Salutations, acolytes of the abhorrent, and welcome to the archives of the B-Reels. You may be disappointed to learn that I survived the harrowing gauntlet that is University hand-in season and shall be turning my gaze to the 70s in this, the first of my Pagan Sacrifice twosome!
The Wicker Man is one of those films that has been tattooed into the monstrous, mottled arse of Horror Film History since it’s debut in 1973; a fact which is less than surprising considering it’s pure magnificence. This particular flick holds a rather special place in my own heart, probably somewhat due to my previous dance with the world of pagan sacrifice in what I now realize, upon retrospect, was probably not the best life choice. Suffice it to say that post-pubescent, blonde-haired, blue-eyed, pure-of-heart-and-fucking-soul female virgins are rather difficult to find in my neck of the woods, so I had to revert to the old goat trick. Turns out that’s only really effective with Satan and I just ended up pissing Sulis off… Long story short, I now live one hundred and eighty-five miles away from my home county.
The Wicker Man is one of but a few feature films directed by cult film maker Robin Hardy, and definitely his most successful. In terms of quality, the flick is pretty damn good, for the early seventies that is. There is a bizarre re-occurrence of these nasty, out of focus and altogether off-colour shots, which have the same visual quality as if they’d been filmed through the eyes of a man who was partially blinded during a freak orange-dye accident several years past. I’m not sure whether the inclusion of these is due to budgetary issues, the addition of extra imagery for the directors cut or that ever slippery slope of ineptitude, artistic license. These oddities aside, it’s the film’s subject matter that really captures my contemplation: It deals with the clash of two cultures and the exquisite fashion by which one, ever at the judgement of the other, thoroughly fucks shit up. If there’s one thing that sells this film, to the pagan audience at any rate, it’s the resolute affirmation that the ideals and beliefs of a people who choose to deviate from the norm should never be challenged by the narrow-minded and foolish. Especially when said judgement is based on little more than “I art holier than thou, oh deluded heathen”. You know why? Because they will sacrifice you. And it will not be quick.
The story follows an ultra right-wing, Christian wanker of a police officer by the name of Sergeant Howie, who responds to a mysterious letter concerning a missing child and travels to the enigmatic island of Summerisle, a veritable pagan paradise. Howie’s character is conveyed via the means of British televisual extravaganza Edward Woodward, who does an excellent job of making us wish upon him an excruciating death from the very start. The man’s first line of the whole film is “Get a hair cut”, a statement which has been engraved in my own brain as the immediate sign of the kind of person who should be rapidly reduced to a viscous splatter of crimson on the walls of a firing range.
Woodward’s performance is parallel to that of horror film legend, and infamous sorcerer, Christopher Lee, whose role is that of Lord Summerisle; charismatic overlord of the lovable religious fanatics. Indeed the majority of the film’s entertainment is to be found in the extended metaphorical game of chess being played out by the two opposing forces of Howie and Summerisle, made only more brilliant by the formers complete air of imprudent ignorance in the face of spiritual individuality. If truth be told, I cannot help but revel in Howie’s utter disgust in the face of people and events which challenge his excessively fascist outlook, especially considering the film’s inevitable outcome. I should probably take the time to tell you that I will be discussing the movie’s ending in spoilerific detail so, if you have yet to see the film, you might want to avert your gaze lest I blow your poor, naive little mind. That being said, if you don’t already know about the infamous final scene of The Wicker Man then you’re probably never going to watch it anyway. But more on that later.
I’d like to take the time to discuss some of the scenes which deal with the aforementioned bewildered outrage, on the part of our bastardilic protagonist. One of my favorites is a short sequence wherein Howie leaves the local inn, during his first night on the island, only to be confronted by an entire field of people shagging. Considering the strict, almost puritan nature of the man, his abstinence out of wedlock having been previously determined, this is just fantastic. My favorite shot of the entire film follows shortly after as Howie glances through a hedge to behold the sight of a young woman, stark naked, weeping profusely onto a gravestone. I don’t even know what purpose this serves, but I honestly don’t care! It’s one of those moments which, when viewed for the thirtieth time, is no less classic. It conjures up that same kind of disconcerted unease which one may feel if one where to catch a glimpse of a nun quickly exiting a sex shop, brown paper bag in hand.
The other scene, which never fails to have me chuckling, is that in which Woodward finally confronts Lee, in the introduction of Lord Summerisle’s imposing character. The scene opens with a group of naked teenage girls sat in a circle around a fire, at the center of a stonehenge like structure. This swiftly breaks into a bizarre song sequence wherein said girls begin to prance around the fire in a fashion altogether absurd, at least from the perspective of our authoritarian on-looker. They flail their arms wildly from side to side, prancing with all the gusto of a new born lamb, utterly failing to comprehend the connotations of the huge wolf beast chasing it playfully. Following this, the young-ladies proceed to take turns vaulting said fire, which I can only assume would have resulted in more than a few singed curls. Howie, naturally, questions this seemingly haphazard sequence of events, only for Summerisle to inform him that the maidens are attempting to become impregnated by the god of fire, which I can’t help but imagine would be rather painful for the poor young creatures. This is followed by a nice little dialogue wherein the importance of the paganism to the townsfolk is related by Summerisle, who explains in detail the founding of said religion on the basis of maintaining the apple crops which drive the island’s economy. It’s the inclusion of this detailed and well considered incentive that pulls The Wicker Man away from the dangerous territory of “paganz is going to sacrufice u cos theyr eevil!!1”
All things considered, however, it is this perpetual assault on the beliefs and ideals of the protagonist which pushes this film forward, the unending and escalating saturation of pagan doctrines and deeds proving nothing short of hilarious when compared to the ever increasing anger of the rigid turd whose eyes through which we see it all. Whether it’s the preserved corpse of a siamese piglet in the photographers house, or the unfortunate timing of a lesson on the importance of the phallic symbol at the girls school, The Wicker Man continually provides entertainment for those who enjoy the writhing discomfort of their fellow man.
This all culminates, of course, in the final scene. By this point, we’re pretty much sick of Howie and his little game autocrat and mouse, and are somewhat disappointed when he actually manages to find the missing girl he set out for in the first place. Having duped the villages and seemingly saved the lass from imminent sacrifice, the little girl turns the game around and leads him straight into the hands of her supposed captors. Howie is then battered and stripped bare, having been informed that his disagreeable attitude, ignorant perceptions, self-entitled authority and subservience to the Christ God will make him the perfect sacrifice; you know, to improve the crops and such. The frustrating arse retorts that Jesus will save him, upon which we are offered a moment of glee when he is informed that his unfaltering faith will make him only the juicier for the ravenous earth gods.
The big finale is, of course, The Wicker Man itself. I would not be surprised if this was where the entirety of the budget was spent because, in all honesty, this thing is totally badass. It looks like the kind of thing you might expect to see roaming the nightmare-scapes of an old woman whose spent the past fifty years working in the woven basket section of a slowly failing garden center. It’s non-too-dissimilar to the kind of structure I’m always weary of stumbling across on a fateful day in Animal Crossing, Tom Nook prancing naked at it’s base while those disturbing porcupines from the haberdashery shop close in on you, brandishing spools of wool for the binding. It’s the kind of thing I would happily pay thousands upon thousands of pounds to have reconstructed if ever the state funeral of Margret Thatcher were put to a public vote.
The film ends with the excruciating screams of Sergeant Howie, begging his dead god to save him from the claws of the pagan maniacs. He doesn’t of course… That would be a shite ending!
AJT “Mutie” Neill