To the internet-savvy, the title “The Wicker Man” has been tainted by the hilariously bad 2006 Nic Cage remake and its… bees (among other meme fodder). But the original is very well-regarded and the prime example of the sub-genre Folk Horror, a large blind spot for me. I liked Midsommar a lot. High time I saw its most direct inspiration.
Not unlike Midsommar, explicit horror is in somewhat short supply, supplanted instead by mystery and atmosphere. Though Wicker Man has even less overt horror and FAR less disturbing imagery. The majority of the runtime is spent following a pious Scottish detective searching for a missing girl in the Summerisle community, only to be told upon arrival that she never lived there. Or, she did but she’s long dead. Or, she’s actually a rabbit. Or, hell, I lost track of how many conflicting stories are given about this erstwhile resident. The frustrated detective works to make some sense of this puzzle by being alternately dumbfounded and offended by the hippy dippy community of pagans, with their sex rituals and 70’s nature songs.
The music is the most thoroughly weird part of the whole affair. Midsommar had a haunting, abstract score, but Wicker Man’s soundtrack is mostly rainbows-sunshine-earth children acoustic guitar fare and occasionally incongruous classic rock that creates tonal dissonance. Things pick up considerably after a be-turtlenecked Christopher Lee finally shows up as the island’s leader. He has to be cinema’s all-time greatest villain actor. He gets to use his operatic singing voice too, along with that famous booming oratory mode when he gives a speech.
Again, nothing particularly scary happens until the moment the mystery is solved, and we, along with the detective learn just what all this has been leading to the whole time. If you’ve seen Midsommar, that should give you a clue.
I know this review makes the film seem rather boring, but it’s not. Certain elements are undeniably dated, but it has a quirky charm that keeps you engaged. And it’s currently on Netflix so there’s little to lose in notching out this little piece of horror history.