The Wicker Man

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.

About scarina

I like scary movies a little too much. I thought I'd share my obsession with you.
This entry was posted in 1970's, foreign, witchcraft and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to The Wicker Man

  1. frc ruben says:

    Megan Fox has toe thumbs. They are quite disturbing. My neighbor has 4 fingers on one hand but his hand is proportional to a 5 finger hand. I call them Homer hands.

    Ziggy sez there’s a 46.2% chance that Christopher Lee is the ugliest woman on the planet.

    • scarina says:

      She does! There was this girl I used to hate in high school. She was a complete mean girls type and always had something snide to say to me. The only thing about her that made me happy was that she had toe-thumbs. Actually, she had toe hands, all her fingers were super stumpy and her finger nails looked like toe nails–they were all wide and short. Her ugly hands made me feel better about myself and I always wanted to ask her how much liquor her mom drank when she was pregnant. Heh, Homer hands.
      Meh, I’d still hit it. I don’t know what that says about me. :/

  2. Crypticpsych says:

    I think part of the impact of it as “horror” has been diminished some because it’s ending is so iconic now. Without knowing about the ending going in, there aren’t a lot of truly overt signs that the movie is going to end up that way as it seems to be pointing toward other possibilities.

    That said, the movie’s still great because it looks and sounds so interesting. Beyond the two outstanding performances you mention, the movie handles these great ideas involving religious conflict very well and also has a very unique visual style. It’s almost like extreme hippiedom basically. One of the reasons it stands out so much over time is that this idea of religious conflict between men of contrasting but deeply religious convictions is still relevant and likely will continue to be relevant as long as religion is a “thing”.

    As for the nudity, when I reviewed a modern horror-comedy throwback to the 70s recently, I pointed out that the movie was stunningly full of nudity but that it wasn’t gratuitous or exploitative, it fit the scenes going on. That’s how I feel about this movie. The Britt Eckland scene, for instance, is iconic yes because of her beauty but also because it’s representative of so much…temptation, seduction, lust, corruption…she’s representing all the things in the world that Howie’s devout Christianity doesn’t allow him to have which is why it affects him so deeply (the music is also absolutely beautiful during that scene). As for the pagan ceremonies, yes, they’re naked…but they’re supposed to be because it’s a ritual and they also didn’t go out of their way to cast the most beautiful women in the roles for that because that wasn’t the point (to say nothing of the children in similar roles). Yes, though, I agree it’s not equal-opportunity nudity and that is weird.

    As for the remake (which I enjoy on a purely comedic level because there’s NOTHING scary about that movie and even the comedy doesn’t kill places where it drags horribly), back in the short time I actually cared at all what Fangoria thought about anything, I got an issue with Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning on the cover…and inside an interview with director Neil LaBute on his then upcoming Wicker Man remake. Lot of weird stuff in here, particularly in retrospect. For instance:

    -LaBute on Cage not being devout and virginal like Woodward: “I can sell an island of women who are pagans, but not that Nic Cage is a virgin! That’s not gonna fly!” Classy.
    -Johnny Ramone (of The Ramones) was a driving force behind the remake because he was the one who first showed it to Nic Cage and told him he should remake it. Cage ended up co-producing as well.
    -The article mentions LaBute’s other films involve “male/female friction in which the former are often portrayed as louses in need of either redemption or more often comeuppance”. If you stretch really, really, really hard, that’s the reason the movie plays out like it does…the idea that Cage earns his comeuppance and such. But even I’M not willing to stretch that far.
    -LaBute on the remake’s lack of nudity: “It worked well there, but it’s the kind of thing where you go, ‘Why exactly was there nudity in that movie?'”. The author of the article jokingly replies “Because it was the ’70s?” and I facepalm and remember both another reason why LaBute didn’t get the original movie (he also spends the early going of the article kind of downplaying and ignoring the people who questioned the idea of remaking the movie to the point of “chuckling” at Christopher Lee’s famed dislike of the idea of the remake) and another reason why I don’t read this magazine anymore.
    -Article mentions LaBute was a recently excommunicated former Mormon when he made the film and hated extremism in religion, also features a lengthy quote in which LaBute explains that he changed the “apple harvest” to bees and honey to further help his big honking male/female sexual metaphor making the island into a giant beehive type social structure.

    Since the movie recieved such a famously negative response, he and Nic Cage have both begun saying that the remake was intended to be comic the whole time. You’d never know that, of course, reading Fangoria’s usual overly praising “journalism”. I’ll show you the article sometime if you’re interested.

    • scarina says:

      I agree, I really wish I could wipe my memory & go into the movie having no clue what happened. I found that my reaction was so weird, though. I found Howie to be so distasteful that I found myself strongly rooting for Summerisle. I think what keeps the movie from being a quaint relic is that it looks beautiful, sounds beautiful, and is a really unique take on the witch story. I think the nudity issue is probably because it’s always more difficult to get male nudity on screen than it is to get female nudity.
      I think that Brit Eckland’s scene is so iconic also because it’s very primal. I’ve never seen a woman perform nude like that in a movie. I love Showgirls as a so-bad-it’s-good movie but that nudity in that movie feels really degrading whereas Brit’s felt very natural. Ironically, a good part of it is a body double b/c she was pregnant at the time and only wanted to be filmed from the waist up.
      Oh, Fangoria, I haven’t read that in years. Ok, I picked up the Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me issue, but I haven’t read it regularly since high school. But every single thing you listed from the article reeks of bullshit (Not that you’re bullshitting, LaBute is bullshitting.) The whole movie felt very ill-thought out. Although the dedication to Johnny Ramone at the end made the Rifftrax crew laugh a lot.
      Nah, I think I’ll skip the article. ;)

      • Crypticpsych says:

        I think, in a way, that might be part of the point. Howie is so stubborn and stuck in his mindset that he isn’t likable even though, in terms of story, you’d think of him as the “hero” character. Summerisle, even though he’s doing what he’s does in the end, is shown as a kind person who’s just kind of living the way he wants to and leading his people in the same way. It’s also a big part of that scene where Howie and Summerisle first meet.
        I agree wholeheartedly. The Eckland scene is many things, but it is NOT degrading, and that is refreshing and different and appreciated.
        I stopped reading Fangoria while in college, but I gave up on it when Twilight: New Moon was on the cover…that’s so horror. I’ve kinda followed them in passing since but only bought one issue of the new version of the magazine (the Debbie Rochon one…better than it used to be but still not good). Seeing as last month, they put the admittedly-great-but-STILL-NOT-HORROR Django Unchained on the cover, they still haven’t learned.

      • scarina says:

        I’m a pretty awful person & I love to watch people get what’s coming to them. And it’s not like Summerisle is forcing people to stay. But I found myself disturbed by how this atheist was willing to go along with Summerisle.
        That’s the wrooooong kind of horror. Also, that’s why I’m a Rue Morgue girl.

  3. JFC says:

    You should search Christopher Lee Heavy Metal on youtube. He even has a Metal Christmas album.

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