THE WICKER MAN (1973) — We Say Farewell To Christopher Lee With His Personal Favorite [Two Cents]

by Austin Vashaw

Two Cents

Two Cents is an original column akin to a book club for films. The Cinapse team will program films and contribute our best, most insightful, or most creative thoughts on each film using a maximum of 200 words each. Guest writers and fan comments are encouraged, as are suggestions for future entries to the column. Join us as we share our two cents on films we love, films we are curious about, and films we believe merit some discussion.

The Pick

Dear ones, you clicked on this link, and now it is time to keep your appointment with The Wicker Man.

Last week we were saddened to hear of the passing of Christopher Lee, a man who has provided us with so many brilliant performances in countless Hammer horror productions, The Lord Of The Rings, and so much more — literally hundreds of screen credits. Lee has identified The Wicker Man as his personal favorite film among his own films, and it’s also well-loved by several of us here at Cinapse, so it seemed a fitting way for us to bid farewell.

Did you get a chance to watch along with us this week? Want to recommend a great (or not so great) film for the whole gang to cover? Comment below or post on our Facebook or hit us up on Twitter!

Next Week’s Pick:

The wildly celebrated The Connection continues its limited theatrical run, still opening in new cities and dazzling new audiences. It’s been described as “the French side of The French Connection”, so what better film to revisit than William Friedkin’s original 1971 classic? Please join us in watching The French Connection!

Would you like to be a guest in next week’s Two Cents column? Simply watch and send your under-200-word review to twocents(at)!

The Team

Jon:This week we lost one of the greats. Not only was Christopher Lee a man of incomparable acting talent, intelligence and class but he commanded respect and awe in regards to his achievements even before he stepped in front of a camera.

As a child I grew up on Hammer horror and at the age of 16 stumbled across a late night screening of The Wicker Man . It became my favorite film and Lee my most constant film companion.

I cannot do it justice in 200 words so check out my Pick Of The Week I did on it last year. Suffice to say, the film is a master class of acting, an utterly compelling and well crafted story with a gut twisting ending. Many horror films owe a lot to The Wicker Man and you owe it to yourself to see this film. (@Texas_Jon)

Justin:“Corn rigs and barley rigs and corn rigs are bonnie. I’ll not forget that happy night among the rigs with Annie.”

The opening song always gets stuck in my head for days when I watch the classic 1973 horror film. While the iconic “Willow’s Song” is the tune most remembered, likely in part because it evokes the sensual scene it accompanies, I am haunted by “Corn Rigs”.

The film’s juxtaposition of the orderly and composed life of the devout Christian officer and the wild and free pagan cult led by the late great Christopher Lee’s Lord Summerisle all begins with “Corn Rigs”. Perhaps the song resonates most with me because it’s nice to remember that the rabbit hole that the protagonist finds himself wandering into begins with something more steady and calming. In a way, it’s the calm before the storm.

Very soon after this opening credit scene wraps, the officer’s journey into madness begins. From a supernatural seduction all the way through the highly emotive finale, this film is masterful in continually presenting contradictory worlds of religious order and uninhibited worship of pagan deities.

Easily one of my top 5 horror films of all-time. (@thepaintedman)

James:It’s well documented that King of the Vampires/part-time Metal God Christopher Lee considered his role as Lord Summerisle in Robin Hardy’s classic chiller The Wicker Man one of his best. And he was right.

On the surface, the tale of the search for a missing girl on a remote Scottish island could have been another campy Hammer-style horror. But The Wicker Man is much more subtle and insidious as it gets under your psychological skin. Building up a creepy atmosphere of impending doom as sanctimonious cop Edward Woodward’s pious Christianity comes face to face with the seductive Lord Summerisle’s sinister Paganism, what strikes most is how eerily beautiful everything is: the sun-dappled, idyllic setting; the plaintive folk score; Britt Ekland! Which makes Sgt. Howie’s eventual fate all the more chilling.

