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Saturday, October 20, 2012

Day 294: The Wicker Man

The Wicker Man
From the makers of The Chia Pet

I never understood the saying “You need some of that old-time religion.” What exactly does that mean? If the speaker is referencing Jesus or Christianity, then they're way off. If you want to talk about “old-time religion” you better be referencing the god of the harvest a while wearing goat leggings and singing a jig in a long-dead language. The term pagan is thrown around a lot nowadays in reference to many different things, but it's important to remember that there are people still to this day that actually practice the “old-time religion”.

The Wicker Man is a 1973 British horror film starring Edward Woodward as Sergeant Neil Howie (Hot Fuzz, King David) and Christopher Lee (Lord Of The Rings, Dracula) as Lord Summerisle. Sergeant Howie receives an anonymous letter requesting his assistance in the case of a missing girl on the tiny isle of Summerisle. Howie must travel by small plane to get to the island and can only get to shore by rowboat. He begins asking the town people about the girl he is searching for, Rowan Morrison, but the all claim to never have heard of her. The people of the island have a strange way about them and it makes Howie, a devout Christian, incredibly uncomfortable. The sing songs about the harvest, have sex in open fields, discuss the importance of the phallic nature of the maypole, and use old forms of medicine. Howie stays at a local inn while continuing his investigation and notices photographs from the island's yearly harvest. Last year's photo is missing and he is told that someone accidentally broke it. At night, Howie is tempted by the innkeeper's daughter Willow (Britt Ekland, The Man With The Golden Gun, Satan's Mistress), but he refuses, explaining that he is a virgin and doesn't believe in sex before marriage. He travels to the school, where he discovers more evidence that Rowan Morrison did, in fact, live on the island. Howie speaks with the leader of the island, Lord Summerisle, about his investigation. Summerisle tells Howie of the islands history, explaining that his grandfather came to the island and developed a new strain of fruit that he believed could thrive in their climate. He instilled in the population the idea that if they prayed to the old gods, that the crops would grow and they would thrive. With the old ways also came sacrifices to the gods to ensure good crops. Howie discovers Rowan's grave and unearths her coffin only to discover a dead rabbit inside. He also finds that Rowan is in the missing picture of last year's harvest, standing amongst a poor crop. He believes that she will be sacrificed on May Day, which is tomorrow. Will Sergeant Howie be able to save her and is everything on Summerisle as it appears to be?

"As you can see, the Wicker Man is quite roomy and has a lovely view."

Ignore everything you heard about the horrendous remake of The Wicker Man that came out a few years ago starring Nicholas Cage. That movie is an abomination. Thankfully, the original Wicker Man is highly enjoyable thanks to it's great acting, solid writing, and fun mystery. The movie doesn't start out suspenseful, allowing the fear and anxiety to grow over time. Some movies are all suspense all the time and it wears out the audience. The Wicker Man takes it's time while still having an appropriate pace and surprises the audience without resorting to quick “jump at you” moments or gory violence. The audience gets sucked into the mystery of Rowan Morrison and follows along with Sergeant Howie as he traverses this strange island. The story is really, really good, never tipping it's hand until the final act when the movie truly becomes horror. The scene where Howie finally “meets” the wicker man is both terrifying and deflating as we know his fate.

While the story is very good, it's the acting in the movie that really makes it great. Edward Woodward represents the Christian world and, to a lesser extent, the audience. He epitomizes the term “stiff upper lip” trying to keep his composure in a a land full of strange customs and acts. Christopher Lee is equally great Lord Summerisle. While he and the rest of the people are technically the villagers, the conduct themselves with a smile, something that most horror movies do not do. This makes the movie very unnerving the horror that much scarier. They are true believers, committing acts that others would deem barbaric all in the hopes of having a good life. Throughout the movie, we hear various pagan songs from the people and admittedly they are very catchy. Christopher Lee is actually a classically-trained singer and his iconic voice sounds great in the movie. He actually released a symphonic metal metal album and a heavy metal album a few years back. It's not bad, but you have to watch this ridiculous music video:


The Wicker Man is occult horror without the flaming pentagrams and shouts to the devil. The movie doesn't require blood and gore or jump at you moments in order to be scary. The story has a great mixture of mystery and suspense that keeps the audience wanting to see more. The ending is fantastic and comes as quite a shock to the system without having to relying on a major twist. The acting is great with Christopher Lee and Edward Woodward putting in fantastic performances. The movie does bring up the power of religion and beliefs, but you can interpret that in however way you like. Wicker Man is a classic for a reason, but be sure to skip the remake. A “spiritual” sequel was released in 2011 and there is work on a third film entitled The Wrath Of The Gods. If you're thinking of checking those out, be sure to start with the original.


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