Sometimes you just have to bow to the experience of someone else when they say this is my best movie. So it is with Christopher Lee who has said on more than one occasion that The Wicker Man is his favourite. Considering that he has been in more than 230 movies and is easily my favourite actor, I'd have to agree.
The Wicker Man sees the disappearance of a girl in a small Scottish village led by the eccentric Lord Summerisle (Christopher Lee). Sergeant Howie (Edward Woodward) is called in to investigate the disappearance, necessitating hiring a water landing plane in order to reach the remote village. After his arrival, things are not as they appear with the locals apparently gearing up for some religious festival. Can the child be found before the suspected pagan sacrifice, and can the good Christian sergeant escape from this desolate locale?
On the face of things, this looks like any number of horror movies: get the protagonists outnumbered, trapped and throw in some strange local attendants and your half way there. But the Wicker Man is more than this. Mainly due to the wonderful performances by Lee and Woodward who lend credence to so much of this movie's more esoteric content. Woodward's outburst at the “phallic symbolism” taught in the primary school is so well played, and with a flawless Scottish accent, I can't imagine another actor for the role. Similarly, Lee's character is as schizophrenic and his movie career; Sometimes Lord Summerisle is the consummate diplomat, explaining how the village maintains its existence, and then some mad-as-a-hatter leader of a Morris dance. With Swords.
I suppose that the actual horror content is all in the mind as the movie places disturbing and outré imagery before us. The Wicker Man's earnest portrayal of the village's religious belief system juxtaposed with Howie's straight laced Christian values makes us feel uneasy. In the now infamous nude dance scene, we see sumptuous landlord's daughter Willow (Britt Ekland) taunt Howie's Christian beliefs. She rhythmically dances in the room next to Howie's suggesting a sexual activity that tempts Howie to dispose of his Christian beliefs and succumb to the temptation of this vixen.
We can never identify with the villagers as they are just too weird thus making us rely on Howie as our anchor in this bizarre world. The Wicker Man's natural, almost blasé, way in which these characters and their beliefs are portrayed is successful to the point of documentarian tendencies. The Wicker Man is unflinching in this regard, where we see Howie making a one man crusade against the unreasonable locals. Nowhere is The Wicker Man's soul more eloquently portrayed, and magnificently acted, than the movies spectacular ending. There is a shivering nihilistic poetry to the final scenes that culminate in a truly superb sunset shot making The Wicker Man's annulment one of the best in cinematic history.