I watched The Wicker Man this weekend. I saw the original, not the Nicholas Cage comedy remake. It was a movie that I had been aware of for decades and knew the plot but had just never bothered to get around to seeing until now.
It is a powerful movie. It was also not what I expected. An outsider comes to a remote village to investigate the disappearance of a young girl. The policeman is horrified to discover that the villagers are pagans who let the local christian church fall into ruins while they practice their old ways. It becomes pretty clear very fast that they probably sacrificed the young girl because they had a bad harvest.
Now this is a story idea that I am familiar with. It’s Shadows over Innsmouth or Goatswood or even the Children of the Corn. As a viewer I know this situation and I know how the villagers will be secretive, ominous and outright hostile to the outsider.
But that isn’t what happens. The first clue is the music which drove my horror-loving wife up the wall. The music in Wicker Man is upbeat folk songs. It sounds like a cheerful Woodstock movie instead of a dreadful horror movie. In fact, it is pretty much a musical as key conflicts are expressed in songs. This bleeds into the villagers who instead of being secretive and hostile are downright proud and friendly over their heathen ways. The villagers fuck and they fuck a lot and they sing a lot of songs about fucking. They like being worshipers of the old gods because they get to fuck a lot. They also get a kick out of embarrassing the prudish outsider.
In fact, we have seen this situation a millions times in a different kind of genre: porn. The puritan stranger comes to a sexually free land and slowly comes around to their ways before descending into a journey of orgiastic discovery. Everyone comes and has a good time.
Except this is a horror movie and the sexually repressed policeman is freaking the fuck out. Eventually he gets burned alive so yeah, his freaking out was self-preservation but again, it is hard not to see the policeman as the problem in this movie. Everyone else is fucking and singing songs. Why does he have to be such a downer? Oh yeah, there’s a missing girl.
Let me also say that the policeman’s sacrificial death might be one of the most disturbing things I have seen in awhile. While not graphic, the pleas for rescue, the crying, the wailing prayers and the joyful indifference of the villagers was very upsetting. It felt real and cruel in a way I don’t normally see in horror movies. The lack of rescue genuinely surprised me as I am so accustomed to Hollywood softening the despair in a movie. My movie long mockery of the policeman turned to genuine pity at the end.
But I guess that was part of the point of Wicker Man. These villagers embraced life and death. They fucked and killed and fucked. They were open and honest about their sexuality and they were open and embracing of their ritual murders.
It is a strange movie. It is a sexy movie. It is a horrifying movie. It has one of the best attempted seduction scenes ever with Britt Ekland dancing naked. It has one of the more unlikable protagonists in the prudish police man. It has Christopher Lee in one of his best roles.
You should see it.