Sometimes, the best thing can happen to a cult classic or almost forgotten gem, is to have a really shitty remake made. Before the 2006 Nicholas Cage version of The Wicker Man became the butt of a million jokes, I had no idea there was an earlier version. But in the years since, I’ve heard 1973’s The Wicker Man talked about more and more, and always with a lot of affection.
Edward Woodward is Sergeant Howie, a Scottish policeman who receives an anonymous letter about a missing girl on the small, mysterious island of Summerisle. That same day, he flies to the island and begins an investigation. It’s immediately obvious that the locals don’t take too kindly to strangers ‘round them parts, and Howie quickly takes an antagonistic stance against the Summerisle natives, including the buxom pub landlord’s daughter (the boobs akimbo Britt Ekland) and Christopher Lee as Lord Summersle.
Howie soon suspects that the entire population of the island, is in some way complicit in the girl’s disappearance, or possible death. Following a religion that Howie condemns as a heathen cult, he is disgusted by the residents of Summerisle and their views on sex, sexuality and the spiritual beyond.
Sure, there’s the story of occult, there’s the cast of creepy characters, there’s the ever present feeling of death and deception. But the constant feeling of unease, dread and terror comes from the music. The Wicker Man is filled with creepy ass characters singing creepy ass songs. All of them infused with a traditional Scottish / Gaelic feel that gives them the added weight of centuries of history and tradition. The feeling that these songs have been sung by these nut jobs’ ancestors for centuries makes them all the more scary.
Yet, as off putting and skin crawling as they can be in places, the songs also have a strange hypnotic effect, that made me check iTunes for a soundtrack as soon as the movie was over. The songs are a so trance like, you’d almost understand if Howie become a devout cult member five minutes after landing.
While watching The Wicker Man, I thought Howie’s religious views really dated the movie and its makers. At one stage, soon after his arrival on Summerisle, he accuses a local of following a ‘fake’ religion, while he asserts his own belief in Christianity. That really struck me as ignorant, since all religions, regardless of craziness, are basically as fake or as legit as each other. But now I realise the movie is a lot smarter than I was giving it credit for.
The character of Howie and his religious rigidity are a comment on the narrow mindedness of popular religion. His own beliefs, while more socially acceptable, are just as blind (and blinding) as the Summerisle nut bags.
Now that I’ve seen this movie, I have to think the notorious Nicolas Cage remake is entitled to some of the credit for the recent increase in the original’s reputation. Maybe the fans of the original were always out there, and just felt no need it sing its praises until the 2006 shit bomb, but that version has definitely played a part in the renewed interest into the 1973 outing.
(Original review posted March 25, 2014)