Time to get a few more cinematic scares out there before the season is past us. The next one up on my list is The Wicker Man(1973). Directed by Robin Hardy, this film is another one of those movies that creeps up on you and creates a subtle air of menace and strangeness, before the final moments of terror.
Police officer Neil Howie( Edward Woodward, later starring in American TV's The Equalizer) goes to a small island communtiy to look for a missing girl. At first glance, the island is a quaint, old-fashioned little place. As Howie questions the locals, he discovers that they all practice Pagan folk cures and rituals. This shocks the very upright Christian officer, as does the attempts by a local girl(Britt Eklund) to seduce Howie with a naked song -and-dance, which the staunch Christian policeman resists(the dumbass). Howie even meets with the owner of the place, Lord Summerisle(Christopher Lee), who shares the nonchalance of the rest of the island's populace about the missing girl. It soon becomes clear that the island's residents are playing a game with Howie, and that their Pagan practices don't stop at mere folk remedies...they quite possibly practice human sacrifice to appease their gods and keep their crops growing well. Howie fears that the missing girl is to be their sacrifice. Will Howie figure out what's going on? Will he save the girl? Or is there another who is meant to be offered up to the gods?
The Wicker Man does a great job in building up an overall creepy feel...it has more in common with the atmospheric horror films like Let's Scare Jessica To Death than , say, any of Lucio Fulci's Italian gorefests. It wasn't too hard to figure out how this was going to play out, but the story is good and the acting is also right up there as well. Wodward does a fine job as the frustrated, uptight policeman, and Lee , of course, is great as the island's eccentric owner. Add in beauties like Eklund and Ingrid Pitt, and you have all the ingredients for a classy, intelligent horror film. It is a bit light on the gore, but it more than makes up for it with style and atmosphere. Shot primarily in Scotland, some of the scenery is quite beautiful, which acts as a counterbalance to the horror lurking in the background...like David Lynch would later show in films such as Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks, death and horror can be found lurking even in the most idyllic and/or pastoral backdrops.
I picked up a nice copy of this one on DVD by Anchor Bay a few years back...It's in an actual wooden box with lots of extras, including a fine documentary and trailers. This was one of the few movies I've bought before I'd actually seen...every article and review I'd read said this was an outstanding film, and when I saw the deluxe box at Best Buy , I couldn't pass it up. I have to agree with all the reviews, it is a very good film. The Wicker Man is a perfect Pagan holiday film to watch on a Pagan holiday...I have not seen the remake of this, and by all accounts, I probably won't. Check out the original-you won't be sorry.