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Film / The Wicker Man (1973)

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“Come. It is time to keep your appointment with the Wicker Man.”

The Wicker Man is a seminal 1973 British Folk Horror film, directed by Robin Hardy, with a screenplay by Anthony Shaffer (inspired by the 1967 novel Ritual by David Pinner, but not officially an adaptation).

Sergeant Howie (Edward Woodward), a devoutly Christian detective, travels to the remote Scottish island of Summerisle, home of a famous variety of apples, to investigate the disappearance of a young girl named Rowan Morrison. He is shocked to discover that the island has rejected Christianity in favor of old school Celtic paganism, complete with sexual rituals and a huge May Day festival, all proudly presided over by Lord Summerisle (Christopher Lee). Howie concludes that Rowan may be the intended victim of a Human Sacrifice, and races to rescue her. It turns out he's on the right track, but the truth that awaits him is far beyond anything he might have suspected.


It is generally considered to be an influential Cult Classic within the horror film genre, specifically Folk Horror.

It was remade in 2006. In 2011, Hardy released The Wicker Tree, a companion piece of sorts based on his novel Cowboys for Christ, with Lee making a cameo as a different character.

This film provides examples of:

  • Affably Evil: Lord Summerisle. It's never clear whether Summerisle actually 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.
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  • All for Nothing: Stated by Howie, who tells them that the reason their apple trees are failing has is because the soil on the island simply isn't suitable for agriculture, so sacrificing him will not solve their problems.
  • All There in the Manual: Many viewers have wondered if Willow was actually trying to save Howie's life by seducing him. The extended version reveals that it only mattered that Howie came to the island a virgin. As this explanation is removed in the extended cut, it remains a mild Schrödinger's Canon situation where it's a valid, if not intended, explanation for her behaviour.
  • All Women Are Lustful: All of the women on the island are deeply involved in sexual rituals, which Howie finds extremely disturbing.
  • Appeal to Force: When Miss Rose protests that Howie needs Lord Summerisle's permission to see the school register, he simply pries open the desk she was holding closed with her fingers to retrieve it.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: When Howie asks McTaggart about crime on the mainland, he replies, "The usual - rape, sodomy and sacrilege."
  • 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. Also, since Christianity also teaches that if people truly believe in Jesus Christ and repent for their sins they are assured a place in Heaven, Howie definitely won, seeing as how he is going to be taken to Paradise. The villagers, on the other hand, having broken the 10 Commandments, especially the most important one: Thou Shall Not Have No Other Gods, will no doubt spend their eternity in Hell.
  • 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.
  • Bathos: Lord Summerisle and Miss Rose, both in evening dress and him at the Grand Piano, duet the absolutely filthy song "The Tinker of Rye" about a tinker fixing a woman's kettle.
  • Batman Gambit: Lord Summerisle specifically picked Sgt. Howie as the person most valuable to sacrifice and most likely to follow along the necessary route to get him to the sacrificial altar. Things could have gone very differently had Howie behaved differently, but Summerisle was right about him, and his plan goes off without a hiccup. He listed the four aspects that made the perfect sacrifice:
    1. A man who would come here of his own free will.
    2. A man who has come here with the power of a king by representing the law.
    3. A man who would come here as a virgin.
    4. A man who has come here as a fool.note 
  • Bawdy Song:
    • The customers at a pub engage in a lusty rendition of "The Landlord's Daughter", to the annoyance of the straight-laced 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.
    • "Gently Johnny" may just be the sweetest, gentlest, most romantic bawdy song you've ever heard. It is also based on a very old song, but is much more explicit than the version commonly sung.
    • And then there's Christopher Lee and Diane Cilento dueting The Tinker of Rye, an absolutely filthy song about a tinker fixing a woman's kettle. The fact that they are both in full evening dress, and Lee is playing the melody for the song on a grand piano just add to the hilarity.
  • Benevolent Boss: Lord Summerisle is a rare villainous example.
    Rowan: Did I do it right?
    Summerisle: You did it beautifully!
  • 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".
  • Big Bad: Lord Summerisle, head of a pagan village that commits human sacrifice to maintain their crops.
  • Big "NO!": This, along with a Big "OMG!", is Sgt. Howie's first reaction to seeing the titular edifice. The camera-work, buildup, and above all, Edward Woodward's believable delivery of the line removed any potential narm.
  • Big "OMG!":
    • Sgt. Howie lets out a few of these in the final scene, as well as a well-delivered Big "NO!". Given Howie's strict Christianity (as well as the dire situation he's in), it seems likely that he is deliberately invoking God, rather than simply using the Big Man's name as an expletive.
