It’s October, the month of Halloween and what would be more clichéd than doing a countdown of top horror films, so fully admitting to being a walking cliché, I will be doing a series of blogs running down the films in my own personal top 20. Here’s the previous blogs for numbers 20, Audition, 19, Night of the Demon, 18, Zombie Flesh Eaters, 17, Last House on the Left, 16, The Beyond, 15, An American Werewolf in London, 14, [REC], 13, Don’t Look Now, 12, Event Horizon and 11, Cannibal Holocaust.
I hit the top ten with the bloody brilliant 1973 film, The Wicker Man.
The synopsis from IMDB is deceptively simple.
A police sergeant is sent to a Scottish island village in search of a missing girl whom the townsfolk claim never existed. Stranger still are the rites that take place there
Edward Woodward plays the police Sergeant Howie, while Christopher Lee plays Lord Summerisle, the leader of the pagan community of the island off mainland Scotland.Both turn in marvelous performances, with Woodward deviating from the tough guy roles he was famous for at the time to play the innocent Howie. It’s this innocence that eventually dooms Howie as he becomes victim to Summerisle’s Pagan plot to use him as a blood sacrifice to appease the gods after the island’s crops failed.
What’s great about the film is the enormous game that Lee’s character plays to ensure Howie is not only the right person to be sacrificed (Howie is a virgin and a policemen) but that the game (and it is a game) is played out in a ritual manner to please Summerisle’s gods. It’s this slow creeping sense that Howie is doomed even though we know he’s not only innocent but is a good man trying to find a missing girl and help a small community. He doesn’t realise that the help he’s going to bring is by being a ritual sacrifice.
I didn’t get The Wicker Man when I first saw it on ITV at some point when I was a kid, of course I appreciated Britt Ekland’s arse (actually a body double but when you’re twelve you don’t care for these details of fact, it’s a naked woman’s arse!) but I found it all boring after being drawn to it because of Christopher Lee’s name and the promise of Hammer Horror. Of course I also found the songs annoying and where the fuckity was the gore?! It wasn’t until one night in the late 80’s when I was living in Leicester that I staggered back from the pub to see the film on again, and watched it with older eyes. This was the point when I realised what a bloody great film it actually is.
The Wicker Man is a spectacular film because unlike a lot of other horror films it’s bright, cheery and the creeping sense of doom falls upon the lead who is a hugely sympathetic character, while the ‘villain’, Lord Summerisle, is simply a desperate man clinging onto power rather than some big evil monster. It’s the simple stupidity of blindly following religion that dooms Howie in both the pagans murdering him, and of course, the devotion to his Christian god that makes him a perfect victim.
I recommend seeing the film on a bright summers day. The feeling you get when you walk into the sunlight after seeing this is wonderful. There’s also the Final Cut version coming soon which promises to return some long lost footage, so we’ll get a very different film to that one I first saw in the late 70’s and nearer the version the director Robin Hardy wanted to release in the first place.
One last thing, avoid the remake. That is all.
Next time, trick or treat!