I’d been meaning to keep my appointment with The Wicker Man for a while but only this year got around to it. But the steelbook is now available for, well, a steal. So here I am. It’s the first time I’ve seen the film in several years and my first look at the extended cut with the additional footage. Still too early to tell if I think the extra scenes are as indispensable as some claim, or if they are a little superfluous and indulgent (although Giovanni’s Gently Johnny is a welcome addition).
The Wicker Man really is an unusual and unique movie- one of my favourite British films but also one that defies categorization. It’s unlike any other ‘horror’ film too. There are no conventional scares, no monsters or ghouls, nothing supernatural, no gore and practically no blood. It frightens on a much deeper level, reminding us how powerful and immoveable the human will can be when unreason takes hold. Another thing I noticed more this time is that the movie plays like a musical. One could argue it is a musical. It really is a striking and atmospheric soundtrack thanks to Paul Giovanni’s folky tunes- that really constitute and important character in the film.
The Wicker Man is also very enjoyable performance-wise. It’s reportedly Christopher Lee’s favourite role and it shows, with the actor relishing his character and turning in a better performance than he usually does. The supporting cast are great too- intriguing and colourful yet quite, quite bonkers. But the movie belongs to Edward Woodward’s stoic and highly-strung puritan Sergeant Howie. He’s intensely likeable and sympathetic- bewildered, infuriated and stymied at every turn. His unshakeable faith in Christianity and the Law proving ultimately useless in the face of a culture he has no idea how to deal with. He’s the perfect counterweight to the Islanders, yet by the end you wonder- quite rightly- how his faith is any less delusional than theirs.
I wouldn’t say the film is perfect, as much as I want to. I think Lee begins to ham it up towards the end, and the climax suffers from too much exposition (with Lee explaining the plot after it has already unravelled in fairly self-evident fashion). But it is a film that makes you think, and one that lingers in the memory. It’s a very cogent and unsettling tale about a truly dangerous element of the human psyche.