Bonus Watching: The Wicker Man (1973) AND The Wicker Man (2006)

Bonus Watching: The Wicker Man (1973) AND The Wicker Man (2006)

List Progress: 5/12 (+4)

So the Bay Area is currently under a “shelter in place” instruction, including Contra Costa county where I live. My response to this, aside from a lot of complex emotions and pleas for people to support your local artists and small businesses, has been to marathon horror movies for the emotional catharsis. So here we are! Last night I watched the 1973 cult horror classic The Wicker Man, followed immediately by the much-maligned and -memed 2006 remake of the same name. This was…a trip.

The Wicker Man (1973)

The original The Wicker Man, loosely based off of the 1967 novel Ritual, is a quiet, atmospheric meditation on religion and belief, more of an off-kilter police procedural than a horror movie up until the end. British detective Sgt. Howie has received an anonymous letter telling him that a little girl has gone missing on the remote and isolated Scottish island of Summerisle. But when he arrives, the villagers tell him that no such girl exists, and bristle when the devoutly Christian detective loudly opposes their pagan rituals. Their leader, Lord Summerisle, played with incredible charm by a young Christopher Lee, tries to show Sgt. Howie the truth in their ways, but Sgt. Howie is determined to avoid temptation and get to the bottom of the girl’s disappearance.

If you have not been spoiled on The Wicker Man, I would recommend going in as blind as possible, but as the last ten minutes of the film have largely been absorbed into pop culture osmosis, that may not be very feasible. But even knowing the broad strokes of what was going to happen, I was not expecting what an unsettling and strange journey the film was going to take me on. There is not a huge amount in the way of plot, but the atmosphere is incredibly thick. (There is also lots and lots of nudity, so get ready.) It is fascinating that, in many ways, Sgt. Howie is the disruptive force of the piece, and you could very easily read him as the villain, or at least ten degrees off of being the villain. The viewer’s feelings about and background with Christianity will very likely color their feelings about this film, for better or worse, and how much they connect with Sgt. Howie, but no matter where you come from, this film will be a fascinating trip.

Would I Recommend It: Yes.

The Wicker Man (2006)

One of the most telling differences between these two films: in the 1973 version, the opening credits role as Sgt. Howie flies a one-man police plane over Summerisle, showing their renowned apple orchards and imposing cliffs from above as eerie Celtic music plays. The plane lands, and Sgt. Howie’s first lines are to the harbour master, requesting a boat to get to shore, and the harbour master rejects him until Howie uses his authority to demand a boat. Right off the bat, we are on Summerisle, we know the island is remote, we know it is full of farms, we know Howie is here alone, we know the locals don’t want him here, and we know that he is willing to pull rank to get what he needs.

In the 2006 version, it takes fifteen full minutes for police officer Edward Malus to get to Summersisle (yes, the name is spelled with an extra “s” in the remake, a detail which drives me mad for how pointless it is). Those fifteen minutes give Malus a backstory, a former love interest, a drug problem, and a personal connection to the island, but they tell us very little about the island or the story we are about to see.

This issue ends up being endemic of the entire movie. Aside from the terrible acting, the film seems to believe that there just wasn’t enough stuff in The Wicker Man, and that the key to improving it would be to add more bits and bobs and backstories and subplots, all at the expense of the atmosphere that was arguably the selling point of the first. Stripping out all references to Christianity and most of the sexuality, and turning the people of the island into a matriarchy led by Sister Summersisle, and you have turned The Wicker Man into a thriller instead of a horror film. And not even an effective thriller.

It might be fun for a bad movie night, but the remake of The Wicker Man seems deeply uninterested in what made the original work, and offers no new ideas in their place.

Would I Recommend It: NOT THE BEES!!!

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