Film: The Wicker Man

Two films; there are tropes for both on this page. Robin Hardy's original film was made in 1973 with Christopher Lee as Lord Summerisle and Edward Woodward as Sergeant Howie. It's a sort of suspense/horror/folk musical. Neil La Bute remade it in 2006 with Nicolas Cage.

To sum it up it in the nicest terms possible: The original is generally considered to be an influential Cult Classic within the horror film genre, and the remake is mostly viewed as inferior, and is probably better remembered for its moments of unintentional funniness than for being scary.

In 2011 Robin Hardy released The Wicker Tree, a companion piece of sorts based on his novel 'Cowboys for Christ', with Lee appearing in a cameo (but not, as some have reported, as Lord Summerisle).

The original film provides examples of:

  • Affably Evil: Lord Summerisle. Possibly subverted. It's never clear whether Summerisle believes the religion of his island, or is just playing along to keep his subjects in line. If the former, he may genuinely believe the sacrifice is necessary for the harvest.
    • And he tries to soothe his intended sacrifice:
    Howie: I am a Christian. And as a Christian I hope for resurrection. And even as if you kill me now, It is I who will live again, not your damned apples! [The Villagers prepare him for sacrifice] No matter what you do, you can't change the fact that I believe in Life Eternal, as promised to us by our Lord Jesus Christ. I BELIEVE IN THE LIFE ETERNAL AS PROMISED BY OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST!
    Lord Summerisle: That is good. For believing what you do, we confer on you a rare gift these days: A martyr's death. You will not only have life eternal, but you will sit with the saints among the elect. Come, it is time to keep your appointment with the Wicker Man.
  • A Man Is Not a Virgin: Averted with Howie. It actually becomes a plot point.
  • Anti-Hero: A very interesting take on it, too.
  • Anti-Villain: The islanders genuinely believe actions are necessary to save their next harvest.
  • Aristocrats Are Evil: Lord Summerisle again.
  • Aroused by Their Voice: Howie can only hear Willow's song, not see her, but he's still tempted. Magic may be involved.
  • Artistic License: In the Director's Cut, Howie receives the anonymous letter on a Sunday. As in the United States, no mail delivery occurs on a Sunday in the UK.
  • The Bad Guy Wins: Though thanks to Howie's final speech, only till the apple harvest fails again. If you look at it that way, (see Taking You with Me further down) you could arguably say that Howie was the real winner.
    • It could also be argued that from Howie's perspective he won, since Christianity teaches that a principled defeat counts as a victory.
  • Based on a Great Big Lie: The opening credits thank Lord Summerisle and the people of his island for cooperating in the depiction of their religion. In reality, there is no Lord Summerisle, no Summerisle, and no community of Scots practicing the religion depicted in the movie.
  • Batman Gambit
  • Bawdy Song: The customers at a pub engage in a lusty rendition of "The Landlord's Daughter", to the annoyance of the straightlaced protagonist and the amusement of Willow, the Really Gets Around daughter of the pub's landlord. As Christopher Lee said in the DVD Commentary, it's a good song for when you've got a pint in your hand.
    • Genius Bonus: "The Landlord's Daughter" and "Willow's Song" are both based on actual ditties - the latter a compilation of two - that are Older Than Dirt. In fact, the latter is considered one of the oldest recorded songs in the world.
    • "Gently Johnny" may just be the sweetest, gentlest, most romantic bawdy song you've ever heard.
  • Better by a Different Name: Because of Christopher Lee, Ingrid Pitt and Willow some like to name this "The greatest Hammer Horror that wasn't made by the Hammer Studio".
  • Book Ends: The Final Cut begins and ends with an religious cermony.
  • But I Would Really Enjoy It: Howie doesn't believe in sex before marriage, and is therefore still a virgin in middle age. Willow does her best to seduce him and fails, though Howie is literally trembling with desire.
  • Camp Straight: The innkeeper
  • Celibate Hero
  • Creepy Child: All of them, really, but Daisy Pringle in particular.
  • Comically Missing the Point: Lord Summerisle.
    Howie: But they are... are naked!
    Summerisle: Naturally, it's far too dangerous to jump through fire with your clothes on!
  • Corrupt Hick
  • Corrupt Church: "Since it is no longer used for Christian worship, whether it is still a church is debatable."
