Title: The Wicker Man
Genre: Horror, Mystery, Thriller
Director: Robin Hardy
Writer: Anthony Shaffer
Music: Paul Giovanni
Cinematography: Harry Waxman
British film director Robin Hardy, who passed away this year at the age of 86, only made three movies during his lifetime, and his debut feature THE WICKER MAN, now has undergone a long way to become a religious horror cult after its initial cold shoulder from critics and audience upon its release in its home turf.
In the brief preface before the opening credits, Sergeant Howie (Woodward) is seen as a devout Christian, which underpins his martyr-status like Jesus in the Eucharist. Shortly after, the film relocates entirely on an Scottish island, Summerisle, where Howie comes to tackle with the case of a missing young girl, only gets increasingly miffed and discombobulated through the investigation where Celtic paganism is blatantly worshipped by its villagers, what’s more horrific is that his advent is completely premeditated with a hidden agenda, and there is absolutely no way for him to leave this insular place.
Far from being a conventional jump-scare horror fare, a salient feature of THE WICKER MAN is its mysterious set-up towards the final money-shot, which is constituted of a magnanimous supply of ethereal folk songs, often in diegetic forms, imbues a distinctly ritualistic otherworldliness, where symptoms of degeneration and heresy suffuse the film: the flagrant lies, the open-air lovemaking (with women uniformly stay on top), the eroticized close-up of a snail as an emblem of carnal consummation, the unorthodox teaching school children about phallic worship, a frog-swallowing medical treatment, a wriggling nude dance of telepathic seduction, the May Day celebration with animal costumes, masquerades and escapades. To a modern viewer who takes a more clement slant on religious persuasion, these sequences are mind-opening, palatably surreal, anything but threatening if they are not benighted enough to believe in human sacrifice. However, that is the road where this lucid story heads, the collision course between Christianity and paganism is inexorable, Hardy and screenwriter Anthony Shaffer pull no punches to leave its audience downright astonished, refuse to tamper the ending with a deus ex machina. So that is all she writes, a cunningly composed tale of religion foolery to an appalling effect.
Certainly Sgt. Howie doesn’t deserve this denouement, but surprisingly, there is less pathos out of it, since Woodward’s stern and self-righteous performance doesn’t make him a sympathetic hero, he is obstinately blunt and incredulously naive, could he have been more tactful and less religion-frenetic, at least, he would have find some ally among the folks, perhaps someone who hasn’t been completely brainwashed by Lord Summerisle (Lee), thus it would turn out to be another story less confrontational. Overall, the cast is adequately one-dimensional, save the almighty Christopher Lee, who is visibly relishing in his suave and eloquent mastermind persona, a true form of evil but a charismatic villain who can compellingly entrance his adherents.
With the iconic “wicker man” image immutably leaving an indelible fingerprint on audience’s mind, Robin Hardy’s one-hit-wonder promisingly retains its inimitable appeal by coalescing the horror genre with such inherently incongruous epithets as gaily, lilting and a hero’s undoing.