Brothers and their fathers joining hands and make a chain
The shadow of the wicker man is rising up again.
Your time will come
Your time will come
— The Wicker Man, Iron Maiden.
Summerisle. An isolated ancient green isle off the coast of Scotland. Go for the ribald pub camaraderie, go for the public sex, go for the spurning of Christianity, go for Britt Eckland inviting you to her room by crooning an eerie Celtic paean and dancing around starkers.
My kinda island.
THE WICKER MAN is fearless. It potently exposes the hypocrisy and stupidity of religionism; unflinchingly makes its only christian character a sniveling prude, and turns its back on horror movie convention, its dread stemming from overturning deep-rooted beliefs and long-held securities, rather than from supernatural scares or hillbilly serial killers.
Police Sergeant Howie (Edward Woodward) is the sniveling prude, seaplaning out to Summerisle on an anonymous tip to investigate the disappearance of a young girl, Rowan Morrison. His stiff, anal retentiveness has the townsfolk laughing behind his back immediately. And Rowan’s disappearance becomes secondary to the discoveries Howie makes about the society he has inadvertently intruded upon.
He senses something unusual about the culture when he walks out of the pub during his first night and sees couples copulating openly in a meadow. The uneasiness builds as the pub patrons sing a ribald song about Willow the Barman’s Daughter (Britt Eckland) while Willow herself flirts among them.We soon discover Howie is a devout Christian and “saving himself for marriage.” Like all good Christians, he forces his views on others, even if he is the visitor – when he finds two crates of fruit atop a coffin (adhering to the Earth-based faith of the locals), he breaks them up and makes a rude cross from two planks, to the amusement of onlookers.
Howie meets Lord Summerisle (Christopher Lee), and the mystery of the missing girl deepens, though all is made clear about this heathen society. Not pagan. “Heathen” as in heath, as in Earth gods. “Here the Old Gods aren’t dead.”
From a David Pinner novel, Ritual, screenplayed by Anthony Shaffer and directed by Robin Hardy, THE WICKER MAN illustrates the stupidity of Christianity by showing us how another fanatic religion can look like lunacy to an outsider. It does not portray paganism or atheism as the polar opposite of Christianity – rather, it rightfully shows how Christians (represented by Howie) regard EVERY other religion as opposed to them.
Outraged at seeing teen girls dancing naked around a bonfire, worshipping pathenogenesis (regeneration without sexual union), Howie rails at Summerisle, “Have they never heard of Jesus?” to which Summerisle replies (in that imperious Spock manner), “Himself, the son of a virgin, impregnated I believe, by a ghost.”
Howie rants about the island promulgating fake biology and fake religion – but where does he get the authority to accuse any religion of fakery when he himself follows one of the fakest and most plagiarized?
“When the earth renews itself / When the seed reveals itself
When we are reborn / In every waking dream…”
— Wicker Man, Bruce Dickinson.
Just as the people of the island regard life-giving aspects offhandedly (freely given sex, nude sexual ceremonies, and it’s most heartening to hear schoolmarm Diane Cilento speak of “maypoles venerating the penis”), they regard death in the same natural manner – as part of their Earth-based faith. It’s more logical than a magic man crucified for nothing – we are, after all, tangible Earth substance. So a human sacrifice is just par for the course when the crops go bad.
On May Day (the 1st), the islanders all dress in realistic animal masks, sway sensually to their disturbing minor tonality music and perform their blood ritual and death games. (Note: an ingenious method of decapitation: holding six swords in the shape of a horizontal Jewish star and then all pulling backwards when someone places their head in the midst of the star, the blades all coming together neatly.)
If nothing else can be said about THE WICKER MAN, where else can we see the mighty Christopher Lee cross-dressing and frolicking madly as if possessed… oh yes, as Saruman in LORD OF THE RINGS… and Count Doofus in ATTACK OF THE CLONES, and oh yes, in any Dracula film from the early 70s…
A very special human sacrifice, Howie was being set up all along: “A man who would come here with the power of a king and find himself the fool, a man who would come here as a virgin; a man who would come here of his own free will…” When Captain Howie is entombed in The Wicker Man, it is still shocking and disturbing, and is not so much a twist, as a logical conclusion to religious zeal – homicide.
He impotently beseeches his captors on the lack of proof for their gods, yet offers none for his, “Can you not see there IS no sun god, there IS no god of the fields?” Well, uh, can you not see that it is not about gods at all but about the followers? Gods don’t kill people – people do.
In the final chilling scene, as Howie burns in the Wicker Man, he calls out to Christ, who, of course, doesn’t do a sodding thing to help. It is not a case of Howie’s god being weaker than the Earth gods (or even working in mysterious ways and letting Howie die for no apparent reason) – it is because there simply IS no one to cry out to.