Widely regarded as one of the finest British horror movies, if not finest British films of all time, The Wicker Man tells the story of a devout Christian police sergeant who travels to the remote Scottish island of Summerisle to investigate the disappearance of a young girl. What he finds is a pagan population who are very active in the worship of the Celtic gods of old.
Written by Anthony Shaffer & directed by Robin Hardy under the banner of British Lion, a film house more commonly know for the bawdy likes of the ‘Carry on’ & ‘On the buses’ films, The Wicker Man was to be an entirely different premise altogether. Envisioned by Shaffer as a more literate take on the horror movie, not heavily reliant on blood & gore but more so on fear of the unknown and ways and rituals of the people of this small island.
Starring a cast the likes of Edward Woodward, Christopher Lee, Britt Ekland & Ingrid Pitt, it is a film that invokes strong feelings of primal fear of that which we don’t understand and a powerful sense of impending dread even to this day. The more Sgt Howie uncovers about the goings on of the occupants of the Island, the more we start to become aware that things may be very wrong and the island my have other plans for him.
Featuring a folk soundtrack that is much an integral part of the movie as anything else, songs accompany a large percentage of the main scenes in the film and add massively to the prevailing atmosphere. I would regard it as one of the finest accompanying soundtracks to a British film which is as iconic as the titular effigy itself.
Boasting one of perhaps the most notorious endings to any horror film, what is even more impressive is the knowledge that the full size Wicker Man statues were built for real, no special effects trickery as would be the case today, the giant imposing wooden edifice was for real and the remains of which can still be visited today which only makes you appreciate even more during the final moments of the film and some of the most iconic images in horror which were captured in serendipitous conditions that could have so easily have gone massively wrong. In my opinion one of the most perfect end shots of any movie, the burning head of the Wicker Man falling out of shot to reveal the sun was achieved in one try, one shot.
After production on the Wicker Man ended, British Lion, a production house who didn’t really understand what they had and no idea in how to market the film, butchered the films run time down from Hardy’s desired 100 minute cut to 87 minutes so British Lion could markets it as a b-movie in a double feature. Thankfully in 2001 the film was lovingly restored into a 95 minute ‘Final cut’, restoring much of the missing scenes and bringing The Wicker Man back to its deserved full glory.