The 1973 British mystery horror The Wicker Man is perhaps the perfect horror film for people who do not typically enjoy the genre. Considered a ‘folk horror’, The Wicker Man is a curious tale of an unsuspecting detective sent to find a missing teenage girl on the mysterious and picturesque island of Summerisle. The distinct lack of jump scares is a welcome reprieve for us more cowardly viewers, but the plot has plenty of stylish, gut-wrenching twists that will impress even the most jaded of horror fans.
The Wicker Man delivers truly stellar performances by a young Christopher Lee cast as the creepily charismatic Lord Summerisle, and Edward Woodward as the dogged but well-meaning Sergeant Howie. The sergeant is the moral defender in the film, only to be challenged at every corner in his quest. He is horrified to discover the island’s paganistic practises as a devout Christian, yet his disgust at the hedonistic rituals and off-beat beliefs of the islander turns out to be trivial to proceedings.
Howie discovers the locals to be deliberately hindering his investigation, with the cast of villagers delivering the kooky, homey presence of a Carry On film gone completely demented. Howie’s discovery of a rotten secret at the heart of the island’s annual May Day festival practices leads to the unravelling of his investigation and his state of reality.
The film seems both dystopian and familiar, with a consistent and overwhelming sense of uncanny throughout. Yet, for all its delectable strangeness and quaint setting, the film cleverly leads Howie and the viewer down the garden path together.The symbolic use of actual pagan traditions gives the film the otherworldly, spiritual overtones that elevate The Wicker Man from a straight detective mystery to something eerily unseating and beautiful.
Horror is a genre that can heavily rely on the power of its score to aid its storytelling. The film’s heavily folk-inspired, acoustic-driven score is made up of hypnotic melodies, used to complement some of the more surreal scenes.
It remains a well-aged stalworth of British cinema making it a perfect fit for its “cult classic” status.