DVD Review: The Wicker Man (1973)


The Wicker Man

Anchor Bay





Police sergeant Neil Howie is equally devout to Christianity and British law, as we see in an early scene in which he orders pro-Jesus graffiti be cleaned off.  He is middle aged and engaged, though he is committed to remaining a virgin until married, much to the delight of his co-workers who mock him behind his back.

Howie is in a constant state of moral outrage, punctuated with moments of deep shame at his occasional lustful thoughts.  Howie describes England as a ‘Christian nation,’ and he is angry that it doesn’t live up to his ideals, that god’s watchful eye has done nothing to curb evil.  As lord Summerisle said, the Christian god ‘blew it.’

Howie comes to Summerisle Island after receiving an anonymous letter concerning a missing girl, Rowan.  What he finds is an island filled with happy, peaceful people.  It’s the quintessential British small town with a pub in the middle.  Everyone knows everyone else, and they sing and play together.  And yet, Howie is outraged; the people are not Christian and their morals concerning sex are considerably looser than his (the lawn outside the pub is littered with couples, and young men are presented to the innkeeper’s  daughter, Willow, for ‘initiation’).

There’s nothing objectively bad about the people of Summerisle (unless you count their attempts to hinder Howie’s investigation).  They’re only ‘bad’ when judged by their adherence to Christian dogma; judged by their own code of morality, they’re perfectly good.  Howie isn’t mad because of what they are, but because of what they aren’t.  All Howie’s religion has given him is anger.  The people of Summerisle, as bizarre as they may be, are content.

It begs the question, why is life so hard for Howie?  Is he the only sane man in an insane world, or is he struggle against the tide of the true path to happiness, thus making himself miserable for no reason.

Of course, the people of Summerisle practice the occasional human sacrifice, so they aren’t all that peaceful.  But again, we have to compare it to the alternatives.  As we see in the film’s opening, Howie’s so-called Christian nation is filled with violence, sadness, and moral decay (at least by Howie’s standards), and people die by the tens of thousands every year in the name of some mainstream religion or another.  By contrast, the pagans live happy lives of peace and free love, and only have to kill one person every few years.  All religions being equal and arbitrary, the pagan one seems like the better deal.

The Wicker Man has the look and feel of a Hammer Horror movie.  It isn’t a period piece, but taking place in a rural town, it might as well be.  That said, it is considerably more nuanced and complex than the average factory produced Hammer Horror film.

Hammer regulars Christopher Lee and Ingrid Pitt star, as do TV actor Edward Woodward (what where his parents thinking) and Swedish Bond Girl, Britt Ekland, who performs the nude wall slapping dance this film is famous for, even though some of it was done by a body double.  The acting is great; the townspeople are creepily happy, and Woodward exudes self-righteousness throughout the entire film.

The Wicker Man has long been considered one of the greatest horror films of all time.  I’m not sure I’d call it a horror movie, myself.  There are horrific elements, but it’s mostly a mystery.  It is, never-the-less, a great film, offering a what-if view of modern society with a different dominant religion.