The Wicker Man

Release date: June 1975

Director: Robin Hardy

Cast: Edward Woodward, Christopher Lee, Diane Cilento, Britt Ekland, Ingrid Pitt, Lindsay Kemp, Russell Waters, Aubrey Morris and Irene Sunters

A provocative and strange thriller, The Wicker Man leaves behind a lot of memorable images. In the Scottish highlands, communities are stretched thinly and isolated (especially in the Western islands). When Sgt. Neil Howie (Edward Woodward) is given cause to visit remote Summerisle, he has to get their by flight. Notified of the disappearance of a young girl, Rowan Morrison (Geraldine Cowper), by a mysterious letter, Howie will be one of the few outsiders that are allowed to visit this closed society. Thus, it is not unexpected that the Harbor-master (Russell Waters) and his gang deny all knowledge of Rowan, when asked.

Since the missive that brought him to Summerisle came from May Morrison (Irene Sunters), Howie expects a bit more co-operation when he enters her post office. However, she suprises him by denying any knowledge of Rowan and pointing to her only daughter, Myrtle (Jennifer Martin), in the next room. Extremely confused by this turn of events, Howie concludes that everyone is in fact lying to him and that Rowan really is missing (perhaps as a candidate for sacrifice). Even more disturbing to his devout Christian beliefs are the pagan rituals that lay heavy on the island. At the local pub, where he's taken a room, Howie finds the unbridled sexuality and mysticism all far too disturbing.

Unfortunately the night brings no relief, since the landlord's daughter Willow (Britt Ekland) sleeps in the next room and has lusty desires that demand satisfaction. Despite himself, Howie is lured into an act of total depravity (to him), only saved by his religous backbone. Now suprised and suspicious of Summerisle, a land where his god has no power, Howie is able to prove that Rowan exists by storming into the school. The only problem is that the school mistress Miss Rose (Diane Cilento) calmly agrees with him, then tells hime that Rowan is actually dead (and regenerated). It's all too much for poor Howie, burdened with a dilemma which can only be relieved by Lord Sommerisle (Christopher Lee).

Watching The Wicker Man is a very weird and unsettling experience, powerfully evoking the multiple-deity societies which existed in the before the history of mankind. For a "modern" policeman like Howie, it's impossible to penetrate the images of unsaved savages to discern the cohesive strengths of the community. The inhabitants of Summerisle are happy to walk naked through the trees, close to nature and in line with the gods which rule their lives, far removed from Howie's constricted religion. The tone of this society is exceedingly well developed, full of deep erotic undertones and apposite background props. Through this depth, the characters and their story are never less than convincing.

Woodward plays well as the manipulated lawman, with his reactions and thoughts anticipated at every turn. Up against a people who seem dead set to stop him, except for civilised Lee, his mounting frustration is well handled by the brilliant script. Building strongly to a harrowing ending, there are elements and observations in The Wicker Man which deserve deeper thought. The only downsides are the average direction and photography, together with a score which is both over-the-top and just right. The Wicker Man is charged with sensuality, so weird and chilling that it is almost able to creat it's own genre.

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