Looking Back At THE WICKER MAN

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Martin Rayburn keeps his appointment with The Wicker Man.

In light of the news of Sir Christopher Lee's recent passing I thought 'what movie should I watch first to celebrate his illustrious career?'. A classic Hammer horror? A Lord of the Rings installment? Rasputin? The Man with the Golden Gun? The Three Musketeers? Attack of the Clones? (I was never going to pick Attack of the Clones!) To the Devil a Daughter? One of his Sherlock Holmes movies?... I could just carry on naming his movies for the next 1000 words as there are so many memorable ones to choose from. I decided upon taking Lee's advice and re-watching the film he considered his best work, 1973s The Wicker Man.

The Wicker Man follows police Sergeant Howie (Edward Woodward) who goes to the remote Scotland island of Summerisle to investigate the disappearance of a young girl. When he gets there it seems no one has ever heard of her, and most say she never existed, including the girl's own mother (Irene Summers). As Sgt. Howie continues to search for the girl the mystery gets deeper and deeper leading up to a very disturbing conclusion.

I first saw The Wicker Man in the 1980s in the cut 87 minute version and was quite disappointed. For one thing there were gaping plot holes, and it was also heavily promoted as a horror when it's really more a thriller/musical with strong religious and sexual overtones. Thankfully it's now possible to watch the extended 99 minute version on DVD, as well as The Final Cut 91 minute BluRay. Both really do the story justice, and finally I can see, and fully appreciate, the vision of director Robin Hardy. I also now see that it's impossible to pigeonhole The Wicker Man in to any genre of cinema, outside that of 'Cult Classic'.

Christopher Lee's performance as Lord Summerisle may be short but it really is exceptional. His magnificent onscreen presence seems so powerful that you easily forget that he is only in the movie for a small amount of time. He is clearly enjoying himself in the role - just as well as he worked for free! Edward Woodward also gives a tremendous performance as the increasingly baffled Sgt. Howie. He plays his character so convincingly, especially when he eventually realises what is going on around him, that you can't help but feel empathy towards him, even though his character may have been a figure of loathing in another type of horror movie.

Also featured amongst the great cast is Britt Ekland as Willow. Her seductive, nude dance (though a double was apparently used in parts) is one of the most erotic moments you'll likely see on film. The scenes featuring the clashing characters of Howie and Willow are both amusing and tense, making for some interesting character interaction.

The music in The Wicker Man is unique, always adding just the right tone of eeriness or bawdiness to proceedings. The score is both innovative and interesting, a strange mixture of elements, including traditional folk music. The opening title sequence to the tune of Corn Rigs succeeds in transporting you with the plane over the remote coastal peninsulas and out into the Irish Sea towards Summerisle. There are times when the music lures you into a false sense of security, despite the constant foreboding feeling created by the intricate plot crafted by writer Anthony Schaffer.

The mystery element of The Wicker Man is fascinating, but I find myself more caught up in the religious and social aspects presented in the film. What ultimately makes The Wicker Man is its ending. Without giving it away for those who have not yet seen the film, it is inevitable, and yet wholly unexpected when it finally comes. You'll know you've watched a movie that is a deserved cult classic.

The Wicker Man is an excellent, haunting thriller, but it might be too much for some people. There's little of the blood and violence that one would often expect from a movie labelled a horror, but I do know some people who found the ending very disturbing. Still, if you've not seen it, and knowing that Sir Christopher Lee considered it his finest work, can you ignore a recommendation like that?

By day, an ordinary bloke in a dull 9 to 5. By night, a tired ordinary bloke. Martin still hasn't worked out what he wants to do when he grows up. He is currently 47.

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