Director: Robin Hardy
Based on: The Ritual by David Pinner
Starring: Edward Woodward, Christopher Lee, Britt Ekland, Ingrid Pitt, Diane Cilento .UK. 1h 27m
In the past decade Horror Folklore as a genre has raised its curious demonic fiery head. This new dawning, pioneered by new cult directors such as Ben Wheatley, Ari Aster, Gavin Liam and Roger Eggers to name a few haven’t been able to make a movie without it being likened to the pioneering game changer, Robin Hardy’s slow-burning chiller The Wicker Man.
Looking back at it’s small budget and menial takings at the cinema, numerous cuts and actors paying for critics seats, it’s rise to cult status wasn’t a simple one but what it achieved was truly unique, not even it’s remake was able to mimic it’s true sense of dread and horror.
Opening with Sergeant Howie singing in church with his beloved, it feels as if he heads straight from church service to a sleepy small Scottish island to investigate a case of a missing girl named Rowan, but upon arriving on Summerisle he’s confronted with a liberal society of townsfolk who claim the girl never existed. The righteous police officers investigation is often fueled with anger and disgust as his witnesses strange pagan practices at every turn, and this soon takes a toll on the pious man and he’s begins to doubt the anonymous letter which brought him to Summerisle in the first instance, lashing out at what he sees as pointless and barbaric acts, naked girls singing and dancing over fires, frogs being put in the mouth to take away a sore throat and children dancing around a may pole and singing about sex and reproduction is too much for the man of god.
It is time to keep your appointment with the Wicker Man.
So little happens in the first half of the movie, that you begin to question if anything horrific is going to come about, but the slow pace is deliberate, it’s simply Hardy’s way to stoke the fires, build tension and suspicion, it’s evident that the audience is also on a journey of discovery. The interactions between Howie and the town are numerous, he’s quite brutish, demanding and threatening, but they all are obviously playing the same game, they are all gas lighting him in some way, pretending not to know, flaunting their beliefs and tolerating him, but why? there’s a scene in a school room where Howie thinks he’s found Rowans desk, the girl that apparently doesn’t exist, but all that’s inside is a beetle tied to a string and pinned to the wood, it walks around forever in a circle in the same direction until it’s trapped, it’s a great analogy for Howie and I think it’s the first spark that he realises what’s going on but his confidence is that he’s better than these poor pagans fuels him on.
In terms of all the horror movies that came before this including a close cousin, The Blood On Satans Claw (1971) there’s clear connection to the story being based on something that we are familiar with, Vampires, Witches, Psychos, Godzilla and even The Devil himself, there’s something for the audience to recognise but that’s mostly void on Summerisle, and yet so much was familiar. The old symbolism and old wives tales we heard as children all get played out in the streets and forests in the green isle. I was surprised how many people didn’t know what the may pole represented even though they played with one as a child.
The reveal of all of this heathenry in broad daylight is definitely a shocker, it’s lead a lot of people to look into the customs and stories around them, it was a eyeopener and shocker, there’s something genuinely frightening about the juxtaposition of the haunting lullabies and occult imagery. The contrast of religions and intolerance is possibly more frightening, but will all the questions it raises, there’s something so familiar about the Wicker Man, possibly a reason why, after all the struggles to get the movie out paid off as it still lives on as an eternal cult classic which rings in a new generation of fans and accolades with every generation.