"Corn Rigs are bonny."
THE WICKER MAN is said to be something of an enigma, and rightly so. It was made at a time when Shepperton Studios, having lost money for years, was under the axe and about to be bought and (at that time) possibly divvied up among the buzzards. It was made by a group of individuals who wanted to try something new with Horror, with Christopher Lee being chief among the creators. He felt that the Horror movie stalwart of that time (1970), Hammer films (his most eminent employer), had become heavy handed and tiresome.
He was right.
This was during the rise of low budget U.S. Directors (Tobe Hooper, George Romero) and Italian Horror movie Directors (Mario Bava, Lucio Fulci, and Dario Argento). Their movies were pounding the hell out of Hammer studios.
Hammer had lost its edge and its creative bent, choosing to trot out the same old chestnuts that had once been popular and, failing to get the desired result, adding nudity for the sake of controversy. Well I for one, really appreciate nudity in movies - but - if it's only on the screen to elicit some blue-nosed boob into protesting outside the theater, then the movie is usually a worthless piece of crap.
Yes, THE WICKER MAN has nudity: wonderfully so. No, it's not for some blue nosed boob. On the contrary, THE WICKER MAN is probably one of the smartest, deepest Horror movies I've ever seen: PSYCHO, THE EXORCIST, and THE SIXTH SENSE being among those included in that group. And to add one more thing about the nudity, unlike many American Horror movies, its not presented as a way of targeting the naked person for death nor, like Italian Horror movies, is the subject being subjugated. Instead, the nudity is presented as life affirming, wholesome, even spiritual yet not preachy. Having first seen THE WICKER MAN way back in the 1980s, I kept that image with me, of the young and beautiful Britt Ecklund dancing naked in her room, beating her fists against the walls, entreating the celibate Sergeant Howard to share her bed. Since then, Horror movies or stories that can only dwell on repressed or revenge based displays of sexuality, make me shake my head at the writer or director's lack of talent - or repressed sexuality.
In THE WICKER MAN, Sergeant Howie (Edward Woodward), a policeman from Scotland, flies in his official seaplane out to one of the Northwest isles. He is there because an anonymous resident of the island fears that one of the children, a Rowan Morris, has been kidnapped. Upon arriving at the tiny island, famed for its yearly crop of delicious apples, he finds the villagers unhelpful. The isle is small and everyone knows everyone else. Yet no one has ever seen the young victim. Finding the purported Mother of Rowan, he becomes even more perplexed. Mrs. Morris has but one daughter and it's not Rowan. The only Morris on the Isle knows nothing of the missing child. Having flown so far and so long, Howie isn't about to give up so easily, not until he at least has had a word with the noble of the island, Lord Sumerisle (Christopher Lee: HORROR HOTEL, TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA, DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE, SLEEPY HOLLOW, THE LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy).
Seargent Howie finds himself distressed by the islanders almost from the beginning. A seriously devout Christian man, Sergeant Howie, though in his 40s, is proud of his virginity and the fact that he is saving himself for marriage to his fiance. Yet the Islanders are Pagan; and their beliefs and traditions, especially concerning sex, are viewed with both offense and fear by the Sergeant.
A side note here: There are two versions of THE WICKER MAN, the final edited version and the chopped to hell version. The latter being the one the new owners of Shepperton studios, who knew nothing of film making it appears, raped and mutilated. The one that survives today is thanks to Roger Corman. He nearly became the American distributor for the picture; had it in his possession, and was able to use his own print in re-release in 1979. More on that later, but getting back to Shepperton Studios in 1973.
Michael Deely replaced Peter Snells as head at British Lion Films, (B.L. was beholden to Shepperton's investment money) and thought that THE WICKER MAN was one of the worst movies he had ever seen (I bet it was the music that killed it for him). After a screening of the movie for the cast and crew, he snidely treated Christopher Lee, Lee's wife, and the writer and director in a manner most shabby. Well, film history has shown Deely to be the kind of man whose taste is all in his mouth. Not only has THE WICKER MAN come to be regarded as one of the top Horror movies of all time, but as one of the 100 best movies of all time.
You won't find the heavy handed Horror that Hammer films de-evolved into in the mid to late 1960s. And you won't find the ham-fisted style of Horror that floated side-up on the surface of Horror movies in the U.S. from the late 1970s right up to today (with a few exceptions). THE WICKER MAN starts out as a detective story, becomes a mystery, mutates into a musical of all things, and finally slides down into the screaming depths of Horror. Those who know their Celtic history are already halfway home concerning the plot of THE WICKER MAN, but even so, its the kind of slow creeping Horror movie that gets under your skin and won't let go. Even the music, which put me off at first viewing, has pleasently burrowed into my memory. The pagan religion of the Isle is steeped in traditions and music plays a major role in it. Unlike most musicals, when folks break into song in this film, it makes perfect sense, even if the songs themselves don't suit your musical taste. They sure as hell don't suit mine. Even today I'd be much happier without most of the music, especially that freaking Corn Rigs song.
THE WICKER MAN is loaded with subtlety, nuance, and enough twists and chases to satisfy repeated viewings. There is always more to learn within the story, it seems, and watching a young Britt Eklund dancing butt-naked in her rutting passion is a nice way to pass the time.
Due to a horrible miscalculation on the part of a worker at the studio and the absolute bone headed stupidity of Michael Deely, the only negatives in existence, all 200 reels of them, were thrown out to be used as filler for the M3 roadway that was built in Great Britain shortly after the release of the THE WICKER MAN. Zoom forward to 1979 and a group of film distributors/investors want to re-release the film, but there are no decent copies left.
Ah but there is one. One perfect copy made before the morons at Shepperton Studios
got their greasy fingers on it. The lone print that was sent to American
Indie producer, director, and film distributor, Roger Corman. It's because
of Roger that THE WICKER MAN exists today. Thanks dude!
You get both versions on two separate discs in the special limited edition. I feel that current distributor, Anchor Bay Entertainment (who I can't praise highly enough), should offer both versions in their regular packages too. Perhaps a double sided disc.
With great added features including theatrical trailers, a TV spot, radio spots, talent bios, and the excxellent short documentary, THE WICKER MAN ENIGMA, this new DVD release is a treasure worth 5 Shriek Girls.
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