on May 31, 2004
I have just seen this movie end five minutes ago and will proclaim that this is the shortest period of time before I wrote a review of a movie after watching it.
The plot has been reiterated over 100 times, just scroll down and you can find it.
The movie begins as a mystery with a police officer coming to the town and beginning the investigation of a missing girl. As night falls the movie starts to turn into a campy 70s-80s style horror/gore/porno style flick with the weird singing, gratuitous nudity, and dark and haunting imagery of the graveyard. From this point the viewer will assume that they know the direction in which the movie is headed; headed into a vat of gratuitous nudity and possibly some gory scenes. These images subside rather quickly and we are returned to the mystery imagery. We then see children learning about pagan sex symbols and singing songs about rituals and whatever else. The mystery begins to unfold with an empty desk in the middle of a class in a town with a total of a few hundred residents.
Officer Howie begins to discover more clues and a web of mendacity and conspiracy in the strange town. Soon he is lead down the path to the true nature of the town. I will not divulge the ending to those that have not yet seen it but it is rather dramatic.
The movie's imagery is thoroughly interesting and even if you are not captivated by the exhilerating plot you are sure to be impressed by the interesting surroundings and some of the outright bizarre rituals. Though it may seem that the plot moves a little slowly, everything has relevance to the story.
The movie I beleive is wrongly referred to as a horror movie as there is not a single scene where you will jump up out of your seat, there are however some rather dramatic and powerful images that might disturb you but none that will genuinely frighten. Furthermore the movie does not create the same mood as a horror film partly because the first time director did not know much about creating mood or atmosphere, however this is all ok as I love unconventional movies.
Furthermore the music in the movie is truly unique and every one of the actors has a powerful voice and the instrumentals are also very good, all played on celtic folk instruments of sorts. The movie has enough music to be called a musical however this is the farthest thing in the world from broadway.
Overall this movie could not be more recommended, and as you can of course see i am not the only person to hold such an opinion about this movie.
on April 15, 2002
There is a well known addage in movies that we all get what we have coming to us. The same can be said of this movie, whether in regards to the protagonist or the viewer his or herself. To begin with, I saw a version of the Wicker Man on video years ago and wouldn't have even given it a star for a rating. The story was chopped up so badly that I felt like the editor had gone to work on me instead. The limited edition presents the theatrical release and the 'European version' of the film. A big note of thanks should go to Anchor Bay for seeing that the story line makes better sense this time-and this goes for both versions.
To get down to it, this is a movie about sex, or the fertility rites of a certain island just west of Britain in the springtime. Edward Woodward does a fine job as a police inspector duty-tied to both his job and his religion. Everyone else, including Christopher Lee seems superflous, however. Oddly enough, this almost seems to work for the movie, which is in effect about unresolved sex and red herrings. Considering the overt sexuality and eroticism of the movie, I found the ending to be a little disturbing. The movie itself can be said to be a metaphor about the dangers of falling down the wrong rabbit hole after you have tried long and hard enough to do so.
Voyeurs be warned, there is no actual love making going on on screen. Yet, this is a very sexy and erotic movie, which I guess serves to make the ending more disturbing. Visually, this film is first class. Shot on location, the outside shots are gorgeous.
Wicker Man is not what you would call the most nailbiting of horror movies. The answer of whether our protagonist gets the ending suited to him will probably be found by asking the question of whether you deserved to sit and watch this film for its eighty some odd minutes. There are many better movies out there that deserved a limited edition release more than this one. The film that comes most to mind is "Vampire Circus", a movie that has consistently been rated highly by critics, and that has been conspicuously left unreleased by Anchor Bay. Hopefully they will come around and give THAT film the release it receives.
The Wicker Man is one of the greatest horror films ever made. Directed brilliantly by Robin Hardy and starring Edward Woodward, this film is one of the finest examples of horror film making as art. The genius of this film is its ability to touch upon a theme that can historically and viscerally hit home to the viewer in its realism. A deeply religious and spiritual film, it challenges the viewer on an existential and moral level that few horror films ever dare to attempt, and if they do dare often veer into camp or nonsense.
A very unusual film, it addresses the nature of religion, faith and the testing of that faith, and the historical reality of religious martyrdom. This film in particular brings to life the ancient confrontation between paganism and Christianity, displaying the sharp contrast between their divergent world views.
This is a film that is also very well made. The story is well developed and thought out, the characters giving the viewer an emotional connection to them, particularly to the policeman played by Edward Woodward in what has to be the finest performance of his film career.
