31 Days of Halloween – Day 4 – The Citizen Kane of Horror Movies?
The horror magazine Cinefantastique called The Wicker Man the “Citizen Kane” of horror movies and I almost laughed out loud. Okay, the original Wicker Man from 1973 is a decent horror movie and I love Christopher Lee, but I can think of about a half-dozen other horror movies I like a lot more. The Guardian called The Wicker Man the fourth best horror movie of all-time, and at this point, I was stunned. What was I missing? Well, I just had to check out The Wicker Man (1973) again to find out and I threw in The Wicker Man remake from 2006 just for fun.
Don’t get me wrong, The Wicker Man (1973) has a very good plot and the direction is excellent. The story sets up a battle of religions, essentially. A police officer visits an island and begins an investigation into the disappearance of a young girl, but he’s horrified by their pagan beliefs because he’s a Christian. The townsfolk have converted to many old ways and pagan traditions to appease and devote themselves to the gods of the harvest. The leader of the island is Lord Summerisle, a part written specifically for Christopher Lee. From the perspective of the police officer, the film works as a detective film, a strange gothic thriller, and an erotic picture all rolled into one.
Edward Woodward does a great job as Sergeant Howie and he searches for the missing girl. The story is told from his perspective and each successive thing he sees drives him toward the inevitable conclusion that everyone is insane. A mother puts a frog into her daughter’s mouth for a few seconds in order to cure a sore throat. Naked girls dance around a pole to celebrate fertility. And on and on. He can barely understand what they’re doing, but there’s no way he can empathize with their pagan beliefs, since he’s a devout Christian. Even though he’s an uptight jerk and a religious traditionalist, we can sympathize with Howie, especially in the face of all this strangeness.
Christopher Lee himself was very pleased with the role of Lord Summerisle and thought it was some of his best work. I’d have to balk at that notion, but Lee plays the role with supreme confidence and panache. He knows Howie is confused by what is going on and seems to play on this with a smirk and a smile, as he just lets Howie stew in the mystery. He doesn’t even seem to care what Howie thinks. Lee thought the popular 102 minute version of the film was needlessly edited and I have yet to see a definitive version of the film.
I don’t think there’s any fan of low-budget B-movies who hasn’t seen The Wicker Man. The pagan rituals and beliefs were researched by producers and are meant to be authentic. Pagan beliefs aren’t all that foreign. Many of them have fed other religions and beliefs we still celebrate today. For example, Mistletoe is from beliefs of the Ancient Greeks and the Druids, who would cut mistletoe from their sacred Oak. Also, cutting down a tree for celebration of a holiday is thought to be pagan.
All the research and authenticity done for the original Wicker Man is thrown out for the remake. The island is converted into a matriarchal society obsessed with bee-keeping and males used only for procreation. Nicholas Cage looks lost in this role. He plays Edward somewhat mentally unstable, as he had an accident on the road. I guess this is supposed to represent his weakness, which makes him susceptible to the strange island and the stranger women, but Cage plays it way too over-the-top. In fact, the script is way too over-the-top and includes some jaw-droppingly stupid scenes, many of which are unintentionally comedic.
In all, The Wicker Man is a strange classic, and an intentionally non-traditional horror film. It’s a good movie to some and totally weird to others. As a piece of film, I can respect its huge cult status, but I also can understand how much the remake was ridiculed. It’s a horrible movie. It ditches almost everything that made the original work, especially the battle of religions, which was the biggest centerpiece. In a competition between the two, the original wins by far. Christopher Lee also wins, as the celebrated defender of the B-movie faith. Audiences also win too, as they get movies worth discussing.
31. Poltergeist (1982) vs Poltergeist (2015)
30. Blair Witch Project (1999)
29. Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
28. The Wicker Man (1973) and The Wicker Man Remake – This post
27. Tales from the Darkside, the Movie (1990)
26. Saw (2004)
25. The Prophecy (1995)
24. The Hills have Eyes (1977)
23. House of the Long Shadows (1983)
22. Creepshow (1982)
21. Phantasm (1979)
20. The Omen (1976) vs Damien: The Omen II
19. We Are Still Here (2015)
18. The Guest (2010)
17. Return of the Living Dead (1985)
15. The House that Dripped Blood (1971)
14. Army of Darkness (1992)
13. In the Mouth of Madness (1994)
12. Friday the 13th Part III
11. Theater of Blood (1973)
10. House of Wax (1953) vs House of Wax (2005)
9. Hellraiser Inferno (2000)
8. Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943)
7. The Changeling (1980)
6. The Eye (2002)
5. The Hitcher (1986)
4. Paranormal Activity (2007)
3. 28 Days Later (2003)
2. Suspiria (1977)
1. Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) – This review will be published October 31st!