Antony Shaffer and Robin Hardy's The Wicker Man is one of those films that I just always want to talk about. Of course, it's also one of those movies that it's hard to talk about, because it has to be experienced to be understood. I don't know how to explain what is awesome about The Wicker Man to someone who hasn't seen The Wicker Man, because it's probably impossible for someone to feel the full impact of the film if they know what is going to happen in the film.
Of course, the biggest rule about The Wicker Man is not to talk about the ending, which helps this one of a kind horror film stand out as one of the biggest shockers - if not the biggest, and I don't say that lightly - of all-time. I will never forget how I felt, physically and mentally, after my first viewing of this film. The Exorcist had that kind of impact on me, Inside recently had a similar impact on me, and The Gate may have had that kind of impact on me when I was a kid....but I don't think any of them made me as uncomfortable as The Wicker Man - a film without gore or monsters - made me feel.
The film builds its power thanks to a two-headed approach. Firstly, it takes place on a bizarre island where everything looks like reality but seems like something out of a nightmare. The township of Summerisle feels like something you could find anywhere in the United Kingdom at the time of the film, yet the actions of everyone in town makes us feel like we've slipped into something of an alternate universe. The story's stance on religion helps make it seem so weird - as do my own religious beliefs, which make me an easy target for Shaffer's script - but everybody can probably see that a town with this much random singing and dancing and Christopher Lee's wig is kind of off-kilter.
The bizarre universe the film exists in is intensified by the actors within it, led by the late Edward Woodward, who gives one of horror's finest performances. His turn as the religious policeman who descends on the town only intensifies how odd everything there is, and it makes the other stars - like the oft-nude temptress Britt Ekland and the deliciously hammy Lee (who seems like he was having a real good time playing Lord Summerisle) - seem that much more perfect in their roles. The disconnect between Woodward's character and this town's beliefs would make for a great piece of drama - but it's even better for what Hardy and Shaffer had up their sleeve here.
All of this odd behavior in the setting and by the characters doesn't seem like something you'd find in a movie renowned as a great horror film, which is a big part of why the ending means so much to the film's legacy. Most of the film plays more like a fairy tale told by someone on acid than a horror film of the 1970s, and even the final act doesn't offer many traditional scares. But The Wicker Man offers viewers an intoxicatingly weird experience, and when that experience twists into its final reveal it's hard to not feel shaken by the film's power.
I've seen The Wicker Man probably a dozen times in the last decade, and it still leaves me speechless at times. I've covered it a few times over the years already, and feel like I don't have a lot to say about the movie tonight, but I just felt the need to bring it up one more time and get it on this Midnight Movie of the Week list. (Especially since I once chose the unintentionally hilarious remake for this list, which means I have to point out that this one's the good one or I might as well quit.) When October rolls around it simply feels like the season of The Wicker Man (as does May, considering the film's plot) and I'd be doing you all a disservice if I didn't point out how important this film is to horror and cult cinema. If you haven't seen it, you owe it to yourself to seek it out. If you've seen it and loved it...well, then I'm willing to bet you want to talk about it to people too. It's one of the most powerful midnight movie experiences that has ever been created.