Blog Directory CineVerse: The plot wick-ens

The plot wick-ens

Thursday, October 15, 2015

In the annals of movie horror, few features are as outright weird and disturbingly wonderful as Robin Hardy's 1973 "The Wicker Man," which can have a polarizing effect on audiences. Upon closer inspection, it is imbued with impressive elements that help it stand out from the creepster crowd. Consider, for example, the finer points we examined yesterday during our CineVerse meeting:

WHAT SETS THIS FILM APART FROM OTHER HORROR OR MYSTERY FILMS YOU’VE SEEN?
It’s actually hard to categorize – it has enough original songs to be possibly considered a musical, and you wouldn't be wrong in thinking of it as a melodrama, whodunit mystery, or psychological thriller.
Many experts categorize it in the sub genre called folk horror – in which folklore, social rituals and tradition are at the heart of the horror; cinematic examples include Blood on Satan’s Claw, Witchfinder General, Haxan: a History of Witchcraft Through the Ages, Der Golum, The Phantom Carriage, and The Devil Rides Out.
There is no blood, gore, cheap shocks, or graphic violence (other than arguably the final scene). Instead of relying on horror clich├ęs or conventions like monsters, grotesque images, slasher violence,  shocking popouts, or unsettling special effects, this is a movie that frightens by building a growing dread and unsettling atmosphere. In fact, some say it’s difficult to describe exactly what frightens them about this movie (besides perhaps the twist conclusion).
It also doesn’t resort to depicting any supernatural power that validates or supports Summerisle’s pagan religion; in fact, we’re not even clear if Lord Summerisle actually believes the religion he espouses or uses it as a tool to control the people he governs.
The look and cinematography showcases a bright, sunny, predominantly outdoor, and colorful palette—quite a difference from the dark, shadow-filled, Gothic visuals of most horror films.
The film ends on a disquieting note, without us learning if the Islanders’ sacrifice helped their crops or if their act was brought to justice by Howie’s police force. Nothing is tied up neatly in a bow and resolved clearly here.
o An alternate reading of the film suggests that “the film ends with a triumphant single clarion note and the sun sinking behind the burning wicker head, there's every indication that the islanders' sacrifice will prove successful, their crime go undetected, and their island thrive (although Howie does plant, just before he burns, the idea that, should their crops fail another year, the islanders' next sacrifice will have to be Lord Summerisle himself,” wrote the blogger Momus.
The soundtrack, replete with buoyantly chipper or moody folk songs filled with creepy lyrics, also plays against our expectations: songs sung in a film musical can speak of conflict experienced by its characters, but they usually reinforce a feeling or belief or positivity that is shared by the viewer; here, the tunes belted out in this picture are eerie and off-putting to non-paganists.
This is a time-capsule flick that’s very much a product and statement of its times: the early 70s, after the counterculture movement had suffered defeat following the death of the free-spirited 1960s and due to public disillusionment in the wake of the Vietnam War, the Watergate scandal, and loss of faith in our public leaders.

WHAT THEMES ARE EXAMINED IN “THE WICKER MAN”?
The dangers of religious fanaticism, although the movie arguably points out this danger in both Christianity and paganism, which it treats as equal but opposing forces.
o Consider how much an outsider and pariah Howie is to the islanders—morally, authoritatively, and attitude wise. Our allegiance is initially with him, in that he stands as a surrogate for the audience arriving at the island trying to solve a murder mystery, and he, like so many viewers, is a Christian. As reviewer James Berardinelli wrote: “We feel safe identifying with him because he has the power of righteousness on his side.”
o Yet, as the film progresses, we see the contrast between his stern, prudish, judgmental, and brash demeanor and the polite, content, happy attitudes and defensible intelligence of the islanders, whom many viewers switch their allegiance or sympathies to. Howie and what he stands for is yet another threat to the liberal/free love ideals of the hippy/counterculture crowd.
It explores the question: What if primitive pagan beliefs were practiced and allowed to flourish in mainstream society today?
It turns moral expectations on its ear: “here…law is sin and sin is law. And it’s peculiarly attractive. Law, in the form of Howie, the prudish virgin, is mocked and finally destroyed, whereas sin, in the form of unshameful sex and a deep concern with fertility, structures community life,” suggested the blogger Momus.
The hunter becomes the hunted.

OTHER MOVIES OR WORKS OF LITERATURE THAT REMIND US OF “THE WICKER MAN”
Rosemary’s Baby
The Fearless Vampire Killers
Witchfinder General (The Conqueror Worm)
The Man Who Fell to Earth
Eyes Wide Shut
Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery”

OTHER FILM SCREENPLAYS WRITTEN BY ANTHONY SHAFFER
Sleuth
Frenzy
Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile and Evil Under the Sun

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