The Wicker Man (England 1973)

Rating: ***
Review Date: 1/12/02
Director: Robin Hardy
Cast: Edward Woodward, Christopher Lee, Ingrid Pitt, Britt Ekland

I can only imagine how shocking and controversial this cult film must have been when it first came out. An uptight and upstanding Christian police officer named Sergeant Howie (brilliant Edward Woodward) receives an anonymous note concerning a missing girl on an obscure Scottish island known as Summerisle. He pursues the case, and much to his horror finds that the inhabitants of Summerisle are believers in the old gods and practice ancient Celtic rites. His investigation leads him to believe that the missing girl was, or is going to be, a ritual sacrifice to appease the gods of Nature, and his search for her becomes desperate as the annual May Day celebration commences.

This film has been called "the 'Citizen Kane' of horror films," which I think is a bit extreme. It's certainly well written and well directed, but we only realize this after the film is over. While you're watching it, it doesn't really seem like anything much out of the ordinary, except that you get to see Britt Ekland naked. Even as a jaded movie watcher, I was surprised and pleased by the film's clever ending, but wading through the film up to that point can be a bit tiresome for those of us with short attention spans. Apart from the charming and alluring Ms. Ekland, the most impressive aspect of the film is Edward Woodward. He gives an absolutely stellar performance and truly expresses his horror and disgust with the people of Summerisle. It's all he can do as a decent Christian to keep his composure in the presence of such vile heathens, and by the end of the film he's sincerely terrified. His terror is unquestionably convincing, making his terror become our terror in this somewhat cautionary tale. Definitely see the extended version if you can, as it offers a lot more depth and insight into the story.