    "Oh God! Oh Jesus Christ!"
  • Body Double: Britt Ekland had one intercut with her during "Willow's Song", thanks to Executive Meddling. Eklund found it both annoying and amusing that people would have her autograph a photo of her double.
  • Book-Ends: The Final Cut begins and ends with an religious ceremony (and Howie sings "The Lord's My Shepherd" at both of them).
  • But I Would Really Enjoy It: Howie doesn't believe in sex before marriage, and is therefore still a virgin. Willow does her best to seduce him and fails, though Howie is literally trembling with desire.
  • Campbell Country: The has an interesting way of giving its setting physical isolation - it's set on the (fictional) remote Scottish island of Summerisle.
  • Camp Straight: The innkeeper, played by gay mime artist Lindsay Kemp.
  • Captain Obvious: During the scene where Howie is in a classroom:
    Howie: "I am a police officer. (laughs at it a bit) As you can see."
  • Celibate Hero: Howie, as a conservative Christian and bachelor who doesn't believe in sex outside marriage. He's sorely tempted during the film however.
  • Central Theme: The power of belief, for both good and bad.
  • Cold Turkeys Are Everywhere: Sgt. Howie is engaged and waiting until marriage to have sex. Once he gets to Summerisle, sex is everywhere he looks.
  • Cool Old Guy: How Lord Summerisle presents himself.
  • 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: Almost everyone on Summerisle.
  • Corrupt Church: "Since it is no longer used for Christian worship, whether it is still a church is debatable."
  • Corruption of a Minor: The deeply Christian Sgt Howie accuses the pagan schoolteacher of "corruption of the young" when she teaches her early-pubescent class about the dominants of phallic symbolism in the Celtic religion.
  • Crapsaccharine World: Summerisle may count as this, as it is not as peaceful and joyous as it seems to be.
  • 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 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."
  • Creepy Crossdresser: Lord Summerisle dresses as a woman for the May Day parade.
  • Cruel Twist Ending: An incredibly famous one; see also It Was His Sled.
  • 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: The pagan sect on the island was started almost by accident by Lord Summerisle's grandfather, and then continued by his children.
  • Cult Colony: There is the pagan cult that lives on the remote Scottish island of Summerisle.
  • Dan Browned: The fact that the beliefs and rituals practiced by the inhabitants of Summerisle are based off incomplete and inaccurate Victorian-era misunderstandings of pre-Christian Celtic religion makes perfect sense, given that the cult was founded in the 19th century when such theories were in vogue. However, the filmmakers themselves claimed that Summerisle's religion was an accurate depiction of Celtic paganism that they reconstructed through painstaking research, when in fact they only read a single Victorian-era work, the Golden Bough,note  and accepted its claims without question. Hence, on a very meta level, the filmmakers fell victim to the same fallacies committed in-universe by the inhabitants of Summerisle.
  • Dark Reprise: Howie's reprise of the 23rd Psalm as counterpoint to the townsfolk's "Sumer is Icumen In" at the film's climax.
  • 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.
  • 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 film relies heavily on this, first for humor, as Howie's staunch Christianity means he is horrified and baffled by the devoted Paganism of the village inhabitants and what this leads them to do — who are equally horrified and baffled by his religious beliefs and behaviors — and then for horror, when their beliefs incite the villagers to capture him and burn him to death in a wicker man as a Human Sacrifice so that their crops will grow.
  • Dirty Old Man: Many of the pub-goers who sing the Bawdy Song "The Landlord's Daughter" are at least middle aged, and many more are actually seniors.
  • Distinction Without a Difference: "Now you can wrap it up any way you like, but you are about to commit murder."
  • Doomed Moral Victor: Howie of course.
  • 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.
    • And the children's maypole song:
    And from that feather was a bed, and on that bed there was a girl, and on that girl there was a man...
  • Downer Ending: It's revealed that Howie has spent the entire film being manipulated by the entire island so that he can be sacrificed by being horribly burned alive. To make things worse, it's implied that his sacrifice is all for nothing, and the islanders will eventually descend into anarchy in a futile attempt to restore their crops.
  • Dressing as the Enemy: Howie disguises himself as Punch for the May Day festival.
  • Dying Curse: Howie throws an awesome one in Lord Summerisle's face at the end.
  • Dying Moment of Awesome: The movie has Howie die with dignity. The novelization by the director and writer of the original film takes it even further by having him free a flock of birds from the Wicker Man's arm as it's burning, believing 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, the young innocent girl whom Howie is trying to rescue, was in on it all along, and helps seal his fate to be sacrificed.
