The Wicker Man (1973) is a cult classic, which is revered by many fans of the genre as if it were "The Citizen Kane of Horror Movies!" That's an actual quote from a couple of reviewers. In the interest of the remake coming out on September 1, Anchor Bay video has reissued its DVD of the theatrical release version (hardcore Wicker Man lovers say it's far too edited) along with a 35-minute featurette.
The Wicker Man comes across like the musical Hair meets The Exorcist in an uneasy mix of commune-hippydom, the dark side of Pagan worship, and an enigmatic little girl who's at the center of it all. A deeply religious, seriously repressed middle-aged virgin cop, Sergeant Howie (Edward Woodward), travels to a remote island within his jurisdiction to investigate the disappearance of a little girl named Rowan. Summoned only by an anonymous letter, the gullible lawman flies his small plane out to the remote Scottish landmass, Summerisle, all alone.
Once he arrives on the island, Howie is by turns shunned, yet bombarded with sexual advances. No one wants to tell him about the missing little girl, but all the wanton women want to get into his pants (which makes no sense whatsoever, if you already know the ending of the movie). The bodacious Britt Ekland is the main seductress, and she has a musical number (performed naked, albeit lip-synched and stunt-butted) in which she tries to get Howie to say "How Do?" between the sheets. He's tempted, but ultimately his passion for Christ wins out and his chastity remains intact.
…But will his sanity remain intact? Every encounter he has with the strange, old-fashioned pagans that live on Summerisle leaves him even more confounded than the last. Where is Rowan? Did she disappear? Die? Was she murdered? Even her own mother, May Morrison, proprietor of the x-rated cakes shop, is denying she ever wrote the letter let alone had a daughter named Rowan. But Howie is determined to get to the bottom of the mystery, and as he slips deeper into the unreal world of the local yokels, he discovers that perhaps there is more to the story than meets the eye.
The Wicker Man is full of robust sexual imagery — real and implied; eerie shots of dead animals and pickled piglets; and characters who spout the strangest dialogue, much of which is sung in unison as they dance around phallic maypoles. It's quite silly. Yes, I 'get' the notion that Summerisle is supposed to be this surreal cocoon and that the townspeople are all in on this conspiracy against Howie, but it still comes across as goofy to me. When Christopher Lee shows up in a long black wing and a skirt and sweater set, it's just too Glen Or Glenda meets vintage David Bowie for my taste.
The movie has an interesting premise and some creepy moments, but overall it's far too uneven to work as a whole. Yet, The Wicker Man lives up to its reputation at the very end. It's a truly chilling and indelibly disturbing sequence.
The DVD boasts a 35-minute featurette entitled The Wicker Man Enigma, which documents the movie's troubled beginnings and ultimate triumph as a bona fide cult classic. The doc features interviews with Woodward and Lee, as well as Ingrid Pitt (who doesn't seem to like the movie very much), director Robin Hardy, producer Peter Snell, and even would-be distributor, Roger Corman.
An easter egg reveals some ultra-rare footage featuring a 25-minute 1997 interview with Lee and Hardy. To find it, highlight the words The Wicker Man Enigma and then press the up arrow key on your remote. This will bring forth a large question mark on the screen. Press enter to play it.
= = =
Reviewed by Staci Layne Wilson