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 LaBute remade it (much change from the original however) 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). Hardy was attempting to film a third and final installment in a Wicker Man
trilogy - The Wrath of the Gods
. A massive flop of an Indiegogo campaign in Summer 2015 (raising only $8,318 of a goal of $210,000
) didn't help matters, and Hardy's death on July 1, 2016 may have completely ended hopes of completing the trilogy.
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.
- Anti-Hero: A very interesting take on it, too. It seems Howie is an upstanding, responsible policeman trying to find a young girl at least at first, but as the film goes on, he begins to show an uglier side; that of a preachy, Christian religious bigot and Jerkass who dislikes the islanders for being pagans. That is, murderous, perverted, two-faced pagans who wind up killing him.
- Anti-Villain: The islanders genuinely believe their acts are necessary to save the next harvest.
- Arcadia: Summerisle sees itself as this (with a neopagan twist), but even before we learn the Dark Secret, we know something's definitely off about the place.
- 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 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.
- Bad Liar: It is really, really obvious that the villagers of Summerisle are concealing information. Maybe they're fundamentally honest people who aren't used to this sort of thing, or maybe it's all part of the plan, intended to make Howie suspicious and keep him investigating. Probably a mixture of both.
- 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 was no Lord Summerisle, no Summerisle, and no community of Scots practicing the religion depicted in the movie.
- Corrupt Church: "Since it is no longer used for Christian worship, whether it is still a church is debatable."
- 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.
- 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: The lion's share of the movie's creepiness comprises of this.
- 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.
- Everyone Loves Blondes: Blonde hair certainly seems to be a requirement for a female leadership role on Summerisle.
- Evil Sounds Deep: Christopher Lee is in this movie.
- Extremely Short Timespan: Takes place over about 48 hours.
- 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!"
- Fake Shemp: Britt Ekland would only agree to shoot her nude scenes from the waist up. A body double was secretly used for the naked rear shots of Willow dancing. The scenes were filmed after she had left the set. After shooting was over, not only was Ekland furious to learn she had been doubled in some shots but that she was also a few weeks pregnant in that scene.
- 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.
- 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."
- Or this VHS artwork, which may as well just say, "Don't buy this film; you are looking the ending square in the face."
- 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.
- The Hero Dies: Howie himself at the end.
- Holier Than Thou: Sgt. Howie's behavior 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: The movie is set at May Day. Although, according to the calendar in the chemist's, it is a Tuesday. Just not a normal Tuesday.
- Hot Librarian: Played by Hammer Horror regular Ingrid Pitt.
- Human Sacrifice: The islanders sincerely believe that Howie's death will revitalise their crops.
- I Need a Freaking Drink: After failing to start his plane or find Rowan, Howie returns to the Green Man for a "big glass of whisky."
- Infodump: Lord Summerisle explaining to Howie how the island converted to paganism. But it's written in a way that reveals a lot about who he is, and introduces some important themes into the story.
- 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!"
- Looping Lines: Scottish jazz singer Annie Ross was brought in to dub not only Britt Ekland's singing voice, but almost all of her dialogue as well.
- A Man Is Not a Virgin: Averted with Howie. It actually becomes a plot point.
- My Girl Is a Slut: When Alder MacGregor introduces his daughter Willow, the bar patrons break into a Bawdy Song about her promiscuity, which delights her and doesn't faze her father.
- The Name Sake: The titular effigy doesn't show up until the very end.
- Necessarily Evil: Many of the villagers are visibly disturbed at the film's climax, but still participate for fear of another crop failure.
- 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."
- No Name Given: Lord Summerisle is only addressed by his title, with no first name shown.
- Not Even Bothering with the Accent:
- Despite the island being somewhere off the coast of Scotland, Lord Summerisle speaks with Christopher Lee's normal Received Pronunciation accent. Although being a member of the aristocracy, he was probably privately educated and had elocution lessons.
- There's no particular reason why the Librarian speaks with a faint Polish accent, other than that she's played by Ingrid Pitt.
- Nothing Is Scarier: There are no real "scares" to speak of, no monsters...the town and its inhabitants are just really, really creepy.
- Novelization: In 1978, a book based on the film written by Robin Hardy and Anthony Shaffernote was published in the United States, right when the film was picking up steam in America. The readers get more detail of Howie and Mary's relationship, as well as the former's interest in bird-watching. In later editions, Scottish author Allan Brown, who has written many published works about the film, including a popular behind-the-scenes book, wrote a foreword, where he argued that Howie's arguments with Summerisle have more impact on paper than they did in the film, since casting Christopher Lee made viewers automatically assume he was the villain, as he had played so many in his career already.
- 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 merely 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.
- Potty Failure: Edward Woodward and Robin Hardy were urinated on by a frightened goat sitting in the chamber above them in the wicker man while filming the climax.
- Pragmatic Adaptation: Anthony Shaffer started out trying to adapt David Pinner's 1967 novel Ritual but decided it wouldn't work as a film. He took the basic concept (a puritanical police officer investigates a crime in a isolated community with a thriving pagan religion) and a few specific points (most notably a woman who attempts to seduce the cop) and built a new story around them. There's been some sniping between Pinner, Shaffer and Hardy over exactly how much The Wicker Man borrowed from Ritual. This is a good summary of the relation between the two works.
- Punctuated! For! Emphasis!: "THEY. WILL. NOT. FAIL."
- Quirky Town: Summerisle seems like one at first, but we quickly realize it's a Town with a Dark Secret.
- 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? Maybe trying to save him by ruining him for the sacrifice? Was she just genuinely attracted to him? None of these questions are answered.
- Sleeping with the Boss: A real-life example occurred during filming, when Anthony Shaffer walked into producer Peter Snell's hotel room one morning, and saw Snell in bed with Ingrid Pitt. Pitt was dating Rank Organisation head of exhibition George Pinches at the time, and would later marry and divorce him. Snell believes that this affair cost them a possible deal with Rank to distribute the film, which is why Pitt was cast in the first place.
- 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.
- Weather Saves the Day: In a What Could Have Been scenario, after reading the completed script, the studio wanted a change: a sudden thunderstorm to put out the burning Wicker Man, and save Howie's life at the last minute so that the movie could have a more positive ending. The scene was filmed as written.
- What Does She See in Him?: Howie's fellow police officers wonder this about his fiance.
- Whole Plot Reference: More than a little similar to Eye of the Devil, a 1966 horror film starring David Niven about a Town with a Dark Secret, featuring a Cult that holds A Fête Worse Than Death, concluding with a Human Sacrifice to propitiate the gods in order for the failing crops to become productive again. Possibly averted, as The Wicker Man was based on a novel called Ritual—but Ritual was published the year after Eye of the Devil was released. Regardless of the inspiration, The Wicker Man is by far the better-remembered film.
- 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.
- You're Insane!: "You're all raving mad!"
The remake provides examples of:
- Big "NO!": Edward when Rowan sets fire to the wicker man and he realizes his fate.
- Bookends: 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.
- Downer Ending: Edward is set-up by his ex-girlfriend and her daughter, and gets sacrificed inside a giant wicker man in flames.
- 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.
- 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.
- Luke, You Are My Father: Willow reveals to Malus that yes, Rowan is his daughter, after he gets suspicious. The islanders apparently believe it was necessary to have a sacrifice with a blood connection to one of their people.
- 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 Summerisle in the original, got this reaction when he mentioned the (at-that-point-not-yet-made) remake at a press conference.
- 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.
- Plot Allergy: Most of the story takes place on an island famous for beekeeping and Edward happens to have a bee allergy. He doesn't appear to bring any medicine or backup with him to prepare for this.
- 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. Particularly egregious in light of the Gaelic paganism portrayed in the original, which explicitly stated that Man and Woman were indispensable to each other. On the other hand, these guys were American and probably got their ideas about whatever brand of Celtic paganism they're supposedly following off the internet.
- 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 to enforce the non-existent plan, and no backup. Not even a token visit to the local police to explain why he's there.
- Again, he's 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 still 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).
- Asking Rowan to put down the flaming torch she's been given to light the Wicker Man. Naturally, she does. With predictable results.
- 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.