  • Enthralling Siren: A case of Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane, Willow sings a seductive song and dances naked in the room next to Howie's. The staunchly Christian Howie is literally trembling with desire, but he doesn't succumb.
  • Everyone Is a Tomato: All the Summerisle residents, including Rowan, are in on the plot to sacrifice Howie.
  • Everyone Loves Blondes: Blonde hair certainly seems to be a requirement for a female leadership role on Summerisle. The island's best seductress is Willow, and she's got golden blonde hair. In the extended cut, Lord Summerisle compares her to the Greek Love Goddess Aphrodite, who is commonly depicted with blonde hair. Ms. Rose and the Librarian are also beautiful blonde women.
  • Evil Sounds Deep: As Lord Summerisle, Christopher Lee uses his naturally deep voice to villainous effect, as always.
  • Extremely Short Timespan: The film begins, depending on which cut you watch, on the evening of April the 28th or the morning of April the 29th, and ends at sunset on May the 1st.
  • 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: Most of the islanders wear masks during much of the May Day celebration, though they eventually take them off in the finale.
  • 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, Ekland was furious to learn that she not only had been doubled in some shots but was also a few weeks pregnant in that scene.
  • Fan Disservice:
    • The Wall Slap scene is at once extremely sexy (naked Britt Ekland and naked Britt Ekland body double!) and extremely creepy.
    • Howie has a non explicit nude scene, too, as he gets stripped by the islanders right before the sacrifice.
  • 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: The climax occurs during the May Day celebrations.
  • Filk Song: Bruce Dickinson's "Wicker Man" (the one he co-wrote after rejoining Iron Maiden - quoted in the caption above - less so).
  • Final Speech: Sgt. Howie gives an absolutely badass one, predicting divine punishment for the villagers, singing a bit of the 23rd Psalm, and finally reciting the last words of Walter Raleigh.
  • Floral Theme Naming: Many of 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.
  • Folk Horror: Far from the Ur-Example, but arguably the Trope Codifier for the modern-day genre, with any horror story involving rural settings or non-mainstream religious rituals inevitably compared to it. The Folk Horror page image is even a scene from this film.
  • For the Evulz: Arguably the diegetic explanation for Daisy's beetle abuse, but symbolically the beetle functions as a stand-in for Howie. The closer he gets to the answer of where Rowan is (i.e. the more he goes around the nail), the more entangled he becomes, and the more difficult it is for him to escape.
  • 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...
  • Giant Mook: Oak, who manages to carry Howie and just about every other man on the island with extreme ease, but still answers to Lord Summerisle.
  • God Before Dogma: When Howie and McTaggart see graffiti spelling out "Jesus Saves," McTaggart comments approvingly, but Howie tells him to have it removed.
  • God Guise: Lord Summerisle describes how his grandfather introduced new crops and farming methods, as well as his Pagan faith. When the crops were incredibly successful, he had no difficulty convincing the locals that there was a connection between their survival and the appeasing Celtic deities.
  • 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: A Hand of Glory is placed next to Howie's bedside whilst he sleeps in an effort to make him sleep through the May Day celebrations. Or at least that's what they want him to think.
  • The Hero Dies: The film ends with Sgt. Neil Howie being burned alive inside a wicker man as a pagan sacrifice.
  • Hillbilly Horrors: A pagan cult believes that the only way to ensure that its next apple harvests succeeds is through a human sacrifice.
  • Holier Than Thou: Sgt. Howie's behavior is, depending on interpretation, either that of a sanctimonious prude, that of a deeply honorable 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.
  • Horror Hippies: The residents of Summerisle are free-love pagans with an affinity for costumes, public sex, and nature. After an entire film of teasing them as child murderers, it turns out the child, Rowan Morrison, was safe. But it was all a ploy to ensnare Sgt. Howie, who they burn alive.
  • 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."
  • "I Want" Song: Quite a few of the songs are combinations of this and the Villain Song, and all of them are about sex in some way or another. Interestingly, Howie's only song is definitely not an example, because it's a musical version of the 23rd Psalm, and starts with "The Lord is my shepherd \ I shall not want".
  • 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.
  • Incorruptible Pure Pureness: A rare male example. Howie is a virgin who is saving himself for marriage. Willow attempts to seduce him, but he resists her with great effort.
  • Intimate Open Shirt: It's no coincidence that Howie's pajamas are like this during Willow's attempted seduction via song.
  • It's a Long Story: "Do sit down, Sgt. Howie. Shocks are much better absorbed with the knees bent."
