By Jerome Reuter
Earlier this year, Christopher Lee passed away. A veteran of over 200 films, It’s almost impossible to pick his greatest performance. However, whenever his name is mentioned, one film comes to mind—The Wicker Man. In some circles, it’s even referred to as the ‘Citizen Kane’ of horror films. I’m not sure I would go that far, but I consider it a work that’s essential viewing. Weather you’re a fan of horror, or English cinema, this should be readily available for watching.
There’s no point in avoiding this: there is a remake. Needless to say, today I won’t be discussing the 2006 version. That version lacks just about everything that made the original 1973 version the cult classic that it is. Much of that had to do with poorly generated CGI bees, Nicholas Cage’s cartoonish overacting, and poor writing. Aside from all of that, the original is a work that represents England. Any American adaptation wouldn’t be able to capture the spirit of the original., no matter who was involved.
So, why is this film so timeless? What draws our attention to this story, even today? I feel it has a lot of emblements to it we can still identify with. The first element that comes to mind is xenophobia. This is an angle that finds its’ way into many different films. In the case of Eli Roth, it’s overused to death. Sometimes, the outside world can be a scary place. When we leave our comfort zone, anything bad can happen—and sometimes does.
This is the case of policeman Sgt. Howie, who’s played by Edward Woodward. (The Equalizer, Breaker Moran) The product of the typical English Christian upbringing, he’s arrived on a mysterious isle, in search of a missing girl. Aside from xenophobia, here we’re introduced to a clash of cultures. An isle comprised of people, practicing ancient Pagan beliefs and rituals. A good film is one that can successfully contrast its themes. Here, it works to perfection. Were shown two methods of religious practice, clashing against one another—the old vs. the new.
Speaking of clashing and contrasting, it’s time I addressed Lee’s character. The devious Lord Summerisle, head of the Pagan community. Much like other films he appeared in, you can’t help but be drawn into every moment he’s on screen. Lee is absolutely flawless in his performance. Both he and Woodward do an amazing job of playing off one another. I feel this is one of the things that make this film so enduring. Some of the best films have a somewhat cat-and-mouse game between two people, two adversaries battling each other, in several ways. In The Wicker Man it’s a clash between enemies, beliefs, and traditions.
This is nowhere more poignant, than the films infamous conclusion. As Howie becomes the newest sacrifice for harvest, the two worlds meet their final confrontation. It’s really the perfect ending, there’s no other way to describe it. As Howie burns alive, he prays and sings a Psalm from the bible. As the wicker man burns, the islanders sing an old Middle English tune. If that isn’t a display of the clash of cultures, I don’t know what is.
This film like this holds up remarkably well. It’s brilliant, well acted, and plays upon basic human phobias. I feel it’s a film that resonates more with a European audience, but could be enjoyed by just about everyone.