The Wicker Man (Robin Hardy / United Kingdom, 1973):

Blake’s Songs of Experience, in "modern parlance." This exceptionally incisive burlesque makes itself at home in the age of mad communes, Christian severity and pantheistic sensuality are the poles. The Scottish island is an idyll of fertility dances and bawdy ballads, the police sergeant (Edward Woodward) arrives from the mainland to find a monument to "pagan barbarity." The villagers teach children early about the resonance of phallic symbolism, enjoy sex and music and druidal superstitions, and smile tolerantly at the uniformed puritan who sees nymphs leaping amid erect stones and trees and bristles, "They are... naked!" The bountiful soil has gone barren and the locals have to eat out of cans; the upcoming sacrifice wouldn’t have anything to do with the missing girl the sergeant is investigating, would it? The basis is not Hammer fright, but the Powell-Pressburger of I Know Where I’m Going! Woodward is stolid piety personified, wandering through the remains of a church and improvising a crucifix when confronted with a maiden suckling her baby. His virtue is ironclad enough to resist a nude Britt Ekland ululating a siren song and rubbing herself against the walls of his bedroom. ("I must say, you are a gallant fellow," the vamp chirps in the morning.) The shaggy resident Byronist (Christopher Lee) is his sparring partner, "a heathen, but not an unenlightened one" who argues for the old gods because the new one "blew it." Anthony Shaffer’s screenplay is a mordant study of theological anxiety, Robin Hardy gives it a brightly-lit sheen, soft, sometimes traveloguish, only gradually realizing that it’s a horror movie. A very skillfully sustained jest, with its vibrant Celtic punchline on the identity of the slaughtered lamb capping the fête of animals masks, talismans, and kilted jesters. The wooden behemoth of title is glimpsed à la Guido’s spaceship in , and lit as a pyre by and for ideological monsters. With Diane Cilento, Ingrid Pitt, Lindsay Kemp, Russell Waters, Aubrey Morris, Irene Sunters, and Gerry Cowper.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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