  • Crapsaccharine World: Summerisle
  • Creator Cameo: Robin Hardy plays the preacher in the scene in the church in the film's opening minutes. This is one of the major parts of the film cut from the theatrical release, but is available on the uncut (full 102-minute film) and middle (typically, 92 to 95 minutes) versions.
    • Anthony Shaffer is one of the villagers who surround Howie on the clifftop at the beginning of the film's climax.
    • The film's music composer, New Yorker Paul Giovanni, and musical director, Gary Carpenter, make several appearances throughout the film, playing instruments along with the other members of the band formed specifically for this movie, Magnet. Carpenter is the one playing the lyre during the climax, when Howie is stripped and anointed by Willow and the Librarian. Carpenter says during filming one day, Giovanni suggested the band try marijuana. The band were so high, they couldn't play their instruments.
  • Credits Gag: The director's and theatrical cuts open with a title card reading the following:
    "The Producer [Peter Snell] would like to thank The Lord Summerisle and the people of his island off the west coast of Scotland for this privileged insight into their religious practices and for their generous co-operation [sic] in the making of this film."
    • This is despite the fact that the film is never actually presented as a mockumentary, though it contains a lot of hand-held camera shots.
    • The "middle" version (released in 2013 as The Wicker Man: The Final Cut) opens with a time card reading, "Sunday - The 29th of April 1973". This leads into the church scene on the mainland.
  • Cruel Twist Ending: Oh. Yeah.
  • Cue Card: In the climax, Edward Woodward used one for his lines. Looking at this photo, it seems Christopher Lee used it, as well. Woodward and the prop department opted to use the card, because the burning of the wicker man had to be shot when the weather was good, and he had yet to really learn Howie's lines for the scene. According to director Robin Hardy, the climax was shot on a day late in the year when the weather was getting progressively worse day-by-day.
  • Cult
  • Daylight Horror: Many of the events in the movie take place during the day, with the climax happening at dusk. It lets the audience admire the Scenery Porn and also makes the bizarre behavior of the townspeople even more unsettling.
  • Dark Reprise: Howie's reprise of the 23rd Psalm as counterpoint to the townsfolk's "Sumer is Icumen In" at the film's climax.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Lord Summerisle quite often.
  • Death by Sex: Inverted, the pious virgin is killed, and losing his virginity just might have made him an unacceptable sacrifice.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: Lion's share of the movie's creepiness comprises of this.
  • Doomed Moral Victor
  • Double Entendre: The song Willow sings to seduce Howie is almost nothing but these.
    ''How a maid can milk a bull!.... And every stroke a bucket full."note 
    • Likewise "The Landlord's Daughter" song.
    And, when her name is mentioned...The parts of every gentleman...Do stand up at attention
  • Downer Ending
  • The Dragon: Oak
  • Dressing as the Enemy Gets him killed.
  • Dying Curse
  • Dying Moment of Awesome: The movie has Howie die with dignity. The novelization by the director and writer of the original film actually has him die being a Badass: actually freeing a flock of birds from the Wicker Man's arm as it's burning, because he feels that, as long as he saves some sort of life, his police mission will have not been completely in vain.
  • The Ending Changes Everything The ending makes us see the islanders and their actions throughout the film in a new light.
  • Enfant Terrible: Rowan
  • Enthralling Siren: A case of Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane when Willow dances naked in the room next to Howie's, slapping the wall between them and singing to him. The staunchly Christian Howie is literally trembling with desire, but doesn't succumb.
  • Evil Sounds Deep: Christopher Lee is in this movie.
  • Face Death with Dignity: Rather hammily averted at first by Howie ("OH MY GOOOOOD!") but once the fire is actually lit, played straight, as Howie accepts his death and prays for his soul to go to Heaven.
  • Faceless Goons: "Take those masks off!"
  • Fanservice: Would you like to watch Britt Ekland dance naked?
    • Don't get too excited, since the butt shots are a body double. (To Ekland's disgust, people are forever asking her to autograph stills of that one particular scene. She has to patiently explain to them that it isn't actually her.)
  • A Fête Worse Than Death
  • Filk Song: Bruce Dickinson's "Wicker Man" (the one he co-wrote after rejoining Iron Maiden - quoted in the caption above - less so)
  • Foregone Conclusion: It's right there in the title.
    • Even worse, the original poster for the British theatrical release showed the structure itself on the hill where it stood. This angered Shaffer and Hardy, the latter of whom compared it to a poster of Psycho telling people "Norman Bates's mother is actually Norman himself."