If someone was looking for a classic horror movie to view, this would be the one.
on July 2, 2004
I can't remember the first time I saw this film, but the next day I started a search for a print of it.
Edward Woodward stars as the almost unsympathetic, pious, and determined officer who matches wits with Christopher Lee, in a marvelous role of the smiling, ever-reasonable villianous island cult leader. The entire community seems to be hiding the truth behind the disappearance of a young girl, even to the degree of at first denying her existence. The very conservative Christian representative of the law has walked into the middle of a very Pagan circle; this conflict has to be resolved. Initially, the audience may not be too sure who is playing with whom or why. The climax of the suspense is a twist where the hunter becomes the sacrificial hunted.
Incredibly, the suspense of the plot does not wear off with repeated viewings, thanks to the production values (hats off to all those involved, shooting outdoor spring scenes in November on the coast of Scotland!) and outstanding performances of the cast.
I knew, when I saw it the first time, that the version I had seen of it had been cut down; however, even at the "sliced salami" level, it was an extraordinary experience - and experience is the word. The film puts you right there in the midst of the puzzle. Over the years I found various cuts of the film, eagerly awaiting what might be reconstructed. (The only other film I can recall searching for this diligently is a "more complete" cut of Fritz Lang's "Metropolis.")
This special edition of "The Wicker Man" might well be as good as it gets. Certainly, the inclusion of the backstory of the film ("The Enigma of The Wicker Man") added to both the theatrical and extended versions makes this particular release worth having.
If you haven't seen the film, make the chance. It's not exactly horror, it's not exactly mystery - it's both. And then some. It's one of a kind. It's "The Wicker Man."
on June 24, 2004
Last week I had the chance to sit down and watch this truly excellent movie. The Wicker Man stars Edward Woodward, Christopher Lee and Britt Ekland. I was expecting a sort-of cheap gothic horror film (after all, Christopher Lee is in it) but I got something much better.
Edward Woodward plays a policeman from the Highland Police who has flown to the island of Summerisle to investigate a report of a missing girl. After discovering that just setting foot on the island is an adventure, Woodward is unable to find anyone who knows the girl who is missing. Even the girl's mother doesn't know who she is. A right puzzler. Forced to stay on the island, Woodward takes a room at the local tavern. Amidst the bawdy songs and lively music he begins to realize that the island folk are not quite what he is used to.
As his investigation takes him further along Woodward begins to suspect that the island is populated by sinners. By his definition he is right. The local population reverted back to their old religion during the early Victorian Era. They are now firmly entrenched in their old beliefs. To top it off it just happens to be May Day. Unable to drop the case, Woodward finds traces of the girl. He suspects that she is alive but captive and a soon-to-be sacrifice to restore the harvest. Woodward infiltrates the May Day celebration disguised as Punch. Then, at a crucial moment, he manages to grab the girl and flee. Then he learns the real truth.
From the opening credits showing the Scottish Isles and their sapphire waters and the accompanying Celtic music this movie is anything but a cheap horror film. Woodward plays the epitome of the Christian and the Authoritarian. Armored only with his belief in his god he must face a setting that, to him, is completely evil. Young girls being taught the significance of the maypole, naked women jumping through fire to help fertility, march hares in caskets and dozens of other examples. But it is Woodward who is the strange one. The people look at him as they would a simpleton. But Woodward, knowing that god and country are behind him, manages to keep going right to the conclusion of the film.
This classic confrontation of Christian against Pagan is so well done, framed by modern settings and Celtic music, that I can hardly say how good it is. Woodward's performance rivals his role in Breaker Morant and the young Christopher Lee's talent shows through so clearly that it is obvious why he was cast in so many roles. The story was written by the same man who brought us Hitchcock's Frenzy as well as the mystery Sleuth. If you have not seen this 1973 film, I urge you to do so.
on May 30, 2004
This movie works on so many levels that it more than makes up for being somewhat dated. Don't be put off by the VERY low-budget production values and you'll be able to appreciate one of the few truly original movies of the last hundred years. From the very beginning when the producers thank Lord Summerisle for his cooperation, you are in for something out of the ordinary.
Detective Howie (Edward Woodward) plays an uptight, overly religious, churchgoing Scottish police officer who makes Ken Starr look like Hugh Hefner. He get a letter from Summerisle claiming that a twelve-year-old girl is missing.
