The Wicker Man (1973)
What parents need to know
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that this is a more intensely erotic film than the 2006 remake (though the newer, PG-13 version is more violent, thank you MPAA). While it shows up championed in lots of horror-movie reference books and fan magazines perused avidly by kids, this film is very adult in its themes and pace. There is much female nudity, sex (or attempted seduction), and a threat of human and animal sacrifice. Specific to religion, the conflict of Christianity and revived ancient pagan worship is the underlying theme.
What's the story?
THE WICKER MAN begins with the arrival by seaplane of a Scottish police Sgt. Howie (Edward Woodward) to the coastal settlement of Summerisle, following up on a letter that one of the local girls has disappeared. Villagers, however, deny the child ever existed. Howie observes that the church is long abandoned, children learn fertility rites and spells in school, naked couples make love outdoors at night, and men in the local inn sing a lewd ditty about the owner's sexy daughter (Britt Ekland). When Howie visits the local authority, Lord Summerisle (classic movie villain Christopher Lee in one of his best roles), the aristocrat explains that his ancestor, a science-minded agronomist, banished belief in Jesus from the island and calculatingly returned the impoverished peasants to their old Celtic lore of earth spirits and mysticism, centering the born-again-pagans around procreation and the annual crop of exotic fruits and apples that are Summerisles' economic base. Howie is now sure that the missing girl is a May Day human sacrifice to the gods to guarantee a bountiful harvest.
Is it any good?
This is not the sort of scary movie often targeted at kids with "boo!" moments, and nothing outwardly supernatural happens. Instead The Wicker Man is a disturbing suspense drama about religious ideas in deadly conflict. In this case, a remote British community has rejected conventional Christianity in favor of the ancient ways of Druid-style worship and ritual. Seen today, director's-cut or not, the movie plays like the worst paranoid fears of those parents who are against the Harry Potter stories on the grounds that impressionable types will be bewitched by their magical elements. Even some of J.K. Rowling's ancillary details -- toads, herbs, a macabre Hand of Glory candle -- make appearances (it should be a relief that Rowling clearly changed their meanings).
There's a "twist" ending that can be predicted fairly easily, but that doesn't make the movie's finale any less creepy or uncomfortable. Unlike Transylvania or typical Hollywood horror-movie haunts, Summerisle is an attractive setting and everybody seems cheerful, friendly and content -- as long as the harvest goes well. While we don't recommend The Wicker Man as family viewing, the religious angle, rare in run-of-the-mill horror films (and practically absent in the remake) provides a number of things that parents of mature offspring could talk about. One can propose The Wicker Man makes a pro-Christianity statement since it shows dire consequence for a society that goes the opposite way. But the outcome is pessimistic and doom-laden.
Explore, discuss, enjoy
Families can talk about the religious element of this film. It's stronger here than in a lot of run-of-the-mill chillers (the remake included). Are the friendly people of Summerisle truly "evil" in the typical movie sense? And how and why would Judeo-Christian values and ethics made their behavior very different?