The philosophical to-ing and fro-ing between Howie and Summerisle is as fascinating as it is provocative thanks to Anthony Shaffer’s erudite screenplay, and Robin Hardy deftly balances the police procedural and culty-goings-on well, adopting a light touch favouring mood over dreaded histrionics.

Calling The Wicker Man horror almost does it a disservice. It’s a disturbing head-trip tackling weighty themes with nary a bee-covered Nic Cage in sight. (@jconthagrid)

Brendan:Few and far between are the films which so completely nails its chosen topic that all subsequent films exist within that shadow. You can’t make a shark movie without measuring against Jaws, and you can’t make a film about a guy in a mask stalking teenagers without dealing with comparisons to Halloween.

The Wicker Man is the perfect “cult” film, so much so that any and all later attempts to mine horror out of the subject must, at some point, be referred to as Wicker Man-esque. But the film’s reputation betrays its true power, as anyone expecting a paranoid freakout is barking up the wrong tree.

What makes The Wicker Man so effective as horror is how masterfully director Robin Hardy hides the horror for the first 80 minutes of the 90 minute runtime. No one is playing Summerisle as a creepy place, least of all the immortal Christopher Lee in perhaps his finest performance. The film establishes such a sense of cheery revelry, that the closing moments of brutality strike the audience like a punch right to the gut.

And that ending… there are simply no words for that ending. “Jesus” indeed. (@TheTrueBrendanF)

Austin:Last year I had the chance to be introduced to this wonderful film at the Drafthouse when the new restoration made a quick theatrical run.

The characters are great and the plot terrifying, but what The Wicker Man does, first and foremost, is absolutely nail the tone. As Summerisle’s twisted ways become increasingly frustrating and dangerous for Sgt. Howie, suspicion turns to paranoia, then to astonished acceptance and open bewilderment and outrage. The remote island setting, web of lies, sexual and religious mania, folksy music, and creepy animal masks all contribute to this absurd, claustrophobic atmosphere.

Christopher Lee is memorable and menacing in the role of the island’s heretical figurehead and cult leader, and fascinatingly both the most disarming and dangerous — as well as the smartest — man on the island, including poor Sgt. Howie. As for him, Howie comes a off as a bit blustery and indignant, and lacks a detective’s common sense to observe quietly and not telegraph his every thought, but by the film’s end I’m fully on his side…

(Spoiler Alert)

It’s well established (especially in the director’s cut) that Howie is a fervent Christian, if a bull-headed one. Even in the face of total betrayal and absolute lunacy, he goes to his death with extraordinary courage and acceptance, never faltering in his faith. My man even goes down praying. This film is not kind to Howie, but it does give him, as Lord Summerisle so eloquently put it, the rare gift of a martyr’s death.


No matter what you do to me now, you can’t change the fact, that I believe in the life eternal, as promised to us by our Lord Jesus Christ!


Our Guest

Dan Leyendecker:I started this film familiar only with the Nic Cagiest of Nic Cage memes as my reference point. Enjoyed the look and aesthetic of early ’70’s Summerisle, which reminded me of old Encyclopedia Britannica photographs. And how can a movie go wrong with the music supplied by a band called “Magnet”? I wouldn’t have enjoyed The Wicker Man nearly as much without its soundtrack, which provided hauntedness (the May pole kids), hilarity (an electric guitar solo during the final chase scene, Willow’s song) and sincere British-folk flavor. But I found Howie, though decent, to be pretty ponderous, despite sharing his sense of bafflement and frustration on an island where everyone’s lost their minds. Were we supposed to find it enjoyable that he ended up the Fool? I did. I spent most of the first third of the movie awaiting Sir Christopher Lee’s arrival. I’m saddened that he will no longer tower over and terrify us. Now to download the Magnet sophomore album, “Between Two Poles.” (@Dan_Ley)

Did you all get a chance to watch along with us? Share your thoughts with us here in the comments or on Twitter or Facebook!

Sir Christopher Frank Carandini Lee
 27 May 1922–7 June 2015

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