Howie flies to the island in a flying boat to investigate and finds that the locals have something to hide. Not only are they not helping him, not only are they having great fun by jerking his chain, they add further insult to injury by practicing VERY old-style pagan religion. This includes copulating in graveyards, bawdy songs, initiations involving nude girls jumping over flames, or boys dancing around a phallic Maypole. When Howie challenges Lord Summerisle (Christopher Lee in his best performance) about having naked girls jumping over bonfires, Summerisle retorts "Of course they're naked! It's too dangerous to jump over the flame with their clothes on." Howie is so exasperated by what he sees (including a woman nursing a baby in one hand and holding an egg with the other on a pew in a ruined church), he smashes an empty crate to make a crucifix out of the scraps of wood in an effort to have some semblance of order.
Howie learns that these pagans aren't just in it for the sex, though. He finds out that the previous year's crops failed and that ancient Celts used to appease their gods by sacrificing virgins to them! Now his search for the missing girl takes on greater urgency...
The character of Detective Howie isn't terribly sympathetic. He is rude, pushy, self-righteous and closed-minded. A fierce bible-believing cop was a bit outdated thirty years ago when this movie came out. He's even more so today. The fact that he's not a sympathetic figure ends up making the viewer feel guilty for not liking him, just as the annoying fat kid does in Lord of the Flies.
Lord Summerisle and his followers at first seem like hippies who make up for their lack of drugs and rock & roll with extra servings of sex. But there's more than fornication going on among the islanders.
The rest of the cast is great, including blonde Britt Ekland's body double for the waist-down shots -even though the double has much longer, brown hair. Another reviewer was right that the guy who picked Ekland's stripper stand-in likes the Jennifer Lopez look!
The innkeeper, the old codgers, the burly fisherman, the missing girl's kid sister, the schoolteacher and county clerk are so perfectly cast, that combined with the low budget and the thanks given to Summerisle for his help in making the film, it almost seems like a documentary.
The ending is truly shocking and will stay with you forever, not just because it's quite possible, even plausible, but because this sort of thing has happened for thousands of years and entire nations have considered it holy.
For a low-budget thriller, this movie will disturb you and make you think about life, death, religion and human nature like few other movies before or since. How many other movies can do that -even the big-budget ones?
on March 19, 2004
The rave reviews are puzzling. At best, this film is one of the great might-have-beens of cinema history. It has a good idea, a good basic story, a decent clash between natural and revealed religion, fertility and self-denial, and at least two competent performances: Woodward and Cilento could have carried the theme. It has occasional flashes of inspiration. The location is good. The wicker man image is uniquely memorable. But it is so uneven it positively bumps; liking riding over giant cobbles on a bike with two punctures. Presumably it's the fault of having a director with no experience, and nil sense of mood or pacing. Britt Ekland is dreadful, and Christopher Lee (tremendous when in type) is totally physically unsuited to his part. I couldn't take my eyes off his frightful wig, aside from which he's about a foot taller than everyone else, has no earthly rhythm at all, and it shows. Perfect for Dracula of course. The extras include an unwatchable interview with an American who seems to have been promised 100 bucks for every time he coughs up another puff. This is the clumsiest promotion of its type I have ever seen. Shaffer is his normal unbearable self; but the featurette explaining some of the difficulties of making the film, and its wierdly occult survival against all odds and everything the suits could throw at it, as well as its growth as a cult, is pretty interesting. Ingrid Pitt has a realistic take on the thing. Like I said, I thought the Shaffer-generated plot was ingenious: in fact I was quite mystified for about 2/3rds of the way. I was well fooled by the weather cover-up, and wouldn't have known May was being filmed in November. The tropical plants were an oddly effective exotic touch. In the hands of a subtle and sensitive director the whole thing could have been as terrific as the fans seem to want it to be. As it is, it's just bits and pieces of an unfinished jigsaw. A Midsummer Night's Nightmare it isn't.
on March 19, 2004
What a film! I first saw it as a young boy, and, without even following it that closely, was horrified. The transformation, as if through time as well as space, of the very human, responsible, modern policeman, to this alien community where virtually nothing can be safely relied upon and the entire community seems to be of one insular and sinister mind, is a powerful one.
Watched it again this week for the first time in almost 30 years, and it still lives up to expectations. This film was MADE for Christopher Lee, while Edward Woodward's performance, as what inexorably becomes a bumbling and hapless character, is superb. Britt Ekland and Diane Cilento are real beauties; the other performances and the thread of the storyline are convincingly gripping, and the filming locations together with the 'otherworldly' music augment the film with its essential, mystic qualities.
