7. The Wicker Man: Nobody is Coming
Yes I am going to be talking about the original film. Obviously there is a lot to say about the remake and in all honesty I wouldn’t NOT recommend it. Sure you could watch Citizen Kane or Birth of a Nation or Lawrence of Arabia this weekend, but if you want to bend your mind in a way you never knew it could break, settle yourself down in front of this magnificent train wreck:
Why would shark be his first guess?
Someone answer me! I feel so alone!
But let us return now to the 1970’s Wicker Man which is an oddball in its own right. Is it a B movie? A Scottish musical? An X rated horror starring the ever insane Christopher Lee? Why it is all that and more my friends!
This was a hard film to put out there and it has been torn apart and put back together more times than (looks up easy target list) Cher. It tells the story of a police officer named Howie who journeys to a Scottish island to investigate the disappearance of a young girl. Along the way he is disgusted by the openly sexual behaviour of the residents, their disregard for his Christian beliefs and their worship of Pagan Gods hacks him off so much that he leaves a bad Trip Advisor review for their Inn.
‘Crude and offensive. Would not stay again. Jesus FTW’
Ok, what he actually does is challenge their bullshit in an attempt to uncover the truth about the missing teen. But of course he gets more than he bargained for…
Pictured: Wacky hijinks.
But let’s not pretend this is a regular movie. Lots of characters in films get more than they bargained for…This film is something else: Christopher Lee sings about kettle sex, hand candles, children happily scream the phrase phallic symbol, Swedish sex symbol Brit Ekland is dubbed in three different ways making her appearance in this film nearly pointless (her speaking voice, singing voice and body are all done by a double. Not the same one neither.) and in the unedited version a pub full of people sing a song in reverence of a young lad losing his virginity. Admit it. You’d love it if while you were getting laid for the first time your whole village was downstairs singing a stunning Celtic ballad about how awesome it is that sex exists.
Mainstream horror often misuses the ‘uptight virgin’ trope within the genre, often forgetting what the point of such a character is. One of these things is not like the other. He is an outsider, an interloper, an alien of sorts, an oddity on an island full of the oddest of balls. It is used to great impact here, such as when Howie is very nearly seduced by Willow, the Landlord’s daughter. You know what they say about her? Don’t worry if you don’t, there are songs about it. In the film. Seriously, it’s a musical. I kinda wish the Nic Cage one had been a musical.
So Willow tries to seduce Howie via song through a wall and it is fantastic to watch. Putting naked gyrating ladies aside (very carefully) it is Howie’s faith being put to the test, that great tug of war between honouring his promises and what he truly wants in that moment. Do most people who deprive themselves of something for spiritual or religious or cultural reasons wish they could indulge in the very thing they despise? Does it contradict those same believes if you desire the forbidden thing as much as if you just gave in? If your thoughts are sinful are you a sinner? If you resist but at great emotional cost is it worth it? In a lesser director this scene could have been forgettable but believe you me it lingers. It is so much more impactful because they never actually touch. The way she bangs on the walls…the look on his face…
The Wicker Man is an eccentric little gem to say the least. The first time I saw it, no joke, I had the flue. You can only IMAGINE how confused I was. At one point, high on cough syrup, I passed out and when I woke up this was happening:
Yes. That is Saruman from Lord of the Rings dancing around in a long wig and a dress. I didn’t know how to process it. I still don’t.
It might seem like a black comedy and in some respects it is. Unlike the Cage remake, a movie which was not in on the joke and seemed to have been made by people who also saw the original while high on cough syrup, The Wicker Man is playing the long game: You can almost forget you are watching a horror. And, if you were distracted by the songs and the pretty colours, the mystery and the silly accents, the naked ladies and the Christopher Lee…The final scene hits you like a ton of bricks.
So it turns out the missing girl was just a red herring and she is neither dead nor the intended sacrifice. I am sure they could have just knocked Howie out when he arrived instead of the whole ‘what missing girl?’ shtick but then who would Willow shake her arse at? So who is the intented victim? Well…They need a King of Fools who upholds the law and who hasn’t had sex…I will give you one guess who they pick-
This is still a fresh joke right? What year is it? How old was that bottle of cough syrup?
Oh the dread that ran through me as I watched them prepare Howie to be their virgin sacrifice. I knew something terrible was coming but was as ill prepared for the moment in question as Howie himself. He is dragged over the hill and sees what is to become of him. It’s…not good guys.
As was inevitable, there is something of a theme emerging from this list where people are helpless and overwhelmed by powerful people who believe that what they are doing is the right thing. I remember when I first watched this I hated watching the way Howie is shut in the wicker man and is unable to fight back. The sight of someone being carried against their will or shut away always gives me the heebie jeebies. But of course, my heebies got way jeepier as the island gang together for one last song, setting fire to the wicker man with Howie inside in order to get better apple crops.
After all these years can you call this a twist? How many of you reading have heard of the film and knew this was the ending without having seen it? Hell the front cover of the poster ruins it a bit. I think the sight of the wicker man is much more effective if you see it for the first time as the unfortunate Sargent does. But the impact of the view FROM the wicker man himself has not dulled over time for me.
Another theme of this list, I struggle watching moments where someone tries to be brave before realising they are doomed. Howie tries to drown out the singing (which frankly he must be sick of by now, these guys never fucking stop) with some hymns and prayers but as the heat intensifies and no help appears on the horizon he begins to scream out damnation in pure terror. It is a great (if hammy) number by Edward Woodward. I really believe the intensity of his suffering and frankly I can hardly stand to witness his demise even now.
(My disturbing moment begins at 4.30)
The first time I watched this, I honestly believed he would be rescued. Watching the wicker man melt into a gooey heap and realising that Howie was part of it, made me feel…I don’t have a word. Horrified? Sick? I was scared. Really scared. Considering this is the same film where naked ladies leap through fire to increase fertility this film really did a number on my psyche.
Watching many years later, I am still a bit shaken up but I can stand to look at it. Quite an achievement. It strikes me now that the way camera cuts back and forth between the swaying islanders and the praying Howie suggests a deliberate parallel. After all, whose believe is more deluded, ill conceived and hurtful to the world at large-The man who hopes for eternal paradise in exchange for his good life and horrific death? Or the devout community who wish for a better harvest?
Oh come on guys I am fucking with you, it is them, the crazy ones, they burned him for fucks sake! Burned him alive!
BURNED HIM ALIVE!
Tomorrow…I hope to do two posts tomorrow to catch up with my schedule a bit. The one I will be looking at first will be the tale of a man and his mother…And my inability to enter my own bedroom for an hour…#6.