Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Monster Serial: THE WICKER MAN, 1973

Hello, boils and ghouls! October is upon us and that means one thing: HALLOWEEN! While most holidays get a measly day or two of formal recognition, orthodox Monster Kids prefer to celebrate it in the tradition of our people: By watching tons of horror movies. This month at THE COLLINSPORT HISTORICAL SOCIETY, we're going to be discussing some of our favorites every day until Halloween. So, put on your 3-D spex, pop some popcorn and turn out the lights .... because we're going to the movies!


Today is 9/11; that's a good day to write about THE WICKER MAN.

In the film, a devoutly religious — virginal, in fact — Scottish policeman (THE EQUALIZER, himself, Edward Woodward) answers an anonymous letter beseeching him to visit a remote Scottish island and search for a missing girl.  The island is known for its private community and uncharacteristically robust fruit.  The detective quickly finds that the populace are dedicated, sybaritic pagans, eagerly awaiting May Day.  (Not Grace Jones, in this case.)  As he follows the confounding trail, our hero discovers that due to crop failure, a human sacrifice is called for by their religion, and he alone fits the bill.  There was no kidnapping.  Instead, it was an elaborate scheme to lead him to the island and then into a gigantic, wicker stature in which he's roasted alive by a jubilant community who matches his dying religious hymn with their anthem song of rebirth.

When I show the movie to groups, I get two reactions.  Those on the more deistic-to-atheistic scale usually explode enthusiastically at the powerful and on-point message that's just unfolded.  The more religious the audience, the quieter they get.

Holy books talk of martyrs, but we never see them in everyday life... unless we're branding them as terrorists.  I don't think the meaning of religious martyrdom really hits home unless you see it in a film like THE WICKER MAN.  With the 9/11 terrorists, the discussion often takes a political direction as scrutiny is moved off of Islam, and that may be correct.  Well, there's nothing (pardon me, Marxist scholars) political in THE WICKER MAN.  It just shows a faith-based initiative taken to a logical extreme.

I don't know the exact inner monologue of the more religious audience members, but I think they may be (perhaps unconsciously) kinda scared.  I don't say that in cruelty.  For the less religious of us, people doing things out of faith can be very unsettling.  Swell, it's curing the sick one day.  But what could it be tomorrow?  This film provides a fine mirror for that fear.  I'm not expecting everyone to go all Hitchens due to the film, but if the more myopic are a tad less myopic as a result, the movie has used horror as a very constructive tool.

And yes, myopia comes from many sources, not all of them being religion.  Grand lists could be made about the link between horror and myopia on any number of subjects.  A favorite horror film of mine is OLEANNA, which deals with  the dangers of other forms of myopic thinking.  But this is a film about religion.

Still, I don't find anyone storming away from THE WICKER MAN.  Everyone seems to like it, although it may take them a bit of time to recover.  It speaks deep, human truths with a demented clarity.  The film is charming, witty, highly erotic, and paced like lightning.  It has so many songs that a friend of mine successfully argued that it could be considered a musical.  Woodward's protagonist is a stiff-necked grouch who is easy to love, and watching him match wits with Christopher Lee's liberated and charming island leader is a joyous melee sure to put a goofy grin on anyone's face.  Plus, there are cameos aplenty by cinema faves like Britt Ekland (who plays a mean wall in the most unforgettable musical number in teen-guy-stumbling-across-this-on-cable history), Ingrid Pitt, Diane Cilento, and one of England's great "hey it's that guy" performers, Aubrey Morris.

Most importantly, it doesn't have Nicholas Cage, although I encourage you to see his version afterward.  It does a wonderful job of making you appreciate just how many things that director Robin Hardy and author Anthony "The Guy Who Wrote SLEUTH" Shaffer mastered.

(Editor's Note: In order to hit our movie-a-day target throughout the month of October, many of these pieces were written well in advance. This particular column was written Sept. 11, 2013. — Wallace)

PATRICK McCRAY is a well known comic book author who resides in Knoxville, Tenn., where he's been a drama coach and general nuisance since 1997. He has a MFA in Directing and worked at Revolutionary Comics and on the early days of BABYLON 5, and is a frequent contributor to The Collinsport Historical Society. You can find him at The Collins Foundation.

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