I’m honestly not sure when The Wicker Man first came to my attention, but the idea of seeing it has been in my head for awhile. While my general aversion to the horror genre is hardly a secret, I heard so many times about how this was one of those films you must see before you die that I finally decided, once I found a copy, that I would sit down and watch it, for better or worse. It also didn’t hurt that Christopher Lee is in this film also (I’ll watch just about anything that has him in it).
If you haven’t seen the original The Wicker Man, the story follows Police Sergeant Neil Howie (Edward Woodward) as he travels to the (fictional) Scottish island of Summerisle to investigate a complaint about a missing child, Rowan Morrison, that’s been sent to him via an anonymous letter. A simple investigation quickly goes sideways when everyone Howie meets protests that Rowan either a) does not exist or b) died six months earlier. Not only that, but the devoutly Christian Howie is horrified to discover the entire island follows a pagan religion with Lord Summerisle (Christopher Lee) happily ruling at the top of it all.
Right away I could feel major Midsommar-vibes coming off this story and indeed they are similar in broad strokes. You have an outsider encountering a pagan culture they do not understand, there’s pagan symbolism everywhere, and oh yes, there’s human sacrifice at the end. I investigated and found out that both Midsommar and The Wicker Man (the original version anyway) both belong to a sub-genre of horror known as folk horror. This sub-genre contains stories that focus on the “old religion” and ritualistic practices. Given I’ve watched and enjoyed two films from the folk horror genre, it might be I’ve finally found a niche of horror that is for me after all. But I digress, back to The Wicker Man…
I find it very interesting how Howie is presented to the audience. Given how prevalent Christianity is all over the world, you might think that at least some of the sympathy would be with Howie as he goes about his investigation on Summerisle. But Howie, as Woodward plays him, is so uptight, and so self-righteous, that he quickly becomes unlikable. He has no tolerance for anything that deviates from the norm, and there’s a lot of things on Summerisle that you don’t normally see. Now, to be fair, the police sergeant does make something of a good point at the end of the film when he points out that sacrificing him is tantamount to murder, but it also reveals how little Howie understands life on the island. Except for that little part about human sacrifice, the villagers on Summerisle aren’t hurting anybody by following the old religion, but Howie can’t stand for it regardless.
The pivotal moment with the titular “wicker man” was just as amazing as I’d been led to believe. I found out that Edward Woodward insisted on not seeing it until the moment of filming, which makes his scream of “Oh God, oh Jesus Christ!” upon seeing it so utterly believable. Also, I will never look at the song “Sumer is icumen in” in the same way ever again.
One thing I keep turning over and over in my head is the sacrifice at the end of the film and what it’s intended to do. You see, the old religion was established on Summerisle over a hundred years ago to help with the growth of the apple orchards on the island. But the previous year was the first year the harvest failed, hence the sacrifice at the end of the film, the idea being that a human sacrifice will appease the gods and allow the apples to grow again next year. Howie maintains that the apples are going to fail anyway because fruit isn’t meant to grow in this region. And yet…I can’t help but wonder….what if the sacrifice works? Or at least appears to work. Even though the results of the sacrifice are never revealed, I have a feeling Lord Summerisle has nothing to worry about even though Howie implied that he himself would be the next sacrifice should the crops fail again. If that was the first time the fruit didn’t grow in over 100 years, it seems unlikely that they would permanently die off just like that. Even if they are slowly dying, it doesn’t happen that quickly, so it’s more likely the fruit will continue for a while longer. I just hate how certain Howie seems that the fruit trees are never going to bear fruit again. I guess I can’t help but wonder “what if Howie’s wrong and all of this works anyway?”
What I’m trying to say in all of this is that The Wicker Man is an amazing film and one that everyone should definitely see at least once. Christopher Lee steals every scene he’s in. I also really loved all of the songs in this film, if I’d known how musical The Wicker Man is I would’ve watched it years ago.
Let me know what you think about The Wicker Man in the comments below and have a great day!
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