  • For the Evulz: The only possible explanation for Daisy's beetle-abuse.
    • That, or it's a symbol of Howie's fate: the closer he gets to the answer of where Rowan is (i.e. the more he goes around the nail), the more entangled he is and the more difficult it is for him to escape
  • Gambit Roulette: Summerisle's plan to trick Sgt. Howie into coming to the island of his own free will and stay until May Day so they can sacrifice him. There's a lot of chance in this plan and a lot can go wrong.
  • Genre-Busting: Is it a crime movie? A horror movie? A mystery? A fantasy movie? You can even argue that it's a Musical, if you're so inclined... or an excuse (albeit a good one) for Fanservice.
  • Grey and Gray Morality: Howie, whatever you think of his blustery self-righteousness, is genuinely trying to be a good police officer and save a child's life. The villagers with the possible exception of Lord Summerisle, however creeped out you may be by their practices, genuinely believe that they are saving their harvest.
  • Hand Of Glory
  • The Hero Dies: Howie himself at the end.
  • Holier Than Thou / Real Men Love Jesus: Sgt. Howie's behaviour is, depending on interpretation, either that of a sanctimonious prude, that of a deeply honourable and upright officer motivated by his faith or both.
  • Horror Doesn't Settle for Simple Tuesday: May Day
    • Although, according to the calendar in the chemist's, it is a Tuesday.
      • Just not a simple Tuesday.
  • Hot Librarian: Played by Hammer Horror regular Ingrid Pitt.
  • Human Sacrifice: The islanders sincerely believe that Howie's death will revitalise their crops.
  • Intercourse with You: Heyyy, hoooo, who is there?...
  • It's Always Spring: The film was shot in mainland Scotland from early October to late November 1972. Because it took place in the Spring of 1973, the film crew had to bring that season with them, gluing blossoms to trees, and, as Edward Woodward recalled, hauling in trees on trucks to be placed in certain scenes. The cold temperatures forced the actors to place ice cubes in their mouths during outdoor shooting so that their breath wouldn't be seen on camera. However, there are parts of the film where you can see Autumn leaves on the ground, so, the crew didn't completely hide the fact that it was Fall.
  • "I Want" Song: Most of the songs, except the hero's song, which is the 23rd Psalm, starting "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want."
  • Jerkass: Lord Summerisle, the island inhabitants, and some of Howie's co-workers from the original version's beginning and even Howie himself to an extent. Despite his affability, Lord Summerisle probably reigns supreme in this category; as the co-workers are minor, the inhabitants genuinely devout, and Howie at least genuinely wants to do the right thing. Summerisle has no real excuse.
  • Kids Are Cruel: "The little old beetle goes 'round and 'round. Always the same way, y'see, until it ends up right up tight to the nail. Poor old thing!"
  • Large Ham: Christopher Lee.
  • Looping Lines: There's a persistent myth that Britt Ekland was dubbed over because she couldn't do a Scots accent. It is, however, true that someone else did her singing for her.
  • A Man Is Not a Virgin: Subverted (in the original, but not the remake), using the audiences' expectations against them.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane
  • My Hydroplane Hates Me
  • The Name Sake: The titular effigy doesn't show up until the very end.
  • No Animals Were Harmed: Britt Ekland claimed that some of the animals inside the wicker man died when it was burned. Robin Hardy has repeatedly assured that the animals were in no danger; the wicker man was completely empty when it was set on fire, and fires were built in front of the animals to make sure they weren't hurt. He also said the animals were repeatedly placed in and taken out of the structure.
  • No, Except Yes: "Now you can wrap it up any way you like, but you are about to commit murder."
  • Nothing Is Scarier: There are no real "scares" to speak of, no monsters...the town and its inhabitants are just really, really creepy.
  • Nude Nature Dance: Towards the middle, Howie sees a group of young pregnant women dancing around a fire, nude. See Comically Missing the Point for the reaction.
  • Oh, Crap: This is one of the few films where the main character can shout "Oh Jesus Christ!" and have it come across as a true, in-character Oh, Crap moment.
    • Christopher Lee has a nicely subtle one when Howie points out that if his own death doesn't help the next harvest, the villagers will likely conclude that only Summerisle himself will be a large enough sacrifice to satisfy their gods.
  • Path of Inspiration: Lampshaded. Lord Summerisle openly admits that his ancestor was a "Victorian freethinker" and propagated Celtic paganism among the villagers only to ensure social stability. It is strongly implied he also sees the local religion as a tool of control.
  • Peek-A-Boo Corpse: But it's in a coffin.
    • Subverted in a prank a girl plays on Howie while he searches for Rowan.
  • Punctuated! For! Emphasis!: "THEY. WILL. NOT. FAIL."
  • The Radio Dies First
  • Religious Horror
  • Riddle for the Ages: Why was Willow trying to seduce Howie? As a Secret Test of Character to prove he was a perfect sacrifice? If Howie caved, it would ruin the sacrifice, so was she warning him? Was she genuinely attracted to him despite being the village bicycle? None of these questions are answered.
  • Scenery Porn
  • Scotland
  • Scotland Doubling: The aerial shots from the sequence in which Howie flies into Summerisle were actually filmed in South Africa, because the film's budget wouldn't allow them, according to director Hardy, "to glue blossom to that many trees".
  • The Scream: "NO! For the love of God, THINK WHAT YOU'RE DOING!"
  • Sex Is Evil: Well, on Summerisle it is.
  • Shown Their Work
  • Smug Snake: MacGregor the innkeeper. What a loathsome creature he is.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance
  • Spiritual Successor: The Wicker Tree
  • Stout Strength: Oak. Howie may look more fit, but he doesn't have a chance. The rest of the crowd can just stand around and watch. Hinted at early on in the inn, when we see Oak carrying a grown man around on his shoulders for fun.
  • Taking You with Me: Howie points out that if his sacrifice doesn't bring back the crops, only Lord Summerisle will be a suitable sacrifice next year. Summerisle's reaction shows that it briefly hits home before he declares that the crops won't fail; even if he doesn't believe in the island's gods, the rest of the island certainly does!
  • Tap on the Head: When Howie knocks out MacGregor to steal his Punch costume, even though Howie clearly hits him on the hump on the back of the costume.
  • Town with a Dark Secret
  • Theme Naming: All the townsfolk are named for trees or plants. May Morrison, gets a doubly symbolic name, with May not only being a plant (another name for hawthorn), but also a month of fertility. And when an islander dies, they plant the tree the deceased was named after on the grave, to symbolize that death is part of the cycle of life.
  • Values Dissonance: In-universe, with Howie being baffled or horrified at the islanders' pagan beliefs and the islanders being equally baffled by his Christian morality.
  • The Vamp: Willow
  • Viewers Are Of At Least Average Intelligence: Argued by Christopher Lee in the DVD Commentary, very shortly before the remake was announced.
    Christopher Lee: This attitude that "people wouldn't understand" is far too prevalent in cinema today. People should be able to use what's left of their minds when they watch something.
  • Villainous Crossdresser: Lord Summerisle dresses as a woman for the May Day parade.
  • Virgin Sacrifice
  • What Does She See in Him?: Howie's fellow police officers wonder this about his fiance.
  • Wicked Cultured: Exemplified by Lord Summerisle; suave, eloquent and The Chessmaster behind luring an innocent policeman to his death.
  • Wrong Insult Offence:
    Sgt. Howie: It means that you, sir, are a pagan!
    Lord Summerisle: A heathen, conceivably, but not - I hope - an unenlightened one.
  • X Meets Y: The White People meets The Lottery
  • You're Insane / Only Sane Man: "You're all raving mad!"

The remake provides examples of:

  • Author Appeal: This isn't the first film by Neil La Bute that examined misogyny.
  • Bears Are Bad News: The infamous bear suit Cage dons in a scene.
  • The Bechdel Test: Shockingly, it fails. On the other hand, it passes the reverse Bechdel Test which is impressive seeing how it contains a grand total of two male characters with lines.
  • Bee Bee Gun
  • Big "NO!": Edwardnote  when Rowan sets fire to the wicker man and he realizes his fate.
  • Book Ends: The film both begins and ends with someone trapped inside something that is burning, someone outside the fire looking in, and the roles are reversed between the two. In the beginning, a car is burning and Cage is trying to save the people trapped inside; at the end, Cage is trapped inside the burning Wicker Man, while the people who orchestrated the original "accident" look on from outside.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Edward is allergic to bees. He is going to an island famed for its honey.
