Since Britt Ekland was my choice for the sexiest performance in a horror film for her work in THE WICKER MAN (1973) in last month’s MONSTROUS QUESTION OF THE MONTH, here’s my column on- you got it!- THE WICKER MAN, which was first published in 2005. This one also happened to be my 50th IN THE SPOOKLIGHT column. –-Michael Arruda
IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: THE WICKER MAN (1973)
by Michael Arruda
Welcome to the 50th “In the Spooklight” column! Time flies when you’re having fun!
It’s been a wonderful journey for me, writing about the horror movies I know and love, starting back in August 2000 when the first column was published in the HORROR WRITERS ASSOCIATION (HWA) INTERNET MAILER by then editor Judi Rohrig! Thanks, Judi! And thanks to all of you readers who hopefully have had as much fun reading the column as I’ve had writing it!
In honor of the occasion, the 50th column will look at one of the more bizarre, offbeat yet effective chillers of the 20th century, a film you don’t often hear a lot about, THE WICKER MAN (1973), starring Christopher Lee and Edward Woodward.
First a couple of words about what THE WICKER MAN is NOT. With a cast that includes Lee and Ingrid Pitt, two Hammer Film veterans, one might expect this to be a Hammer-type film. It’s not. Not by a long shot.
It’s also not really a horror film. It’s an art film, actually, the type of film you’d see at that specialty cinema which shows foreign films. You wouldn’t find it playing at the multiplex at your local mall. This being said, THE WICKER MAN is still scary, and when it’s over, you’re left feeling uneasy, uncomfortable and even a little nauseous.
THE WICKER MAN tells the story of a policeman (Edward Woodward) called to an island to investigate the disappearance of a young girl. He discovers a strange pagan society that practices sexual rituals that don’t sit well with his conservative Christian religious views.
Christopher Lee plays the leader of this society, Lord Summerisle. Lee delivers a deliciously understated performance, resplendent with nuances and subtleties. Here, he’s not Dracula, Fu Manchu or even Count Dooku. Lord Summerisle is not your typical Christopher Lee performance. As a result, it’s one of his best; certainly his most natural.
Likewise, Edward Woodward (who would achieve TV fame years later in the popular TV series THE EQUALIZER) is terrific as the policeman, in a role originally intended for Peter Cushing.
And Britt Ekland is as sensuous a siren as you’ll see on screen. The “siren song” scene where she sings to Woodward through the bedroom wall is so charged with sexual energy— just keep some cold water handy!
The film hooks you into its plot from the get-go, as soon as Woodward begins his investigation. It initiates a level of suspense which continually builds until it reaches an unforgettable climax that smacks you upside the head with an ending that would make M. Night Shyamalan wish he’d written it!
The script by Anthony Shaffer is top-notch, with enough twists and turns to really keep you guessing. Is the little girl alive? Dead? Does she even exist? Robin Hardy directed the film, and he fills it with images that are both memorable and haunting, especially the image of the wicker man at the film’s conclusion.
Now, there are two versions of THE WICKER MAN out there. There’s the cut 88 minute print which is the version originally released in the U.S., after it was severely edited by U.S. distributors who hated the film. There’s also the newly restored 103 minute print, which obviously is the definitive version of the film.
Now that summer is over, school is back in session, and there’s a general feel of getting back to business, it’s time to exchange the fluff for some serious adult horror viewing. It’s time for THE WICKER MAN, a true masterpiece of the genre.
© Copyright 2005 by Michael Arruda