Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Wicker Man (1973)

You know those movies that everyone at the party has seen and can hold forth long discussions on and when you sheepishly say "Oh, I've never see it" and they all look at you like you're some backwoods yokel more suited to watching NASCAR than discussing fine works of art?

That's the way I felt about The Wicker Man.

Never got around to watching it. I really should have, as it's got so much stuff I absolutely adore: occultism, paganism, murder mysteries, nude British chicks, Christopher Lee in Cher drag, gay innkeepers and their slutty daughters, sleepy Scottish hamlets, corpse unearthing, and people randomly breaking into song. The Wicker Man is almost a musical, full of those sorts of dippy folksy hippy songs that would be considered some minor form of assault if performed in public.

More to the point, I love weird towns full of people acting strange. I was at a party recently and a friend of mine mentioned that she didn't like zombie movies because she didn't understand what was particularly scary about crowds. You could look outside any day and see crowds of people. "Maybe crowds of violent cannibals charging at you might not set you off," I should have said, charming my lovely companion, "but what if you were surrounded by perfectly polite, charming people who are thinking and communicating in a completely alien way."

Yep. Having those kinds of conversations keeps my social life active.

Anyway, yeah, Wicker Man.

Most of this flick doesn't have much in the way of tension. The jerky moralistic cop doesn't stagger around a lot of dark basements, waiting for a cat to jump out at him. Most of The Wicker Man takes the basic structure of a murder mystery. Sgt. Howie arrives on Summerisle searching for a missing little girl. First the townfolks say they never heard of the missing girl, then they admit she's dead, finally Sgt. Howie begins to suspect that they're keeping the girl locked away for a horrifying ritual to appease the island's ancient pagan gods.

And then there's a twist.

This is one of those rare horror movies where the hero isn't particularly likable. Sgt. Howie is an uptight, bullying prick, the kind the Empire would have tasked with destroying planets, and on top of all those winning qualities he's a religious zealot. When he's not butting into people's jobs and offices and homes, he is staring aghast at naked women and screaming "heretic!" at people. He's really quite the prick, but he's an ideal navigator for the island's weirdness. The movie goes quite deep into the islander's strange spiritual beliefs and it's amusing having an utter asshole haranguing against them every step of the way. It also makes Howie's eventual fate especially horrific. The villagers and their goofy religious beliefs seem harmless and kind of fun at first, but the horror really creeps in when we realize exactly what they need to do to keep their crops bountiful.

...oh, fuck it. SPOILER ALERT They stick Sgt. Howie in a big wooden man and burn him alive.

There's a reason I don't go to Burning Man, even though I have plenty of Burners among her friends. I'm the curious type and I do love strange, strange groups of people but I've always had this weird primal fear of the crowd of hippie/raver hybrids turn against me and stick me in their elitist counterculture temple when all I want to do is take drugs and have filthy mudsex. There's something about crowds of reasonable-seeming people doing something terrible and irrational to an outsider that holds a very instinctual fear in me. As previously stated, most of The Wicker Man is fairly unscary and staged like a tea room mystery. Towards the end, when the final ghastly parade begins, I suddenly sympathized with the doomed officer.

Definitely go check this movie out. Apparently The Wicker Man is considered to be one of the best movies that ever came out of Great Britain. Beyond that, alls I can say is don't watch the seduction scene with an older relative in the room, unless you want a really uncomfortable Thanksgiving dinner.

This post is part of the Final Girl Film Club. For those of you who dug this post, welcome to my humble little blog. I'm a big horror fan and I like to apply my highly-honed, liberal-arts education bullshit shellacking skills to the stuff I enjoy. I cover movies, books, games, and music. We also got a podcast here. Welcome aboard!

1 comment:

The Igloo Keeper... said...

Well said. I too have that weird primal fear. Especially when I'm infiltrating a coven of masked devil worshippers at a sacrifice and my mobile phone goes off.

That's a recurring dream rather than a fear, technically.