Please welcome Michelle Kinnison back for a second year of our Halloween Horrors series!
The wife of fellow contributor Derrick Kinnison, Michelle made her Halloween series splash last year with her look at 1954’s Creature from the Black Lagoon. She returns this year, setting her sights on a horror classic from the 1970’s, Robin Hardy’s The Wicker Man.
I could talk a little about the movie, but Michelle already does an excellent job doing such, so why don’t we use this intro to do something else?…
Like wishing a very HAPPY ANNIVERSARY to Michelle and Derrick, who are celebrating 18 years of marriage today! While I have not had the pleasure of meeting either of these fine folks in person, I could speak volumes to the amount of support that both have continuously shown me, this site, and (especially) this series! Congrats, guys! We’re so happy for the both of you, and send our endless gratitude for your friendship and support!
The Wicker Man
“Come. It’s time to keep your appointment with… The Wicker Man.“
At first, I wasn’t sure about this movie and my husband tried very hard to get me to watch it. I think it actually took several years because of a thought that this film would belittle and discriminate against personal beliefs. But, one day I told myself to sit down and give it a watch and see what it was all about. I fell in love with all aspects of the film!
Beginning with a great cast which includes the late, great Christopher Lee, Ingrid Pitt, Diane Cilento, Britt Ekland, and Edward Woodward. Directed by the late Robin Hardy and screenplay by Anthony Shaffer, and music done by Paul Giovanni. The location of the shoot and the costumes for the May Day celebration all correspond to the beliefs of this religion. You have the making of a film set to intrigue, inspire, and possibly educate in the realm of true sacrifice.
Back before this got started, Christopher wanted to break free from the image of the Hammer Horror films that had been so successful and to take on more interesting acting roles, which brought him to work with Shaffer when they met back in ’71. After a few conversations with Hardy, it was decided that it would be fun to make a horror film centering on the “old religion”, which would be a sharp contrast of the Hammer Horror films which they were fans of.
Shaffer set to work on writing the script, wanting something “a little more literate” than the average horror movie with gore, violence, and scare factor. The idea and focus finally hit him to make an abstract concept of sacrifice, and through research of the “old religion” and finding claims that people were sacrificed and executed by burning them on woven sculptures, it became the reality for which Shaffer said “was the most alarming and imposing figure that he’d seen”. The role of “Lord Summerisle” was written for Lee by Shaffer personally, and Lee, when interviewed, always said that “it was a brilliant film” and one of his favorite roles that he played.
And so… you have The Wicker Man.
The film begins with Sgt. Neil Howie (Woodward) being a respectful and prominent figure of the police force and at his church. He doesn’t seem to find little jokes and gestures of debauchery and lawlessness very amusing. The Sgt. receives an anonymous letter that a girl has disappeared for quite some time, so he takes up the task to find her and travels to the remote island of Summerisle. He already knows that there are things about the island and its community that doesn’t settle well with him and his personal views, but he still goes.
Once there, he immediately receives some opposition from the community when he’s told that the girl doesn’t belong to their island and that he’s made a mistake. He presses on to make further inquiries and still finds that she doesn’t belong. He starts to notice that people in the community are openly having sex in the fields and are teaching and involving children in the May Day celebrations, which pays homage to the Pagan Celtic gods of their ancestors. He’s frustrated that the people and the children aren’t taught of the Christian God. Upon further inspection, he finds that maybe the girl belonged to the island and no longer exists. Checking a so-called grave that he finds, he eventually goes to meet with Lord Summerisle (Lee) and discuss his findings.
Lord Summerisle begins to explain their ways and their belief in the Gods of Old and that the inhabitants of the island were roused from their apathy and given a new embrace to the Pagan religion. Howie is very unhappy about this and exclaims that it is all “Fake!”. He receives permission to exhume the grave of the girl in question, to which he finds that it’s empty of a human body and finds that of a hare in its place.
Howie is angry and starts searching the island to find the girl, upon believing and researching that she is alive and hidden away to be sacrificed in the May Day celebrations. He finds that the crops failed the year before and will need to be renewed with new life, so he must work quickly to stop all that may happen. But in doing so and disguising himself as The Fool, Punch, he uncovers a darker secret and truth that the community were in search of a sacrifice for their Gods, but not that of the girl who’s found alive and plays the final part of luring in Sgt. Howie.
The poor Sgt. seems confused and then is told, sure, animals and small children are acceptable, but they need the right kind of adult for efficiency. They need a man who represents the law, coming to the island of his own free will, who’s a virgin, and becomes The Fool for the honor. Howie scoffs in disbelief and tries to leave, but is retained and prepared. Washed and marked for the Gods, he’s placed inside the Wicker Man, the strong and imposing woven wood figure already filled with animals for extra efficiency.
Crying out to the people and Summerisle that they are wrong and that all they hold dear will wither away and die for what they are doing and for not believing in the Christian God.
“Reverent the sacrifice”, Lord Summerisle proclaims, and the Wicker Man is set alight and begins to burn. Howie starts to pray and asks for God to receive him while he departs the Earth. When he starts to feel the burn and animals start to cry, he cries out “Oh God, Oh Jesus Christ” and that they are all damned while the community sings and celebrates the burning to the end.
Which leaves you with the final shot of the Wicker Man folding over as it burns into the sunset of the day.
And there’s the finish. For me, when I’m done watching this film, I have this quiet happy splendor inside that hales to the Gods that there will be a renewal for another day and season. Since watching it annually for our own May Day celebrations (no sacrifices as of yet – hehe), I find myself singing along with all the songs and enjoying every bit of poor Sgt. Howie hopelessly blundering around with the assumption that his ways and his beliefs are all that there are. I love the way that the baked goods, costumes, rituals, and teachings are blended in. Some in subtle ways and others that aren’t, but in a way that just makes the whole film and shows off the Pagan religion, alive and vibrant. I love that even though the film wasn’t widely received well, over time the film has been described as “The Citizen Kane of horror movies”, which may not seem accurate as some didn’t think it was an actual “horror” film. However, it is now a “cult classic” and was named the sixth greatest British film of all time.
So, if you haven’t ever viewed this film (or have), I suggest having a watch to immerse yourself into the old ways and of maybe a simpler time when there would be a need to give a little sacrifice to ensure that life would continue.