and extra banjos.

As well as the theatrical cut running about 85 minutes long, there's also the directors cut (now released together on dvd) which perhaps loses the tightness of the original, but adds a lot more strangeness. You get more interaction between Howie and the villagers, you get landlord's daughter Willow (a dubbed and totally out of place Britt Ekland) taking the virginity of a young boy while the villagers sing a tribute in the pub to them, and you get an earlier introduction to Summerisle as he offers the boy up and then talks to a snail. Told you this was a weird film.

Woodward is vital here, as his conviction in the role totally sells you both the seriousness and the odd terror of the situation. Matching him every step of the way is the legendary Christopher Lee. Have you ever seen Christopher Lee give a bad performance? No, neither have I. Bad films perhaps, but certainly not a bad performance.

The strange and creepy build-up however is vital to the last ten minutes that tip the film into out and out horror, as you finally gain insight into how bad Howie's situation is and just what the Wicker Man of the title is. It's a shocking, brutal ending that ranks up there with 'Invasion of the Bodysnatchers' and 'Night of the Living Dead', made all the more powerful by it's country surroundings, both beautiful and desolate.

Saying 'The Wicker Man' is the best British horror film is a bit of an over-statement, as it's rarely scary until those final closing minutes. However, it's got a quietly demented and uneasy tone that is absolutely original and keeps you on the edge of your seat even though you know you should be laughing. As rumours of a Nicholas Cage remake continue to circle, just hunt out the original instead. It's still unlike anything else ever made.

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