As an enthusiast of Celtic music and customs, I accord that most of the pagan references of the film had some source in what is known, or has been researched, of ancient beliefs and practices amongst these people's pre-Christian ancestors. This brings it closer in some ways to the hypothetical scenario of a community sealed off from Christian and other enlightening influences, but somehow not completely cut off from 20th Century customs. The pagan customs and rituals shown are more evocative of what might have been seen in 'pagan revivals' in more southerly parts of the British Isles, in post-Christian times, and at odds with the spirit and outlook of even the most 'insulated' parts of Highland Scotland, where people were amongst the first to embrace Christianity, and are still guided by its values today. Also, the names of people and places, plus the style of the music, are patently not Gaelic, which the Highlands fundamentally are, while the 'Scottishness' of some of the acting is far from authentic!
That said, the film really works, and in many ways it's the bizarreness, almost clumsiness, of these aspects, that make 'Summerisle' so sinister. Compulsive viewing!
on March 16, 2004
Don't watch this movie if you're looking for a horror film.
Don't watch it if you're looking for something very serious.
Don't watch it if you get easily annoyed by camp or non-Christian religions.
DO watch it if you have an interest in things Pagan.
DO watch it if you like campy movies.
DO watch it if you like Christopher Lee.
This movie is not a horror movie. The camp is too much for it to really frighten anyone. It is, however, a delightful film. I won't say that the acting is of high quality except for the cases of Christopher Lee (charming) and Edward Woodward (self-righteous). It's a bad movie, let's be honest. But it is one of those rare bad movies that has a charm all its own, hence its cult status. I've heard people complain that Woodward's character is totally lacking in sympathy. I sort of feel like that's the point. It's ok to empathize with the "bad guys" instead. If you've seen Ian McKellen play Richard III on film, you adore that evil manipulative tyrant. Same thing here. I found myself falling in love with this idyllic little Pagan utopia, where kids are taught about the Maypole's phallic symbolism, men and women make love in the fields, and the guy in charge wears a kilt...except for the small fact that they have this nasty little habit of human sacrifice.
Not everyone will like the movie. In fact, it's sort of a "love it or hate it" flick. If you enjoy a good bad movie and are interested in Paganism, this will be a delight. If you prefer serious films and don't give a fig about the old religion, well, it's probably not for you.
on March 6, 2004
It helps to go into "The Wicker Man" with only the barest plot details: a prim Scottish policeman investigates a girl's disappearance in a remote island community. The film begins with a title card thanking the "Lord Summerisle" for his assistance, so you know this, like "Fargo" and "Blair Witch", is based on real life. After a panoramic look at the islands off the west coast of Scotland, accompanied by Scottish folk music, Sergeant Howie arrives at Summerisle, and is instantly told by about ten grizzled islanders that he's arrived at "private property". For this is an island where those with Biblical names (Rachel and Benjamin) have long since died, and all the adults and children are named after trees: Myrtle, Willow, Ash, Oak, Rowan. Christians like Howie no longer have a place here.
This setup is evocative of dozens of Hammer Horror movies and other British television horror (several "Avengers" and "Doctor Who" episodes spring to mind), all of which begin with the suspicious villagers who clearly have something to hide. So it's a credit to Anthony Shaffer's script that, as Howie's investigation unfolds, his own sense of revulsion soars right past the usual level of "disgusted" and goes all the way to "mortal fear".
The theme of the movie is "hunted leading the hunter". It helps to keep an eye out for all the clues Howie misses along the way (at one point, Christopher Lee wearily asks, "Aren't you supposed to be the detective?"). When Howie finally finds his objective, that's when the real trap unfolds about him. I love the staging of the penultimate sequence high on the cliffs, almost as much as I love the staging of the final scene.
Also of note is that the Wicker Man himself, the title character, is not even alluded to until those final moments. I'm not sure if it helps or hurts that I didn't know what a Wicker Man was until I watched the making-of documentary on the DVD ("The Wicker Man Enigma") after I'd seen the feature itself. Maybe I haven't seen enough British pagan horror. What's undeniable, though, is the effect his appearance has on Howie, and that's where the movie generates its real power.
Look carefully for the DVD's easter egg, what appears to be a 1970's film discussion program from Louisiana. An overweight American in a powder-blue suit gushes his love for the film to studio guests Lee and director Robin Hardy. One of the film sequences played on the program is a scene deleted from the theatrical release, and only restored for the DVD limited edition: Christopher Lee and the amorous snails. The most fun part of this show is when the host enthusiastically compares Hardy to a young American director whose TV-movie debut, "Duel", recently found theatrical success on the Continent. He calls that man "Steven Shpielberg".