I’d heard about this film for years, whispers about its cult status and legendary performance from Christopher Lee. I wasn’t sure what to expect, short of a possibly strange and disturbing little English film. This turns out to be an accurate description of The Wicker Man.
I’m not too sure how to read this film. Undoubtedly I’ll have a different interpretation now, 33 years after it was first released, than that of the contemporary audience. What was once horror and blasphemy now seems like strangeness and whimsy. Bearing that in mind, I can’t speak to the director’s original intent (something which has little bearing on film studies), I can only speak to my interpretation of the film.
There are many strange sequences in the film, some musical, some sexual. Due to the strangeness of the island, the audience is almost forced to identify with the only ‘normal’ character, Sergeant Howie, even though he’s not totally sympathetic. The film creates an excellent feeling of alienation and maintains that tone throughout.
The performances are good all around, particular standouts being Woodward and Lee. Britt Ekland’s physical presence in the film is captivating, even though her acting is only average. One note of interest: the Scottish accents in the film don’t seem very accurate (at least from the main characters). Not surprising since both Woodward and Lee are from the south of England, nowhere near Scotland.
After viewing the original Wicker Man, I’m curious to see the Neil LaBute remake. I can’t envision a Hollywood version of such a quirky English film. There are many subplots and subtexts in the film that would still shock or confuse modern viewers. Original director Hardy also has an apparent sequel/re-imagining of The Wicker Man in production at the moment as well called Cowboys for Christ, starring Christopher Lee, among others.
I can see why this film has maintained interest for over 30 years. The Wicker Man is dark, sexy, quirky and mysterious and remains one of the most memorable English films of the 1970s.