THE WICKER MAN
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The following review of THE WICKERMAN was written December 4, 2000 at alt.books.ghost-fiction. The author rbadac (Real name: Johnny Eatman) was a literate and enjoyable voice in the horror genre and on the Internet. Due to the Internet as it was in the year 2000, many people had come to know rbadac as a friend even though they had never met him in person. He was intelligent, witty, and funny. This posthumous reposting of his review is done not only to honor his memory, but so others may remember him.
You are missed, rbad.
Whether cult status has any respectability at all in itself is a question I hasten to avoid; my catalog of secret shameful activities includes a few items befitting the term, and I am therefore mindful to be indulgent of the practice, in theory at least, if not in all its manifestations. In film, cultism tends to involve the appreciation of certain works that are more distinctive in their parts than in their sum - a standard that can embrace anything from the intermittently endearing to the irredeemably trashy - and which usually flies in the face of accepted critical opinion. Thus even a cineaste who knows better might be surprised at home one evening in his or her knickers, with a mouthful of Raisinets and a videotape of THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW or LIQUID SKY or REANIMATOR humming away in the VCR, displaying a mortified expression having no regard to one's choice of lounging wear.
I confess to being an unabashed member of the Wicker Man cult, if only because I
find myself watching it at least once a year whether I need to or not,
a practice I reserve for a handful of movies that, otherwise unrelated,
have become part of my private culture of
entertainment. I am happy to report that THE WICKER MAN (British Lion; 1973) does possess parts which justify it on some weird plane
that is sufficient to its fans, yet, amusingly, do not confute the arguments
of its detractors, and nevertheless achieves a very satisfying
whole for those who like that sort of thing. How's that for an appraisal?
There is, however, the awkward matter of the film's music (yes, the major problem with making THE WICKER MAN a musical is that it already *is* one - a bad one), and here I quail in horror, for it is here that this curate's egg gets really rotten.
Paul Giovanni was commissioned to provide the numbers, performed by him and by the group Lodestone, renamed
Magnet in some credits and assembled specifically for this film, which
are intended to suggest folk tunes. Musically they're not bad, but when
the sung lyrics are added they plunge
in quality and become uniquely cringeworthy. The "major seventh meets
Rod McKuen imitating Robert Burns" compositional approach (although
Giovanni really did try to use traditional songs as the basis for the
film's, the hypnotic effect they may have had in the Seventies
is sadly dated now)
is enough to make anyone paddle that crippled seaplane all the way back
to the mainland, and to hell with Rowan Morrison - even after repeated
viewings there are some songs I simply cannot stand to hear: I could certainly
do without "Corn Rigs"
intruding in the opening credits and elsewhere, a truly insipid piece
of crap, which actually *is* a genuine Robert Burns lyric; "The Maypole
Song" is more nerve-wracking than "Dem Bones" and "100
Bottles Of Beer On The Wall" combined; "Gently Johnny,"
sung by Giovanni while Ekland is initiating a lucky young lad into the mysteries of sex,
though musically quite pretty, is laugh-out-loud bad, the kind of song
you're compelled to make up dirtier (and better)
lyrics to, even if it too has its genesis in genuine old ballads; and
Ekland's own wistfully dirty ditty, "Heigh Ho," sung during her naked fertility
dance and wall-slapping attempt to seduce Sgt. Howie (the
closest Howie ever comes to shedding his inhibitions - egad, he could have gone
ahead and committed *that* sin and been sorry for it *later*, the poor
dumb schmuck) is, in this context, embarrassingly inappropriate,
Ekland's performance of it Amateur Hour all the way - though, with the
feature of Ekland's nude body to distract one, it passes relatively painlessly.
Plagued in its release career by near-Kafkaesque problems with
multiple distributor buyouts, chopped- up prints which rearranged sequences
and removed as much as 20 minutes of its 102 minute running time, the
destruction of its original negative (necessitating
a near-futile hunt for a complete print, of which exactly *one* was found
to exist, in the hands of Roger Corman in America - his recommendations
had been partially responsible for the cut versions, but he happened to
have the original lying around intact!), and an inordinate number
of people who simply didn't want to help it along, and refused to aid
anyone who did (including Rod Stewart, who reportedly offered six figures to purchase and destroy
the film to protect his then-sweetie Britt Ekland from being flaunted
before the movie-going public spanking her own ass), THE WICKER MAN is nowadays
usually available at most tape rental outlets on the
Magnum Entertainment video label which, at 101 minutes (Christopher
Lee has said that the first shooting script-length draft, the best version
in his opinion, lost an *additional* 20 or 25 minutes or so no one will
ever see due to the first editor at British Lion actively hating
the film and conveniently "losing" parts he didn't care for),
is more or less as complete as it is likely ever to be though not without
a couple of "jumps" (Howie berating Rowan's
mother near the end has lost some lines of dialogue), and may have
a laserdisc or DVD incarnation of which I am unaware.
Special thanks to Deja.com for supplying an easily searchable list of alt. boards on the net.
Thanks also to Rhys at the John
Pelan Message Board (mastersofterror.cjb.net)
for turning me on to Deja.com in the first place.
E.C. McMullen Jr. is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.
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