The Wicker Man (1973) (R)

A revered cult classic that didn't demand a remake with Nicholas Cage, "The Wicker Man" is mentioned the most when referring to horror movies that have lost their charm. This movie's time has past, true, but the impact of the film is still present and impossible to avoid.
Receiving a letter addressed to him personally, Sergeant Howie (Edward Woodward) sets off for Summerisle to search for a missing girl.
The opening shots of the movie include Howie descending onto a lake of the small Scottish village in his airplane....everyone watches. Neighbors peers out of windows and people stop their work to take a quick look at the newcomer. You get the idea that there are no secrets on this island and that everyone knows everything.
Once on the water, Howie leans out the window of his plane and asks for the dingy...but is refused the vessel. The island is private property and the residents have a hard time comprehending any sort of law enforcement.
Eventually, they row the boat over to him and the camera makes sure to note the eye painted onto the side of the dingy—adding to the already eerie feeling of being watched.
Sergeant Howie has one picture of the girl—Rowan Morrison—that was mailed to him with the letter. This letter seems to be sent anonymously and tells the sergeant of the missing girl. When Howie present the photo to the native islanders, they shake their head and tell him that they've never seen her.
Everyone shuts out Howie at first...but when presented with evidence, the men cave and tell Howie where to to find Rowan's mother...sort of. They say they know a Mrs. Morrison but there's no one named Rowan that lives on Summerisle.
Mrs. Morrison knows of no child named Rowan and dismisses the sergeant.
Now committed to the oddity of the island and becoming obsessed with finding Rowan, Sergeant Howie is one man against many.
His mind convinces him that he's being duped and he is very displeased with that.
Sergeant Howie is a very religious man, in every sense of the word. A devout Christian, Howie holds himself to a very high moral code...but the island tests him at every opportunity.
The island is populated with "heathens". These men and women are pantheistic and worship the gods of the sun and sea. This is horrifying to Howie, who on several occasions, resorts to screaming at the villagers because of their beliefs.
Not the most eloquent man, surrounded by people lost completely to their own thoughts and beliefs, Howie struggles to make his voice heard.
"The Wicker Man" succeeds in its obscurity and oddity. The story itself, if you were to look at it on paper, might seem ridiculous...particularly when it comes to the ending scenes. But Anthony Shaffer, the screenwriter, gives equal percentages to madness and logic.
As Howie, Woodward seems to base his character off of Rex Harrison. He's classy and sophisticated...but rigid.
This movie's impact might not be readily seen...but take a closer look at films like "The Matrix" and even "Hot Fuzz"—"The Wicker Man" influences much more than its own genre.
Obviously a large part of the film deals with belief and religion; but a smaller part reveals some heavy-handed Freudian moments...which are very intentional in this film.
Robin Hardy, the director, seemed to not want to maximize the "scare effect" of "The Wicker Man". Instead, he lets the film unsettle you, like the island does to Howie.
It could have been more frightening...the use of songs and music is distracting and unnecessary.
I can see why some people wanted to remake this film...but they probably shouldn't have.
"The Wicker Man" is strangely fascinating.

Score: 3 out of 4 stars

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