The Wicker Man; or We Learn What to do When Your Crops Fail

Hello and Hallo-welcome to another edition of #TBT Terror Thursday, where horrors from yesterday haunt you today! You join your hosts, Andy and Lilly, who are heathens conceivably, but enlightened ones, they hope.

Today’s Film Offering: The Wicker Man

Shocker might be a bit much...
Shocker might be a bit much…

Lilly: First of all, just to be clear (if it isn’t clear enough being on #TBT Terror Thursday), we are going to be talking about the original Wicker Man and not the impressively silly remake starring Nicolas Cage. So if you came here for that…go home and think about your choices.

The Wicker Man is a film with a relatively simple set-up. A police officer gets a letter from a sweet little island called Summerisle, claiming to need his help in the hunt for a missing young girl. He hops in his plane and pops over to see what’s what, because apparently most of the police budget was put into surprise plane trips in the 70s.

Andy: It’s never made very clear how much official sanction he has in his investigation – there’s never any mention of calling for backup, or reports sent back to the mainland. He is, for all intents and purposes, on his own.

Lilly: What could go wrong!

The Wicker Man is the story of a man convinced that he is doing the right thing in a world of wrong, and it’s interesting to watch as things unfold and reveal themselves around the Sergeant. In a story that is bookended by one scene featuring Christian communion (where the flesh and blood of the saviour is symbolically eaten) and a pagan ritual of sacrifice that is painted as barbaric, the film leads its viewers to question their belief in beliefs. What do you do when your rights and morals are not shared by those around you–add into that the complication of the law, and you got yourself The Wicker Man.

Andy: We’ve seen lots of Lovecraftian cults where the worshippers are rewarded with a glimpse at their eldritch masters. Here, the water is a lot muddier. There is no evidence that the cult of Summerisle does anything at all – in fact it’s implied heavily that it doesn’t – but that doesn’t make it any less real or important to the islanders.

But there is no indication that Sergeant Howie’s own Christianity is any more or less legitimate than the ‘pagan’ rituals. In fact, both get what they ‘want’, even if becoming a martyr is a somewhat outdated ideal in the Christian world. His appeals to science fall into hypocrisy, as he simultaneously accuses them all of being heathens.

Lilly: Everyone pretty much knows how this film ends, so there won’t be any spoiler alerts here. The Wicker Man ends with a wicker man–I mean. Come on. However, knowing how it ends doesn’t make it any less sinister. In fact, knowing how it ends make everything sinister, from the May Pole dancing to the overtly sexual Inn Keeper’s daughter. As a side note, this film actually has a scene where the protagonist enters an inn and the music abruptly stops and people stare. Without it being a joke. Loved it.

Andy: There is something genuinely off about Summerisle, from the half-glimpsed religious ‘ceremonies’ happening just off to the side, to the evasiveness of the islanders – they’re all spectacularly bad liars, but it’s never clear whether this is to draw Sergeant Howie further in intentionally, or if they are all just fundamentally honest.

Lilly: My favourite bad liar is definitely the ‘grave digger’, who basically turns up and tells the Sergeant everything. Even things he didn’t ask about. He was just chatting away, and it made me wonder how far I was into the film because the cat wasn’t just being let out of the bag, it was being swung around the room and giving away the whole plot. His sniggering over the question about the island’s priest was fantastic. What a stupid question is right! Pagans don’t have ministers! Silly.

Andy: One thing this film does for me very, very well is dread.

The ending is extremely well known (it’s in the title for goodness sake) and so this dread only increases on a repeat viewing – knowing where everything is going makes the whole thing an exercise less in suspense and more in inevitable doom.

Lilly: What was weird for me was that, while watching this horror film, I found myself curious about the pagan religion the people of Summerisle practiced. I wanted Sergeant Howie to shut up with his prejudice and just listen to what the people were talking about. Did that fire ritual really work? What were the pregnant ladies doing? How can I get Christopher Lee to sing to me while wearing a frilly shirt and a kilt? How?

At times, I forgot I was supposed to be scared and actually was annoyed with Howie’s offensive attitude towards the locals. I started rooting for them, really. I mean, sure, there was human sacrifice in their practice, but, you know. They seemed happy?

That’s actually the creepiest part for me. The film actually makes you go ‘well, maybe human sacrifice isn’t so bad if everyone is consenting to it…’ They do make the point that Howie came to the island of his own free will–wait. No. Wait. They burnt a human! Not good. Not good, Lilly.

Andy: A recommendation is kind of redundant. It’s a cult classic, and should probably be seen by anyone interested in horror cinema. It’s a weird one, horrifying rather than scary, and with interesting questions about faith and the function of religion. It’s thematically rich, dark and creepy.

Lilly: Go watch it already.

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