The Wicker Man
The Wicker Man is widely regarded as one of the best horror films
ever made, and is regularly trotted out in the top 10 of every poncey
film critic's list of influential movies. Not bad for a bloodless musical
thriller-cum-travelogue through the Western Isles which was disowned by
its makers on release.
But I come here to praise The Wicker Man, not to bury it. Although
frankly I could do without the introduction: "The producer would
like to thank the Lord Summerisle and the people of his island off the
West Coast of Scotland for this privileged insight into their religious
practices and for their generous co-operation in the making of this film."
No wonder it bombed when it opened.
We start (as if you didn't know) with a plane making its way over the
sea to Summerisle, with some nice music playing. Unfortunately, the nice
music doesn't last long. Corn rigs and barley rigs my arse. The
plane is piloted by policeman Sgt Howie (Edward Woodward), who immediately
falls out with the locals when they refuse to send a dinghy out to pick
When he finally makes it onto land, he starts his quest for a missing
girl, Rowan Morrison. But no-one's heard of her - not even her supposed
That evening he walks into the local pub, where, in the best tradition
of Hammer horror, everything goes silent. However, it doesn't take long
for the lusty locals to break into a chorus of "The Landlord's
Daughter" on the entrance of Britt Ekland (Willow, the landlord's
daughter). Would it have been the same, we ask, if The Village Paedophile
had walked in?
After a "disgusting" meal, Officer Howie makes his way back
outside, where he finds lots of couples shagging in the open air - not
to mention someone watering a grave and a naked woman crying on a gravestone.
Back in the pub, he goes to bed and Britt starts her naked wall-banging
shenanigans, making Howie go all sweaty - but he steadfastly refuses to
relent to her off-key singing and body arse double.
"I thought you were gonna come and see me last night," says
Willow, the next morning. "I invited you."
But Howie explains he doesn't believe in "it" before marriage.
After finding out that paganism is taught at the local school ("everywhere
I go on this island I see there's degeneracy"), Howie finds that
Rowan's name IS in the register: "You're liars - you are despicable
But what he doesn't realise is that he has seen himself trapped inside
one of the school desks - in the form of a beetle attached by a piece
of string to a pin. "Little old beetle goes round and round,"
says a girl. "Poor old thing."
Back at the sweet shop, Mrs Morrison asks him: "Can I help you, Sergeant?"
"Oh I doubt it," he replies: "Seeing as you're all raving
What is remarkable is that so far, very little has happened, yet the film
is over half way through. We've also not seen Christopher Lee's character
of Lord Summerisle, a part which Lee ranks as one of his best, and which
was apparently written specially for him.
Finally, Howie travels to see Summerisle (past phallic hedges and naked
virgins dancing around fires - the look on Woodward's face is priceless).
"I trust the sight of the young people refreshes you?" asks
Summerisle. "They are naked." replies Howie.
"Naturally, it's much too dangerous to jump through fires with your
clothes on." (Fair point)
In his discussions with the Lord, it's Howie who comes across as the zealot.
On God, Summerisle explains: "He had his chance - and, in modern
parlance - he blew it."
After discovering that Rowan's grave is empty (another Hammerish scene
- a night time exhumation) and that this year's harvest failed, Howie
leaps to the conclusion that the islanders plans to sacrifice the young
girl in order to appease their gods. After reading up on the May Day celebrations
(and getting all the clues as to what's actually going on, but not realising
it), Howie rushes towards his appointment.
Right up until the last few minutes, the Wicker Man isn't brilliant -
it's a bit cringemaking with its awful songs and Prisoner-like
imagery, and everything is a bit jokey. It's only when Rowan finally appears
that the everything falls into place. And it doesn't matter how many times
you see it, or whether you know exactly what to expect (and everyone does)
- the look on Howie's face when he realises what the smiling, dancing
islanders have in store for him and his useless screams for mercy and
absolution are truly terrifying - and something which stay with you long
after the Wicker Man has bowed his head to the setting sun.