I don’t understand the seventies. Maybe it’s because I wasn’t born until 1983, and people from the seventies are just as confused by my era’s perms, Madonnas, and slouchy socks as I am by the dry look, disco, and comically oversized pants. Seriously, what were people doing in the seventies, besides smoking joints the size of bratwursts and making movies about witches? I watched The Wicker Man (1973) and it’s pretty much the most seventies-est thing ever committed to film. That doesn’t make it bad, just different.
The movie stars Edward Woodward as Sergeant Howie, a devoutly Christian police inspector investigating the disappearance of Rowan Morrison (Gerry Cowper), a young girl from Summerisle, a remote island off the coast of Scotland.
The islanders claim to have never even heard of Rowan Morrison, despite the fact that Howie received an anonymous letter from someone on the island. Howie, meanwhile, is suspicious of the islanders. The drunken crowd at the inn he’s staying at, The Green Man, don’t allay his suspicions. Their bawdiness and the couples having sex in the fields rub him the wrong way. Damn hippies! The whole situation is strange and suspicious. The landlord’s daughter, Willow (Britt Ekland), tries to seduce Howie by singing to him and pounding on the wall between their room. The scene goes on for about three or four minutes and is pretty uncomfortable. Part of it is the fact that Willow is very nude during the scene and part of it is that she’s quite clearly getting under Howie’s skin.
Howie investigates again the next day but runs into two roadblocks. First, most of the island seems to be stonewalling him and will only say to talk to Lord Summerisle (Christopher Lee.)
Secondly, the island’s inhabitants are quite happily pagan. The church is crumbling and there are no ministers. This appalls Howie, especially when he sees children learning about the phallic symbolism behind the May Day celebration.
Howie confronts Lord Summerisle who readily admits to paganism. I found this to be a bit of a departure from the standard witch movie formula. Usually, there’s a person trying to find the witch(es) and the suspected witches deny their witchiness until the end when there’s a big reveal and you learn that X was really Y all along. We learn this about forty minutes into the movie so where else can the movie go? We watch as Howie tries to get back to the mainland for reinforcements but his plane has been sabotaged. So he spends all of May Day tearing the island apart and becoming more unhinged by the May Day festivities. They are a bit creepy.
The whereabouts of Rowan are revealed, as is Howie’s fate, although I’d rather not give that away.
I guess it’s kind of silly not to give away the ending because anyone who’s familiar with the 2006 Nicholas Cage remake has an idea of what happens. The endings are similar, although the results and how the audience get there, is quite different. I actually saw the remake. In my defense, it was a chance to see a movie at a real drive-in. It was worth it. Admission and snacks for three people came to $11. Choke on that, $15-non-Imax-or-3D Manhattan ticket prices.
Aside from Nicholas Cage’s absurd emoting (Seriously, how much money does he owe the IRS?), the defining element of the remake is an anti-woman sentiment. There are absolutely no sympathetic female characters, every one of them exists to hurt Nicholas Cage. As a horror fan, I’ve watched a lot of fake horrible things happen to women but there’s something especially vicious about the way women are treated in the remake. There are also plot-holes that you could drive a truck through. Don’t watch the remake without Rifftrax.
The original doesn’t necessarily promote matriarchy but it’s much more egalitarian than the remake. What I noticed about the movie was the way female bodies are treated. There’s a lot of female nudity. I’d say this differs from my experiences with neopaganism only in the sense that neopagans are much more equal-opportunity nudists. The female nudity is portrayed very differently than it would be if it were re-remade today. Female nudity today onscreen is usually highly sexualized and there’s a very specific aesthetic. Nowadays, the ideal on screen (Not necessarily the same as in reality) is thinness to the point of looking unhealthy except for big breasts and butts. The women in the movie were fit but not the absurd caricatures that we’d see today, where we seem to be moving towards a normalization of the porn-body ideal. Aside from that, the context of the nudity was very casual. It wasn’t like a lingering close-up on Megan Fox getting out of a hot tub (Ugh, I am going to get the grossest search hits thanks to that phrase.)
This movie is a strange movie. I didn’t find it really scary but I found it interesting and thought-provoking. Maybe it didn’t scare me because I already knew the ending? It was still fun to watch. Edward Woodward and Christopher Lee both turn in really great performances as men of faith. Plus, at one point Lord Summerisle dresses in drag as a goddess.
Christopher Lee also sings, which makes me think that he should always be singing.
So, I’d say that this is a thoughtful, weird, literate, horror movie that manages to exist without being too scary.
- Scarina was born in 1823 in the Hudson River Valley. She likes these magic-lantern shows you call "movies" very much. As weird as some of these movies are, she still thinks history can be much more strange--try looking up the Calico Indians, a history of feral children, or the Hartford circus fire of 1944. Some of her non-horror related favorite things include; scratching kitties on their chins, the Civil War, actually make that war history in general, especially World War Two and Vietnam eras, burlesque shows, Guinness beer, and funny cartoons like Archer.
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