By James Barraford
“The Wicker Man” – streaming now on Netflix – made its debut in 1973 and has remained a cult classic ever since. While some aspects of the film have not aged well, the story carries you away to its shocking finale.
Edward Woodward stars as Sgt. Neil Howie. He is investigating the disappearance of a young girl named Rowan Morrison.
Howie slowly discovers that the citizens of Summerisle are deeply entrenched in Celtic Paganism. Howie ends up suspecting the girl is to be sacrificed for the Mayday Celebration.
If you are a fan of the horror genre and have never seen it, I highly recommend it. “The Wicker Man” is a slow burn that brings you further and further down the rabbit hole.
The film co-stars prolific actor Christopher Lee as the charming but mysterious Lord Summerisle. Britt Ecklund plays the role of Willow MacGregor, the housekeeper’s daughter.
Woodward does a successful job as the repressed investigator who is mortified at what he sees as moral degradation throughout the village.
Christopher Lee as a performer grounds the film. The character of Summerisle knows much and says little. He is charming and tolerant, yet unsettling. His attitude toward the locals is disturbing.
Britt Ecklund’s performance is satisfactory. She is beautiful, assertive, and manipulative. The only issue is that the Swedish actress was dubbed to sound Scottish.
The dubbed voice does not always align with her lips. While the performance may have in fact been wonderful, the spotty dubbing can take you out of the moment.
The cinematography captures the earthy beauty of Scotland. The lapping waves of the ocean, rocky shores, and lush green pastures conceal a darkness that Howie desperately tries to reveal.
There are moments where the camerawork is sloppy. While they are few and far between, the camera abruptly jerks at moments.
This is the upside of older films. Great storytelling can help you overlook most technical imperfections.
The soundtrack is a bit dated. The Celtic music, which could have been used to great effect, seems more like pop music infused with Celtic influences. When the soundtrack takes on a more traditional tone, it manages to infuse a sense of the celebratory and macabre.
The film’s strong point is in Anthony Shaffer’s screenplay. It becomes something more than just a mystery and acts as commentary on the conflict between Paganism and Christianity.
Howie is horrified to discover a group of people having sex outside the inn he is staying at. The more he bears witness to, the more frantic he becomes trying to control the situation.
MacGregor, in a scene that has not aged well, begins to sing in what looks more like an odd attempt at a music video than a siren luring her prey, disrobes and begins to dance completely naked. She bangs on the wall tempting the frustrated – and engaged – Howie.
Perhaps it worked better at the time – it may have been titillating and mysterious. Now it just looks like some crazy Swedish lady beating her fist on a wall naked and breaking the fourth wall.
The scene following is more effective. We see a frank conversation between MacGregor and Howie showing how different their views on sexuality are. Later, Howie is disturbed to hear a schoolteacher explaining that the Maypole was originally a symbol of phallic worship.
Howie becomes more hostile to the locals. The townspeople gently suggest that he best leave before the Mayday Celebration. They are close to the Earth, and those who do not understand, will only be offended.
This tension between sexual inhibition and exhibition is what makes this film a classic. The clash between civilized repression and bodily impulse haunts history and always will.
Every minute of this film is strange and entertaining, especially the last 10 minutes.
For anyone who has been curious about what lurks beneath the surface of society, this modern folk tale will take you there … safely.
A classic that will get under your skin.