Tuesday, 5 April 2016

Cutting Edge: The Wicker Man

Despite now being considered a cult classic, Robin Hardy's 'The Wicker Man' (1973) didn't seem to attract the attention it deserved immediately after its initial release. Years passed before the film became known as a great horror film, even being considered one of the greatest within the 'folk horror' subgenre. The Wicker Man has endured time, which could be due to renewed interest when new footage is discovered and restored. Against all odds, The Wicker Man remained successful "...the film's reputation even survived Neil Labute's disastrous 2006 U.S. remake, starring Nicolas Cage...which was fatally low on tension and bombed at the box office," (Dalton, 2013).

Fig 1. 'The Wicker Man' (1973)
Part of this success is due to Anthony Shaffer's screenplay, which is undoubtably more impressive than the 2006 remake. In fact, it is probably the most recognized elements of The Wicker Man, "the film's opening titles read 'Anthony Shaffer's The Wicker Man' in one of the rare instances where the screenwriter is given ownership of a film over its director," (Calhoun, 2013). Because of the script, the viewer is easily immersed within the world. Little hints are dropped within the dialogue, sets, camera shots, and song lyrics (Composed by Paul Giovanni and Magnet) to give the audience the feeling that there is something odd about Summerisle. Despite this suspicion and possibly knowing the ending from watching the remake, the ending is still a shock.

Even if viewers already know what is going to happen, The Wicker Man expertly manipulates the audience to feel uneasy. It is the final act of the film that is truly horrifying when the intentions of the villagers are revealed. Our protagonist Sergeant Howie (Edward Woodward), a Christian police officer, is burned alive (alongside several animals) as a sacrifice to appease the Pagan gods so the island's crops don't fail as they did the previous year. It is disturbing to think that some small talk about the lack of apples Howie had earlier with Willow (Britt Ekland) is actually the cause of his horrific demise.

Fig 2. Summerisle Apples
At first it is difficult to pinpoint what 'type' of film The Wicker Man is set out to be, but by the time the film reaches the final act it becomes clear it isn't as light hearted as it first appears to be. Everyone on the island appears to be 'normal' until we see casual public nudity/sex, young girls in school learning about phallic symbols (as the boys outside dance around it), naked women dancing around fires, a mother treating her daughter's illness by putting a frog into her mouth, people wearing animal masks and strange human-shaped cakes and breads.

On top of that, the merry sounding folk songs that are sung throughout the film end up being anything but innocent and cheerful. "The movie also excels in the fact that several elements of the picture could have been laughable but instead helped to add to the nauseating and uncomfortable atmosphere of the film...these musical interludes performed by different characters actually help to immerse the senses into the world of this strange little island, helping to create a suffocating and intoxicating atmosphere," (Doyle, 2015). The lyrics of the songs give hints to the true nature of the island.

Fig 3. Women Dancing and Singing
Even if the viewer had watched the 2006 remake, the original still demands attention. It is a real shame that some of the footage remains lost, but even with parts missing it is still immersive and (mostly) coherent. This coherence is sometimes interrupted due to how abstract and unusual the rituals/habits of the villagers are. Perhaps this is also due to how there are currently less people who believe in religion as strongly as people did in the 1970's. Occasionally there are holes in the plot or flaws in storytelling, causing the viewer to miss an important piece of information. One example is how the viewer doesn't learn that Howie is a virgin until later in the film through dialogue with Lord Summerisle (Christopher Lee). For a man of his age, and considering he is apparently engaged, it may not usually be assumed that Howie is a virgin (in fact, his virginity may not be thought about at all). This vital information may be lost if the conversation was misheard or if the viewer was distracted.

The Wicker Man leaves the viewer guessing even after the credits roll. The film concludes with our protagonist being burned to death in The Wicker Man, "a resolutely downbeat finale that's as far removed from a happy ending as it's possible to get...it's a movie that'll burn its way into your unconscious and give you nightmares for many years to come," (Russell, 2001). Now the viewer is left guessing: Do the police come looking for him? Do the villagers get caught and punished? Do their crops return? If not, is Lord Summerisle sacrificed or does he manipulate his way out? Unfortunately, no one will ever know.

Calhoun, B. (2013) "The Wicker Man": The Cut May Be Final, But The Film Is Still Incomplete At: http://www.rogerebert.com/balder-and-dash/the-wicker-man-the-cut-may-be-final-but-the-film-is-still-incomplete Accessed on: 5/4/2016
Dalton, S. (2013) The Wicker Man: The Final Cut: Film Review At: http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/review/wicker-man-final-cut-film-635790 Accessed on: 5/4/2016
Doyle, K. (2015) In Memory of Christopher Lee - An Analysis of The Wicker Man (1973) At: http://www.thefilmagazine.com/in-memory-of-christopher-lee-an-analysis-of-the-wicker-man-1973/ Accessed on: 5/4/2016
Russell, J. (2001) The Wicker Man (1973)  At: http://www.bbc.co.uk/films/2001/12/17/the_wicker_man_1973_review.shtml Accessed on: 5/4/2016

Illustration List:
Figure 1. The Wicker Man [Poster] At: http://crypticrock.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/wicker_man_poster_01.jpg Accessed on: 5/4/2016
Figure 2. Summerisle Apples [Film Still] At: http://screenmusings.org/movie/dvd/The-Wicker-Man/pages/The-Wicker-Man-449.htm Accessed on: 5/4/2016
Figure 3. Women Dancing and Singing [Film Still] At: http://screenmusings.org/movie/dvd/The-Wicker-Man/images/The-Wicker-Man-254.jpg Accessed on: 5/4/2016

1 comment: