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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 24.24%
Average: 0%
Pretty Bad: 4.55%
Total Crap: 6.06%

3 reviews, 48 user ratings

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Wicker Man, The (1973)
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by Jay Seaver

"Wickered good."
5 stars

2013 "FINAL CUT" SCREENED: Not long into "The Wicker Man", I found myself thinking that this was quite possibly the most English movie I would ever see; that it was shot and perhaps set in Scotland doesn't do much to change that opinion. It's not the England (or Britain) of London and the cities, but the rural part where the old-ways aren't nearly so buried as they are in town. That's the basic set-up of a good many fine horror movies, even if it usually applies to a small group of people rather than a place.

That place is an island community in the Northwest, isolated enough that police Sergeant Howie (Edward Woodward) must arrive by seaplane. He has received word of a missing girl, but when he arrives, nobody will admit to ever having heard of her, including her mother (Irene Sunters). Not that the locals make it easy for him; Lord Summerisle (Christopher Lee) is the only authority anyone on the island seems to recognize. By the time Howie does find evidence of the missing girl's existence, it seems very likely that her disappearance is tied to the pagan beliefs practiced widely and openly there, which may demand a sacrifice to fight the poor harvest.

Howie is a resolutely Christian man, and presenting him as the anomaly (as 2013's restored "Final Cut" does) is a big part of what makes The Wicker Man such a fascinating piece of work. Even as the audience knows Howie is investigating something strange and sinister, and stands a good chance of sharing his religious views, his aggression compared to the singing, down-to-earth, cheerful islanders puts the two opposing schools on a surprisingly level field, especially when his abstract beliefs seem less directly useful than their focused ones. If he were agnostic or atheist, it might be different, a story about rationality versus superstition; instead, it's a man trying to deal with people he simply can't understand. Howie is a good man, and his difficulties dealing with people who have beliefs different from his own are something that may strike the audience close to home. It's a stranger-in-a-strange-land story where one often feels sympathetic for Howie trying to do an important job amid people who are weird at best and obstructionist at worst, but also an uptight prig who needs to loosen up some.

This doesn't make Summerisle and his people the true heroes of the piece; instead, director Robin Hardy and writer Anthony Shaffer use the way this frames the conflict to build suspense and atmosphere without having to upend things on a regular basis to shock he audience. Things are weird from the word go, but even as Howie and the audience are working at solving a mystery, the rest of the movie is uneasy in a way that's almost comedic. Hardy and company do a very nice job of balancing this, using the more amusing bits as lubricant until it's time to do the things that make people remember this as a horror movie rather than a mystery, showing where communal mania and desperation can lead.

At the center of all this is Edward Woodward, playing the sort of blunt, hard-nosed role that might have gone to the young Michael Caine had the project had more money to throw around. Woodward may be just as unconcerned with likability in playing the part as Howie is in carrying out his investigation, but he always stays a step or two back from where the audience would turn on him, and finds something else to complement the character's abrasiveness when the need arises.

Christopher Lee, naturally, has to play Summerisle as everything Howie is not - effortlessly charming, open, and accommodating... but probably, on some level, up to no good. Some of his best scenes only reveal themselves as such after the end of the movie, when the audience has a chance to ponder just what he truly believes. There's a bit of a drop-off in the cast after him, though the likes of Lindsay Kemp, Irene Sunterss, and Diane Cilento are decent stock characters as the villagers. Britt Ekland may have needed her lines dubbed (and not always very well), but she could certainly pump out pure crazy sex appeal upon request.

Other members of the cast who show up in the credits don't appear in the new Final Cut, which at just a tick under ninety minutes excises scenes from the mainland and is likely closest to the American theatrical release than any other previous version. The restoration and assembly looked pretty good on the DCP projected; though the most attentive viewers will likely spot which segments came from different sources, it's not as noticeable as, say, the most recent restoration of Metropolis.

That various prints had to be found and this cut reconstructed is fairly surprising considering the stature "The Wicker Man" has gained in the past forty years; it's become rather essential viewing ever since being drastically cut for its initial release in its native Britain. And while I can't speak to how well this "Final Cut" compares to the other versions that have been available in previous years, I can at least say that it is an impressively thrilling and surprisingly thought-provoking mystery.

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originally posted: 11/21/13 11:52:12
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2011 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the Fantasia International Film Festival 2011 series, click here.

