Ratings Key

= Excellent. The best the genre has to offer.
1/2 = Very Good. Perhaps not "perfect," but undoubtedly a must-see.
★★★ = Good. Accomplishes what it sets out to do and does it well.
★★1/2 = Fair. Clearly flawed and nothing spectacular, but competently made. OK entertainment.
★★ = Mediocre. Either highly uneven or by-the-numbers and uninspired.
1/2 = Bad. Very little to recommend.
= Very Bad. An absolute chore to sit through.
NO STARS! = Abysmal. Unwatchable dreck that isn't even bad-movie amusing.
SBIG = So Bad It's Good. Technically awful movies with massive entertainment value.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Wicker Man, The (1973)

...aka: Anthony Shaffer's The Wicker Man

Directed by:
Robin Hardy

Edward Woodward (later to star in The Equalizer TV series) is a devoutly religious police inspector who travels to the small island of Summerisle to investigate the disappearance of a young girl. There's a cover up to the girls whereabouts by the entire community and he finds himself equally appalled by their free-living lifestyle; simple pleasures which include drinkin', singin', swingin' sex... and pagan human sacrifice. The title refers to a giant wooden idol necessary for climactic May Day ceremony. THE WICKER MAN opens fairly slowly (and some complain it has too many musical numbers), but after the first pub scene it becomes suspenseful, creepy (without a stitch of violence) and brilliantly atmospheric, creating a seemingly authentic and unusual society not dependent on standard moral or religious codes. It's safe to say that the strong and unflinching religious subject matter in Anthony Shaffer's script carries with it the potential to infuriate some viewers. It's also extremely ironic that this same close-minded worldview is perfectly reflected in the bullheaded lead character, and also helps to seal his fate. Not that the pagans in this film aren't equally unwavering in their beliefs, but the "power of in numbers" philosophy rings true here just as it does in contemporary society. Imagine a small place in this world not adversely affected by standard organized religion and you get the gist of Summerisle.

If you want gore, you won't find any here. If you can't go into this film with an open mind, you might not appreciate what it has to offer. And if you are looking for a standard horror film you may be disappointed (or you may be like me and be pleasantly surprised). The ending is simultaneously chilling and oddly amusing. Paul Giovanni provides a memorable soundtrack, with "Gently Johnny" and "Maypole" standouts. Both Woodward and Christopher Lee (who rightfully considers this one of his finest films) as Lord Summerisle are excellent in their roles. The cast also includes Britt Ekland as the seductive Willow (her voice was dubbed and she was body doubled during her memorable erotic nude dance sequence), Diane Clineto as a schoolteacher, Ingrid Pitt as a librarian, Lindsay Kemp as the pub owner/innkeeper and Aubrey Morris as a gravedigger. Much censored over the years, the most common version (the one released in America) runs 88 minutes, and the director's cut (released in 2001) runs 100.


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