It’s time to keep your appointment with The Wicker Man

wicker manNO WONDER The Wicker Man has such a reputation. Robin Hardy’s 1973 classic is as haphazard as it is brilliant, chilling as it is heart-warming; hauntingly beautiful as it is ugly.

Christopher Lee was on fine form when they filmed this four decades ago. He carries the film in partnership with Edward Woodward, who plays Sergeant Howie from West Highland Police, sent into the breach of a far-off Scottish Island Isle by the name of Summerisle to look for the disappeared girl Rowan Morrison.

The search for the girl begins on the isle, but nobody believes she is alive or has ever seen her. Lee plays Lord Summerisle, who condones all the cult religion and sexualization of women. In his search Howie is left outraged by the culture of the island, which is part pagan, part unique cult. There are scenes of rampant sex on the village green, a ceremonial dance hoping to fertilise women without intercourse, and abstract animal masks which lead to the end of the film in which a May Day Ceremony is lead through the village onto the village green and back down to the beach. In April 1973 Howie is more of an interference than a help or authority figure as a police officer. As a representative of the state he is the main focus of the islanders attentions.

The film leads up to 1st May, where Howie gets himself into the procession as the Fool. The crux of the entire film. Having already researched the ceremony during his investigations he realises that there is a close to one-hundred percent chance that the girl sacrificed was Rowan. A predictable plot twist but dramatic nonetheless. However, the most dramatic plot twist was yet to come. Rowan is exposed as the bait as Howie attempts to lead her to escape through the caves of the highlands, before it is finally known that he is the central character of their attentions. He is imprisoned in The Wicker Man. The image of the film both literally and figuratively is burned onto your brain. Large periods of the film are pedestrian, but the ending makes it all worth it. Howie is completely innocent and is only doing his job. He has not been tempted by the curvacious landlord’s daughter called Willow, he has fully engaged with the warm hospitality and most importantly has stayed true to his faith as a Christian.

When the film was first released it had to be censored a large amount because of the overriding theme of sex. The phallic symbolism is many of the scenes coupled with the full nudity ensured it was met with both outrage and acclaim in equal measure. On the contrary to all the controversy, the film haunts the mind as much as the modern audience member will query the sense of the storyline. This is Cinema 101 in that for all the kinks of the film, if you get great actors to play the roles, there is not much more that you need. Hardy has employed possibly one of the greatest British Actor of his time in Christopher Lee, whose eyes and deliberate deliverance of lines makes you believe every word. The setting adds to it’s haunting quality. The fact that it was filmed in Scotland makes you believe in the abstract beliefs of the people as the separation from mainland life ensures the audience ask themselves the question, “Do they actually live like that”. Obviously not because the film is a work of fiction and is fantastical, however, by 1973 standards, the query remains.

Watching a film so long after the camera stopped filming is difficult, because many observers will be judging the film by the standards of modern film. In the same week of the release of Hunger Games second instalment in three dimensions here is a film whose most complex special effect was a quick transition of camera to imply a beheading at the ceremony at the denouement. Even though the re-release of The Final Cut is in the 21st Century, it is hard to criticise a film whose main actors are so good. In all the great actors, male and female, it is what they say when they aren’t saying anything that makes their reputation. Lee could act in silent movies, Woodward the same. It’s all in the eyes. The premise behind the film is far-fetched but you sense that Hardy realised that potentially fatal flaw himself, using Woodward and Lee as a spooky and hypnotic double act to get the audience in a trance to go along with the storyline.

If and when The Final Cut-10 minutes longer than the original-is released on DVD and Blue Ray, readers should know that it is far from a waste of money. In fact, it might be the best film you buy all year. Steer clear of the clunky and Hollywoodised Nicolas Cage remake. If you’re walking out of the cinema with your mind still in the world of the film, the film in question has undeniably done its job. Make an appointment with the original, he keeps watch over you, don’t you know.