The Wicker Man (1973): “You’ll simply never understand the true nature of sacrifice.”

wicker_man_posterRobin Hardy’s supernatural horror The Wicker Man (1973) focuses on a mysterious society that has preserved its original, ancient ways of life and religious traditions into the 20th century. Police Sergeant Neil Howie (Edward Woodward) travels to the mysterious, remote Summerisle in order to investigate the disappearance of a young girl; a disappearance which the locals dispute. As a devout Christian, Sergeant Howie’s views clash with those of Summerisle’s inhabitants, and he must navigate those differences carefully in order to get to know the townsfolk and search for the missing young girl.

Edward Woodward (best name ever) stars as Sergeant Howie, the devout and committed Christian policeman who is consistently shocked by the traditions of Summerisle. This film is a very interesting examination of how one person with strict religious views reacts to consistently shocking information – in Sergeant Howie’s case, retreating into his faith, having increasingly indignant reactions to things that he finds morally reprehensible. Woodward plays this role with convincing anger and frustration. The beautiful Britt Ekland plays the seductive Willow, whose iconic, erotic dance is probably one of the most-paused VHS moments in horror cinema. Although her acting is not the best, she certainly fits the bill as the seductress role. The highlight of this film’s performances, however, is Christopher Lee, who plays the commanding Lord Summerisle in a way that is subtly creepy rather than overtly villainous. His gentlemanly, charismatic appearance is the perfect mask for some potentially unsavoury practices.

It’s funny that this film paradoxically earns a lot of fame as a result of its extremely poor remake of the same name, which was released in 2006. There are no hilarious Nicolas Cage-style “not the bees!!!” moments in this film, and no bears punching anyone. Moments of suspense are built up in much classier ways than that. The pervasiveness of fertility and pagan symbolism increases as the plot moves forward, which builds a sense of momentum towards an inevitably disturbing conclusion.

When I think of The Wicker Man, what sticks most in my memory is the way the suspense is built visually. During the first two thirds of the film, Sergeant Howie’s search for the missing girl becomes more and more compelling due to the increasing mix between the crime elements of the story, and the more mysterious, pagan elements. The viewer is treated to occasional reminders of pagan activities and symbolism, eventually building up to the amazing, animalistic festival that occurs at the end. By being consistently fed information about the religious practices of Summerisle, our expectations are simultaneously set up for a shocking conclusion, and also blown away by it.

Here are some of my favourite shots from the film, mixed up somewhat to obscure the storyline. There are some spoilers in these pictures though. In alignment with the film’s pagan themes, watch out for nudity!

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3.5/5
Watch the trailer here.

All screencaps sourced from ScreenMusings.org.

Watch this film at Amazon!

21 comments

  1. I’ve never seen it. Cool review and pictures though.

    1. You have to see it! It’s so much better than the remake.

  2. Great review, Anna! This is a very creepy film indeed. It gets under your skin instead of using jump scares or any other cheap tricks. Maybe it’s because I’m “religious”, but it really worked for me. And I never noticed that he had such a great name ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. Thanks! ๐Ÿ™‚ That’s my favourite thing about this film – the creepiness sneaks up on you so much over its duration that by the time everyone’s donning animal masks and dancing around it’s completely scary. I’m not religious at all and it still creeped me out!

  3. I’ve never seen it, but great review. And those stills are gorgeous. Looks like a remarkably well shot film.

    1. Thanks! ๐Ÿ™‚ You definitely have to see it, it’s a classic!

  4. I’ve only seen the lame ass remake. Shame on me.

    What do you call a man with three planks on his head…Edward Woodward (Ed WOOD WOOD WOOD) Geddit?!

    1. Haha! Now that’s a dad joke if ever I’ve heard one. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  5. Howdy there, great review yo. Oh my god, I remember this film well. I saw it in college about 4 or 5 years ago and it was one of the creepiest and most disturbing films I have witnessed. The island’s inhabitants are so weird and disturbed, whether it be their dialogue or crazy activities, all of it is weird and in that photo montague you have pretty much every key moment in the film that is worth talking about. For me the main thing I remember is that bloody song “Maypole”, that is one of the strangest songs lyrically and the fact that it is suck by children is even weirder. But it is kind of addictive and I have never got it out of my head since. XD

    1. Thanks! What creeps me out the most is the manipulation and conviction of the island’s inhabitants. It’s so weird how that song sneaks up on you, right? I had a moment at work the other day where it popped in my head out of nowhere. Strangely disturbing.

  6. Excellent review, I like how it mixes chilling horror, erotocism and spine tingling music. Especially in the case of Willow’s Song.

    1. Thank you, I totally agree! The film is a masterclass in how to effectively spine-tingle your audience.

  7. Good review. I saw it many years ago and found it more interesting than horrifying. If I were on that island as the copper, I would have forgotten the investigation the moment Britt Ekland started her dance…

    1. Thanks! You’re not alone there!

  8. right, I was wondering why this movie sounded familiar! I read a merciless review of the Nicholas Cage version. Seems like the original movie is very interesting, though! I like unusual horror, so perhaps I would enjoy this.

    1. The Cage version is so bad it’s actually funny. But the original is great! Definitely worth a watch for something outside the norm.

  9. Never seen this one before, but your review and all the pics definitely have me interested. Nice job, lady! I will, however, continue to stay away from the Cage version. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    1. Thanks Cara! Definitely pop this one on the list and avoid the Cage version at all costs! Unless it’s a drinking game film, in which case, prepare your liver.

      1. HA! Noted. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  10. […] is the wicker man so disturbing Firstly, I agree thatย The Wicker Manย (1973) is pretty disturbing. It’s all in the way the story unfolds – a cultish group […]

  11. […] attempts to seduce Sergeant Howie (Edward Woodward – best name ever) through a door in The Wicker Man (1973). It’s quite a beautiful song and I suppose the symbolism comes from the song’s […]

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