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Reviewed April 8th, 2002 by David Nusair


Sometimes, too much hype can be a bad thing.

Such was the case when I sat down to watch The Wicker Man. This legendary cult film has received accolades upon accolades from fans of the horror genre, with noted film magazine Cinefantastique calling it the “Citizen Kane of horror movies.” It was with those words twirling about in my noggin that I sat down to watch The Wicker Man and while it didn’t knock me off my couch, it was quite impressive (if a little slow-going).

Edward Woodward stars as an Irish policeman who, as the movie opens, arrives at a desolate island that can only be reached by plane. He’s been told that a little girl has gone missing, and he’s been charged with solving the mystery. His investigation initially seems to be going nowhere, with the locals adamant that they’ve never seen the girl before. But as he begins to dig deeper, he soon finds that everything isn’t quite as peachy keen as the townspeople would have him believe. Turns out this tight-knit society practices Paganism, ritual sacrifices and all. Not surprisingly, the actions of the island’s citizens shocks and disturbs devout Christian Woodward – they tend to frolic naked and utilize bizarre medical treatments (a frog is placed in the mouth of a sore throat sufferer, for example). Christopher Lee pops up as the enigmatic leader of the town, Lord Summerisle.

The Wicker Man seems to be a meandering and aimless flick for the first 45 minutes or so, but as the movie progresses, it becomes fairly clear that it has a few tricks up its sleeve. When Woodward initially arrives on the island, the film throws one supposedly appalling sight after the other (watch as Woodward is seduced by the local temptress! Gasp as he witnesses dozens of couples having sex in the open! Chuckle as he discovers the blasphemous lecture being given to schoolchildren! Etc, etc, etc). But finally, around the time Lee’s character is introduced, we begin to find that the film had its reasons for showing us all that seemingly irrelevant stuff. Twist endings don’t get much cooler than this.

Oddly enough, though, the film’s been hailed as a landmark horror film – except that it isn’t terribly horrific. The conclusion will likely raise a few eyebrows, but there’s nothing here that’s going to prevent the viewer from getting a good night’s sleep. And as good as that denouement is, it’s obscured by Woodward’s hysterical (literally) performance and his refusal to do anything proactive – he allows what happens to him to happen to him.

The Wicker Man has a few good ideas and a great last act, but everything that comes before it is essentially disposable. Repeated viewings probably improve the film, but first impressions are everything.

Audio: The Wicker Man is presented with both DD 5.1 and 2.0 soundtracks, and there’s not much difference between the two. There’s only so much you can do to a film that was shot in mono, and this is proof of that. While it’s not exactly reference quality, the dialogue never hard to understand or unclear, so what more do you want?

Video: This 1.85:1 transfer is quite impressive, especially given the age and low-budget of the film. It’s surprisingly clear and crisp, and generally free of film-related artifacting.

Extras: Anchor Bay’s done it again. The major extra here is a 35-minute documentary on the making of the film, containing interviews with all the major players. This doc covers everything – from the minuscule budget to the infamous distribution problems to the film’s status as a cult classic – and manages to do it all in the space of about half an hour. There’s also a trailer, a television spot, a bunch of radio commercials, and some biographies of the key players.

Conclusion: The Wicker Man’s many fans should be pleased with this package.


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