User Comments

5/30/15 stanley welles intelligent, hypnotic and thrilling 4 stars
12/07/13 Pearl Bogdan Still worth watching after all this time 5 stars
5/21/12 The Big D If Christopher Lee says this is his best film, he's too modest about his Dracula movies! 2 stars
6/03/10 User Name Subtle, brilliant, and memorable, with even a few campy laughs thrown in. 4 stars
1/31/10 randy todger classic 5 stars
7/22/09 Josie Cotton is a goddess Scary as hell. Keeps me awake at nights. 4 stars
7/29/08 David Cohen Quintesserntial "It could only have worked in the 70's" horror movie 4 stars
8/28/07 Sam A work of near-genius 5 stars
5/07/07 David Pollastrini didn't think much of it. 2 stars
4/27/07 Total Crap Strange music, strange nudity. And that ending was just crazy, CRAZY!!! 4 stars
4/08/07 Chris Redmond Superbly controlled buil-up of tension up to its macabre climax, this is classic horror. 5 stars
3/30/07 Seth Black Great Movie. One Of My All Time Favorites. 5 stars
3/27/07 fools♫gold As delightfully spiritually enlightening as a Laura Knight-Jadczyck book. 5 stars
10/01/06 Squeeek Probably the worst movie I've ever seen BORING and stupid, the movie should have been burnt 1 stars
8/28/06 Harold One of THE most disturbing endings to a film I've ever seen - 'still haunts me to this day. 5 stars
8/22/06 Zaw Good Ending!! no Fucking Hero(s)!!!!!!!!!!! 5 stars
12/20/05 Indrid Cold A unique idea, but the cheese factor and poor pacing weaken it quite a bit. 4 stars
7/28/05 Angel Beautiful sunlit horror, deals in the REAL Old Religon: death and fertility 5 stars
4/14/05 Gray folks who think Wicca is peacful see this 5 stars
1/11/05 malcolm lotsa nudity is always good. broke lots of scary movie "rules." 4 stars
11/10/04 Rusty Klichowicz Everyone should want to make movies like this 5 stars
11/06/04 james a trick ending, because there is no trick! 5 stars
4/18/04 Father Merrin Absolutly superb! The movie builds up to an unexpected tragic ending. Classic stuff! 5 stars
3/24/04 Lord Haw Haw Shocks are so much better absorbed with the kees bent. Unforgettable ending. 5 stars
3/23/04 Trannon Goble Fantastic film 5 stars
3/20/03 Jack Sommersby Tactful and intelligent -- and blood-curdlingly frightening. Top-notch directing and acting 5 stars
2/06/03 Charles Tatum One massive pile of disappointment, do NOT believe the hype 1 stars
11/09/02 Stevo Possibly the scariest film ever, maybe the best British film ever. Drastically unsettling 5 stars
7/05/02 honky harry daft as a box of spanners....but good!..oh,and i wet my pants at the scary animal people 4 stars
4/25/02 Jette Cauty Interesting and wierd 4 stars
11/02/01 raja no 5 stars
10/16/01 Kgaard Weirdest movie I've ever seen ... and I mean that in a good way. Now on dvd, huzzah! 5 stars
8/20/01 jno This film is a MUST SEE, if you die without seeing it your life is totally incomplete! 5 stars
6/27/01 Mark Doyle Something very lovely about this film... 5 stars
6/18/01 Shauna-Aine O'Brien Brilliantly unexpected 5 stars
5/28/01 GAIL best of all British films 5 stars
5/20/01 R.W. Welch Something of a cult classic & justifiably so; not soon forgotten. 5 stars
5/03/01 the hairy man totally essential film 5 stars
2/20/01 Amy Dudley What to say?! absolutely fantastic! 5 stars
2/05/01 surfer dude69 LAME!!!! Cant believer i wasted my money on this girl movie 1 stars
1/24/01 dave Underhill One of the best films in this genre ive seen = ) glad to see i aint alone 5 stars
11/23/00 Brooke Windsor My absolute favorite 5 stars
11/10/00 Jonnysaw A wonder from beyond! I agree, see the shorter version first. You'll be drawn to watch it a 5 stars
1/16/00 perverted pixie Kinky and bonker's! Oddball music. What a gem! 5 stars
11/22/99 strike Its entertaning and the ending is very creepy. 4 stars
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  01-Jun-1975 (R)
  DVD: 22-Aug-2006

  01-Dec-1973 (15)

  N/A (M)

Directed by
  Robin Hardy

Written by
  Anthony Shaffer

  Edward Woodward
  Christopher Lee
  Britt Ekland
  Diane Cilento
  Ingrid Pitt

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