I like to think of “The Wicker Man” as the greatest Hammer film never actually produced by the venerable studio. Despite the fact that it was in decline, Hammer was still the foremost name in British horror cinema at the time of the movie’s release. While it was originally distributed by British Lion Film Corporation, “The Wicker Man” shares Hammer’s penchant for beautiful landscapes, lush production values, and its franchise star Christopher Lee, who portrayed Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster, and the Mummy in numerous films for the studio.
The movie concerns Sergeant Howie (Edward Woodward), a Scottish police officer who visits the nearby island of Summerisle to investigate a report of a missing girl. The devoutly Christian Howie finds a place that has abandoned its roots in that religion, and transitioned to the Pagan beliefs of the residents’ forebears. Howie is frustrated by both the belief system of the islanders (including the aforementioned Lee as their leader, Lord Summerisle), and their efforts to dissuade him from finishing his assignment of finding the girl. The end of his search is a shock for both Howie and the audience, and reveals the meaning of the film’s enigmatic title.
While “The Wicker Man” functions wonderfully on its surface merits, it also works as an allegory for the dangers of religion taken to its extremes, as evidenced by both the residents of Summerisle and Sgt. Howie. The residents are brainwashed into believing an assortment of archaic nonsense, including the idea that sacrifice to their gods will improve the health of the island. Howie sees himself as a bastion of civilization, who is tasked to enlighten the “heathens”. His ultimate fate is, at first thought, a result of the beliefs of the misguided islanders. Upon further contemplation, however, it is clear that Howie’s own rigid belief system is responsible for bringing him face to face with “The Wicker Man”.
©2010 – 2011 Cinematic Horror Archive, Dave J. Wilson – All work is the property of the credited author(s) and may not be reprinted or reproduced elsewhere without permission.