Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Wicker Man (1973)

Seen: On dvd on my tv, rented from netflix.

It was hard for me to believe that something as ridiculous and terrible as The Wicker Man remake came out of what many considered to be a top-notch horror film, but nevertheless I had high hopes for the original Wicker Man. Set entirely on a remote Scottish island, the film follows police detective Sergeant Howie (Edward Woodward) as he looks into the disappearance of a young girl. He finds the small island community of Summerisle to be a weird, weird place, where everyone is constantly getting naked for no reason and singing all the time and committing blasphemy or whatever, plus they all lie blatantly about the missing girl. Within a few days Sgt Howie is no further along in his investigation and essentially trapped there, gradually becoming convinced the islanders are planning a human sacrifice as part of their May Day pagan rituals.

This film is pretty bizarre, mostly in how it merges various genre elements into a somewhat mis-matched whole, but for the most part it works as an oddball thriller. It is very much a product of its time, a blatant commentary on the danger of cults when they had a much stronger presence in the mainstream consciousness. It is a dark but almost quaint story today, with Howie's exaggerated morality and blustering religious outrage making him a ridiculous figure, and certainly not a sympathetic one. He's also not a very good detective, never stopping to ponder why a letter was sent to him about a missing girl whose mother denies her existence. What makes The Wicker Man stand out is its memorably strange imagery and nihilistic plotting, and the charismatic performance of Christopher Lee as the devious Lord Summerisle. Also the music, since this is almost a musical and that was just not expected! Folksy tunes and ancient ballads and such.

This is an example of expectations vs reality, a common problem I experience when viewing acclaimed films. This is billed as a horror movie, and I was excited to see yet another highly-recommended horror film I'd missed, but I honestly don't see what makes this horror. It's not just that it's not scary, but it doesn't try to be scary. I viewed it as a straight mystery/thriller with some surreal visuals but no supernatural or slasher or other horror-type elements. I kept expecting something scary or truly horrific to happen and so I was kind of underwhelmed, but maybe I'm just not shocked by an asshole being burned alive by hippie pagans. It didn't bother me. Also I know there are different versions of this movie and I don't think I saw the full cut, it's whatever netflix sent me. Anyway I did like The Wicker Man, but I to sort of had to change how I was watching it when I realized it wasn't what I'd anticipated. It's a wonderfully eccentric film and I loved how unapologetic it was in its weirdness. Howie has no idea what's going on, and I didn't have much of a better idea, but for the most part the movie didn't really care anyway.

4/5

Pair This Movie With: Umm another movie about cults, I guess? I haven't seen too many, but can recommend Martha Marcy May Marlene, The Master, and Suspiria.

4 comments:

  1. I remember watching this movie and thinking it was some sort of creepy musical. Either way, it was miles better than the crappy Nick Cage remake.

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  2. The original cut was supposedly 99-minutes, and it has been lost.

    Harvard recently discovered a 91.5 minute cut in their archives, though, and it'll be screened at the end of December.

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