It is a rare and beautiful thing when everything that is wrong with a movie is everything you love about it. It usually happens with bad films but Robin Hardy’s The Wicker Man is made great by all of its problems. Last year, to celebrate the 40th anniversary of this British horror staple, I attended a cinema screening of the director’s cut of the movie. It featured three or four scenes I had never seen before, made obvious by their poor aesthetic quality in comparison to the rest of the film. These scenes were kept our for a reason; they were self indulgent and verged on bonkers. This is truly saying something, considering that the majority of The Wicker Man is bonkers. It’s a mad horror film that descends into chaos as it progresses. The genius of the film lies in its location. The film begins with Sergeant Howie arriving on Summerisle. We only briefly see outside of Summerisle, adding to the film’s claustrophobic nature. The film all takes place on one bizarre island where nobody can be trusted and no stories ever seem to correlate. Revolving around a missing person investigation, The Wicker Man is simplistic enough which makes room for all the insanity its characters bring to the plot.
Edward Woodward brings a ferocity to Sergeant Howie – a man of strong Christian morals. His dedication to his faith is both admirable and ignorant. He is quickly frustrated by the paganism he glimpses in the traditions and behaviour of the Summerisle residents. Despite his cultural isolation from all those around him he never becomes intimidated. We don’t always agree with Howie and his very strict and no-nonsense attitude to both the investigation and religion, but his ambition and honourable intention to find a missing child makes us quickly warm to such a frosty natured man. Christopher Lee gives one his greatest performances as Lord Summerisle, the island’s leader and absolute opposite of Howie. Lee’s character is breezy, friendly and mysterious, we don’t trust him but he is instantly likeable in comparison to Howie. The film’s haunting score is undoubtedly one of its most memorable qualities. Awash with a folk sound that is so archetypally British, The Wicker Man sounds as iconic as it looks. The film’s aesthetic and audio blend together to make a patchwork-like film, made of numerous striking elements that fit together awkwardly but that together create a final product held together with love and creativity. The Wicker Man splits its viewers, with audiences seeming to either love or despise it. This is an all or nothing type of horror film – controversial, hypnotic and perfectly eccentric from start to finish.
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