  • Chewing the Scenery: Nicolas Cage, all the time.
  • Creepy Twins: Though unusually for Creepy Twins, they're really old ladies, not kids.
  • Dream Within a Dream: Edward dozes off on the pier while waiting for the seaplane pilot, and has a nightmare in which he finds the dead little girl under the pier. Then he wakes up... to find her corpse in his lap. Then he wakes up again.
  • Everything's Worse with Bees: NOT THE BEES!!!
  • Gambit Roulette: The islander's plan would have fallen apart before it started, if Edward hadn't been knocked unconscious while trying to save the two women in the burning car, allowing them to escape unseen. The Plan only becomes more dependent on luck from that point on, considering how much of it required him to notice the right thing or even be facing the right direction at the right time.
  • Gender Flip: Lord Summerisle was rewritten as Sister Summerisle
  • The Hero Dies: Like in the original, Edward himself at the end.
  • Hero Stole My Bike: "Step away from the bike!"
  • In Name Only: Robin Hardy's attitude toward the remake.
  • Lady Land: The island.
  • Large Ham: Nicolas Cage. One can easily suspect he knew how awful the film was and overacted on purpose.
  • Makes Just as Much Sense in Context: Even knowing how all the Memetic Mutation stuff fits into the narrative doesn't make it any more logical or understandable.
  • A Man Is Not a Virgin: Played straight: the virgin aspect was removed due to LaBute considering the notion of Cage playing a virgin ridiculous. They gave his character an allergy to bees instead. Not quite the same.
  • Meaningful Name: The protagonist Edward Malus, a lawman who spends the movie investigating a pagan cult, may be named for the Malleus Malificarum, a treatise on prosecuting witches published in the 15th century.
    • Alternatively, Malus is the Latin word for apple, and is used in the taxonomy of the species.
  • Milkman Conspiracy: Malus arrives to the island and comes to head with a terrifying paganist cult of...beekeepers?
  • My God, You Are Serious: Christopher Lee, who played Lord Sumerisle in the original, got this reaction when he mentioned the remake at a press conference.
    Christopher Lee: I was very happy to be in it; it was a remarkable film. A cult film, with followings all over the world. They're talking about re-making it in America with Nicolas Cage. (the audience chuckles) No, that's what Universal says. They're going to re-make the movie.
  • Mythology Gag: A subtle one (if you can call anything in this movie "subtle"). As mentioned above, "Malus" is the Latin word for "apple", possibly referencing the 1973 original, where Lord Summerisle's cult carried out human sacrifices to ensure a successful apple harvest.
  • Obviously Evil: One of the main criticisms is that unlike the 1973 film, the Summersisle inhabitants are obviously creepy.
  • RiffTrax: It makes the movie watchable.
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog
  • Shout-Out: Nightmares about blonde girls in red raincoats are a reference to Don't Look Now.
    • A Tuckerization of Edward Woodward, who played Sergeant Howie in the original film, is split between two characters: Edward Malus and Rowan Woodward.
  • Straw Feminist: The cult.
  • Stupid Evil: The cult comes off as this, in stark contrast to the original film.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Edward, Cage's character - he barges onto the island and tries to throw his police weight around, with no plan, no actual authority enforce the non-existent plan and no backup. Not even a token visit to the local police to explain why he's there.
    • Again, allergic to bees, yet goes to an island famous for...bee keeping.
    • Even though Edward is bullying the citizens of the island with no back-up (or any apparent way of communicating with his superiors to ask for back-up), he stiil manages to ignore and overlook clear signs of evidence. When he sees two women carrying a corpse-shaped, slightly-moving bag with red liquid dripping from it, he just gets spooked by it and lets them walk away with it.
    • Knowing full well he's on an island full of Obviously Evil crackpots who clearly don't like him, he continuously puts himself in even more dangerous positions—the most mind-numbingly stupid example is probably his dip in the easily-covered cistern (not to mention, in the easily-locked tomb, though that doesn't end up being relevant—probably because nobody was actually trying to kill him yet).
  • Would Hit a Girl: Sending elderly ladies flying into walls with karate-side kicks, in fact. Cage's character punches one woman while wearing a suit and tie, punches another while wearing a bear costume, kicks Leelee Sobieski, and bikejacks another woman at gunpoint. Which has all been condensed here. To said character's defense, he thinks they're all conspiring to burn a little girl alive. That's what they want him to think.