A classic film that not only endures but continues to inspire half a century later is a true marvel. Celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, The Wicker Man helped popularize the folk horror genre that continues to flourish with the likes of Midsommar, The Witch, and The Ritual. Its impact extends beyond cinema, from inspiring Radiohead (“Burn the Witch”) and Iron Maiden (“The Wicker Man”) songs to being included in the 2012 Summer Olympics opening ceremony.
In the film, Sergeant Neil Howie (Edward Woodward, Hot Fuzz) travels from the mainland to the Scottish island of Summerisle to investigate the disappearance of a young girl. The devout Christian is appalled to learn that the islanders practice a form of paganism characterized by blasphemous beliefs, degeneracy, doublespeak, and peculiar customs. Like The Bride of Frankenstein, the namesake doesn’t show up until the final moments of the film, but it leaves an indelible impression long after the credits roll.
Director Robin Hardy and writer Anthony Shaffer (Frenzy) waste little time trying to fool the viewer into believing that nothing is amiss in the remote community, instead utilizing the time to build tension and intrigue. Howie is immediately ostracized as an outsider and the divide widens as the film progresses, but the us-vs.-them mentality goes both ways. Blood sacrifices notwithstanding, the free-spirited islanders often come across as more sympathetic than the close-minded Howie.
Christopher Lee co-stars as cult leader Lord Summerisle. Having made a career out of bringing his signature gravitas to everything from Dracula and James Bond to Lord of the Rings and Star Wars, the more obvious choice may have been to cast him as Howie. Broadening his horizons with a more nuanced character following his Hammer Horror run, his Summerisle proves to be the perfect counterpart to Woodward’s Howie. Both characters have the same conviction in their respective faiths, but their resolve manifests in opposing ways.
The Wicker Man is available now on 4K UHD + Blu-ray + Digital.