(Release Date: June 1975 [USA... Long Story])
The Police receive a letter from an Island off the coast of Scotland known as Summerisle (Hey, Summerisle of Horror!!! Summer of Horror Isle??? Nevermind!) requesting help in the location of child who has been missing for months. So who does the Scottish Police send to investigate the disappearance of Rowan Morrison (Geraldine Cowper)? Why, THE EQUALIZER of course! Edward Woodward himself portrays Sergeant Howie, one good cop who travels to Summerisle solo to find the child or fry trying. What he finds instead is a townspeople who are about three hundred times less cooperative as old Ollie North in front of Congress.
Howie is baffled. Not only does he not immediately find the child, but it starts to appear that she never existed in the first place. Her classmates claim not to remember her, none of the townspeople seem to recall her either, and even the child's mother claims that she hasn't any daughter named Rowan. In fact, evidence exists that the only "Rowan" on the island is a march hair... oh, I mean, March Hare! Yet the records are there, even as the town's Librarian (Ingrid Pitt) attempts to block his access to them.
At first, the town is strange by day... and completely unsettling by night. The devout Christian Howie soon stumbles across such sights as beach side Orgies and young naked women mourning on top of graves. Strangest of all, the beautiful Innkeeper's daughter Willow (the incredibly hot Britt Ekland) offers up a strange and erotic come-hither song and dance while she's COMPLETELY NAKED!!! It's one of the most purely erotic things I've ever seen.
But things start to get stranger as Howie begins to literally unearth the mystery. For all its clarity, the middle act might as well be Rowan Morrison's Laugh In! Oh, there's a grave there, all right, but it's hardly the clue Howie wants. Howie's main lead, and main obstructionist, is the village leader, Lord Summerisle himself. As played by Christopher Lee, Lord Summerisle is a wild haired nobleman of the oldest sort, whose family dates back to the Ancient Days of Scotland, when the "old gods" were still worshipped. His family... still worships those old gods, as does the entire island, as Howie soon finds out to his shock and dismay. Piece by piece, Howie discovers a strange, ancient religion, diametrically opposed to his own that evokes memories of the Ancient Druids and Keltic Pagan rituals. Is Rowan deceased after all, or is something much more sinister transpiring. Might Rowan be a sacrifice in the next deity-appeasin' ritual? And just who, or what, is this title Wicker Man?
One thing is for damned sure... it's going to get a whole lot weirder before things get any clearer.
Anthony Shaffer, writer of Frenzy, penned this incredible film, and packed in a remarkable amount of research into the screenplay. His vision is extraordinary and it seems to be complimented beautifully by the direction of Robin Hardy! One of the more striking things about The Wicker Man is the fact that almost all the frightening aspects of this film (and they are everywhere) take place in broad, natural daylight! The one memorable night time scene is hardly scary! Seriously, is there anything scary about Britt Ekland in the nude? Ever since I saw her in The Man with the Golden Gun (playing, interestingly enough, opposite Christopher Lee) I've been wanting to see her without that Bikini! Let me tell you, it was worth the wait. I could write a number of pages on each inch of her, but whose got the time. (Actually, I'll make the time, but let me finish this first). I'm only sad to learn that a body double played her from the waist down (not that there's anything to complain about there, either, BEEP BEEP, ZIP ZANG!) Anyway, the use of daylight removes a great many of the horror conceits we've come to expect in most films of this genre (assuming The Wicker Man has just one). This forces Shaffer and Hardy to rely on the roiling terror that we know is just underneath everything that Howie investigates, and never the startles that work as well as someone shouting BOO!
Another strange thing is the use of music here. As in Silent Running, a folk score is utilized instead of your typical, vastly orchestrated soundtrack. Gary Carpenter's direction of Paul Giovanni's Bard-Like ballads evokes the proper audio themes of ancient British religions, but also offers up a very strange inversion of horror as so much of it sounds so peaceful and childishly playful. It's especially disconcerting when the occasional character breaks into song, sometimes looking right into the camera!
Sound strange? It is. Oh, man, is this ever a weird movie. Even stranger is the fact that this all manages to work, remarkably well! It seems that British Lion Film Corporation had the right combination of people, clicking together at the right time to make such a great film. This is a great mystery with an incredibly surprising and disturbing ending (that somehow still manages a sprinkling of hope). It also has quite a lot of nudity, and not just Britt. Man, we're talking about some SERIOUS gosh darned nudity here. And I'm really not offended by it.
The combination of all this is strangest of all, considering the acting. Each and every character seems to be as milquetoast as Mr. Rogers on the surface, even when gleefully describing some most horrifying actions (and partaking in them). This is simply their religion, and they take it as seriously as any old churchgoer might. The performances are all around brilliant, to tell you the truth. Ekland is a great innocent menace! Christopher Lee (even in drag, wearing his black Chuck Taylors) dances about on that great razor's edge between deep, psychotic evil and friendly neighbor and State Farm agent... and he morphs back and forth at the flip of an invisible switch. Woodward is simply wonderful here as Howie. He's a no nonsense (and no doughnut) cop who is purely good (and amicably so) but never comes off as a paper thin, stock character! His volley with Lee is mesmerizing and terrifying. And he shows his fear wonderfully. You believe Woodward at every turn.
And you believe The Wickerman. It's not afraid to be funny, even at its most mysterious. This adds to the surreal and uncomfortable, broad daylight terror of The Wicker Man. Cheers to all involved. Cheers and Four and One Half Stars out of Five! Remake or no remake, there may never be another film quite like this one, especially considering the budget and the difficulty that was faced in the making and distribution of this film. This springtime-set film was actually filmed on a Scottish Island in October. Imagine running around naked in that. And after all that hard work, it still was almost impossible to get The Wicker Man distributed! Ironically, the lack of executive interest, coupled with the belief the cast and crew had in this film led directly to the rabid cult that now surrounds it. Where did that Cult Start, you may ask? Baton Rouge, Louisiana, according to the film makers. Right there at my Alma Mater, LSU. Of course... I was less than a year old at the time, so... Anyway. The Wicker Man... if you think you can handle it (it's at its weirdest in the final, shocking act), see it! See it now! Just know this, it may disturb you. It will most certainly titillate you, especially Britt's Bits! See you in the next reel, Miss Goodnight! You've officially earned your name... again!
Is Brother Kneumsi merely
an Effigy to be Defaced,
To Be Disgraced,
When your Need for me has been Replaced?
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