The Wicker Man Review
What’s it about? Sgt. Neil Howie (Edward Woodward), a practising Christian, is sent to the remote Scottish island of Summerisle to investigate the disappearance of a young girl, Rowan Morrison (Geraldine Cowper). Finding the locals evasive and deceptive, Howie is further disconcerted by their debauched behaviour and archaic religious beliefs. With the head of the island, Lord Summerisle (Christopher Lee), apparently more concerned with the upcoming May Day festival than with Howie’s investigation, the policeman finds himself drawn further into the mysterious ways of Summerisle’s community.
Verdict: Pretty much everything that can be said about Robin Hardy’s The Wicker Man in the 40 years since it initially saw the light of day has been said. It’s a movie whose often tortuous off-screen life has engrossed film lovers as much as the bizarre events that unfold onscreen. Cut to ribbons and relegated to the bottom half of a double bill on its release, and now rightly regarded as one of British horror cinema’s high-points, Hardy’s directorial debut is back with a ‘Final Cut’ in a sumptuous Blu-ray and DVD release to coincide with its 40th anniversary and the BFI’s upcoming Gothic season.
This enduring and enduringly odd film – a horror, thriller, musical, mystery drama – is in many ways an accidental masterpiece; a languidly paced, genre hybrid helmed by a first-timer, shot out of the season it depicts, starring a Hammer stalwart (Lee) keen to break away from that stereotyped association, made at a time when the British film industry was at a low ebb and featuring a soundtrack exclusively made up of folk songs. Broken down into its constituent parts, The Wicker Man shouldn’t work; but it does. It’s both outlandish and resonant, fantastical and metaphorical. It’s a film in which contrasts work to unnerve, to alter reality: the upbeat but sinister islanders, stunning landscapes the backdrop to murderous activity – see also Ben Wheatley’s Sightseers – a contemporary community in thrall to ancient beliefs, the rule of law seen to be powerless, and genteel music the accompaniment to terrifying events.
The Wicker Man inspires devotion among its many admirers, as the Pagan gods do to the residents of Summerisle, and I am among their number. Its sheer strangeness is still as at odds with the mainstream as the archaic deities so intrinsic to its plot. It’s hard to foresee Neil LaBute’s ill-conceived 2006 remake or Hardy’s own recent The Wicker Tree (2011) being written about in four years let alone 40 years, such is their paucity in comparison to this wonderfully unique, intensely British classic.
Extras: Packed full of documentary features and alternate versions, this 3-disc Blu-ray/4-disc DVD package is beautifully presented and pretty much the final word on Hardy’s film. Everything you could wish to know about the film is here.
Final Words: There’s no conceivable reason why anyone with a genuine interest in cinema hasn’t sat down and watched The Wicker Man, but if you haven’t seen it then this release is the one to get your hands on. However many times I watch it, that ending is still deeply, thrillingly disturbing.
The Wicker Man is out on Blu-ray and DVD on 14 October 2013.