Cult films are basically shitty films that for inexplicable reasons have been rediscovered by a segment of our population (usually people who gravitate toward other shitty films) and have become popular again (i.e. The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Repo Men, Pink Flamingoes, Eraserhead, Mommie Dearest, and Plan 9 From Outer Space). I’m not afraid to admit that I have a fondness for a few of these cult films, namely Pink Flamingoes and The Pirate Movie. I cannot explain why I enjoy them, but I’m also not delusional enough to think these are quality films. The Wicker Man is yet another cult film thats enjoyed by many horror fans with me not being one of them. I was unwittingly introduced to this movie when it came out in a limited edition DVD wooded boxed set. A friend of mine was a huge fan of the movie and he talked me and another friend to purchase the DVD even though neither of us had seen it. The Wicker Man DVD today stands as a shining example of why you should never buy a movie without seeing it first.

The Wicker Man stars Edward Woodward (NOTE: He recently passed away in November, 2009) as a Police Sergeant in Scotland who travels to a remote Scottish island to investigate the disappearance of a young girl. Upon first impression, the island seems idyllic and quaint, but the cop soon discovers that its anything but that. As it turns out, the island is led by the strange Lord Summerisle (Christopher Lee). The community he runs is a secret pagan cult, which harbors a horrible secret that the devout Christian detective must soon face.

Mind you, this movie is not an absolute and utter failure. For one, it has an interesting premise for a horror movie. I have always felt that the one sub-genre that the horror genre does not give enough attention to is cults. Cults are scary and weird as fuck (great examples are The Church of Scientology and Jim Jones of the Jonestown Massacre). They serve as perfect vehicles for a good horror story, but studios (and maybe writers too) unfortunately tend to neglect this untapped source of ideas. The cult thats featured in The Wicker Man is not based off a real cult (or as far as I know its not), but given the year it was made (1973), its obviously inspired by the hippie communes and New Age leaders who sprouted from the 60s counter-revolution.

Something else that worked for me was Christopher Lee’s strong performance as Lord Summerisle. With his tall imposing height and deep, baritone voice, Lee undoubtedly lends a powerful presence and authority to any role he plays. He is perfectly cast as the Scottish community’s leader and although he appears benevolent and kind (albeit a bit strange), there is a lurking menace thats hidden behind his facade. You get a feeling that, unlike his followers, he is well aware of what he is doing and the bullshit he has created and that is precisely what makes him more frightening. Edward Woodward as the Scottish detective is also effective as the strait-laced devout non-nonsense Christian. The cult community he encounters is the perfect test of his faith and Woodward effectively displays the downward madness his character slowly descends to.

Aside from these positive aspects of the film, the rest of The Wicker Man is a badly aged, poorly shot, and poorly conceived mess. Again, this film was a product of its time and this is most evident in scenes where the villagers break into song (and sometimes dance). The songs are horribly cheesy (there is one called ‘Corn Rigs’ that is sure to make you roll your eyes and possibly eject the DVD), but the one that is by far the strangest is one sung by a totally naked Britt Ekland. She walks around her room drumming her hands against the wall and slapping them against her ass as she sings her song while Edward Woodward is in the next room barely containing himself. Its a scene you will have to see with your own eyes in order to comprehend how fucking wack of a scene it is. I have read that the songs in the movie are actually real medieval English songs some of which I believe were used for fertility and harvesting purposes. I think that the use of such music by a pagan community can work well and can be used to heighten the level of horror in a film like this. However, the manner in which it is presented here makes the film almost come off as a cheery musical.

What The Wicker Man sorely lacks and what makes this movie fail as a horror or thriller is its lack of any tension. I did not ever get the feeling that the detective was in any sort of danger. Strange and weird, yes. But strange and weird isn’t dark and foreboding, which is what the film should have felt like. It is not until the very end of the film where the movie truly takes a dark turn that befits a true horror film. Basing a horror story off of a cult runs the risk of resulting into something laughable. Audiences may easily find the idea as kooky and funny instead of scary. The Wicker Man succeeds in the former by failing to scare its audience and instead making it laugh at how silly it all is.

I’m in the minority of people who have seen this movie and not liked it. The Wicker Man is widely considered to be a favorite among horror fans and many critics have even commented favorably upon it. For me, however, this is a movie that I will forever fail to understand how its attained the popularity that it has.

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