  • 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.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Howie. He’s intolerant of the islanders’ beliefs, but he makes an effort to be polite to them at first, only acting like an asshole after having to deal with them constantly obstructing his investigation and generally behaving like passive aggressive asses who press all of his Berserk Buttons at once, and he never stops trying to do the right thing.
  • Karma Houdini: The Summerislanders all successfully sacrifice Howie and state confidently that there will be "no trace" of him for any future investigations. Whether the island's crops actually succeed next year is another matter.
  • Karma Houdini Warranty: The Wicker Tree provides some Offscreen Karma for Lord Summerisle and the community, with him being mentioned to have been burned in the Wicker Man and the blight to have carried on, exactly as Howie told them it would happen.
  • 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!"
  • Mating Dance: Willow's naked dance. The man she's dancing for is in the next room and can't see her, but that's hardly necessary to get his attention.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: It's not said whether the pagan beliefs are actually true or Howie's sacrifice will bring back their apples. Also Willow's song is shot in a very ethereal way, suggesting there could be some magic to her.
  • Mugged for Disguise: Howie gives the innkeeper a Tap on the Head to steal his Punch costume.
  • Musical World Hypothesis: All songs in the musical are performed diegetically, from the drinking song in the pub, to the musician teaching the children the maypole dance and the villagers singing "Sumer is Icumen In" as they burn Howie to death. It just adds to the Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane nature of the place.
  • My Car Hates Me: Howie's hydroplane breaks down, aborting his attempt to go back and get more officers. It's heavily implied that the villagers sabotaged it.
  • 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 Namesake: The titular object isn't shown or mentioned until the very end of the movie.
  • Necessarily Evil: The villagers believe that human sacrifice is necessary to restore their crops. They don't seem very broken up about it, and spend the film gleefully mocking and manipulating Howie.
  • 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 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 given reason why the Librarian speaks with a faint Polish accent, other than that she's played by Ingrid Pitt.
  • 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.
    Howie: But they are... are naked!
    Summerisle: Why, naturally! It is far too dangerous to jump through the fire with your clothes on.
  • 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.
    • Lord Summerisle has a nicely subtle one when Howie desperately 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. Summerisle's smirk fades for a moment before it returns, and he insists that the sacrifice will work.
  • 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.
  • Peek-a-Boo Corpse: When Sgt. Howie is searching the town, a young girl flops out of a cupboard and face-plants on the ground... but the girl is only playing a prank on him. Later, he opens a coffin and discovers the corpse of an old woman who is missing a hand, which provides the origin for the Hand of Glory seen later.
  • Polite Villains, Rude Heroes: The islanders are incredibly Minnesota Nice to Howie, smiling to his face and pretending to be helping him, while all the while passive-aggressively making fun of him and obstructing his every move. As a reaction, Howie grows increasingly blunt and rude and becomes much freer with his religious condemnations of the islanders' rituals.
  • 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.
  • The Radio Dies First: The islanders sabotage Howie's plane, cutting out his communication with the mainland.
  • Re-Cut: The original theatrical version, which is the most well-known cut, is 87 minutes in length. A 99-minute cut was sent to Roger Corman, who suggested that 13 minutes be cut in order to sell well in the United States. A few years later, Robin Hardy, now living in the US, decided to seek out a copy of the film. He obtained a duplicate of Corman's copy, and cut out the mainland scenes, while restoring some of the longer cut scenes. This version timed out to 95 minutes, and was released in the US in the fall of 1977. It was later released on Blu-Ray and DVD in October 2013 as The Final Cut. In 1988, the 99-minute version ended up being released on VHS in America, distributed by Media Home Entertainment, and later Magnum Entertainment. Hilariously, the front of the Magnum release has pictures of the film's two stars, Edward Woodward and Christopher Lee, that were obviously taken in the 1980s; in fact, the picture of Woodward is a publicity still from The Equalizer. In 2001, an NTSC one-inch videotape copy transferred from Corman's copy was released on VHS and DVD in America and Britain by Anchor Bay, thanks to a campaign from Studio Canal, the film's worldwide owners, to try and find the full cut. Christopher Lee went to his grave believing that there exists an even-longer cut of the film, longer than the one Corman was sent. Oddly enough, there are rumors that a 17-minute version for triple and quadruple bills exists, in which Sergeant Howie is led straight to the Wicker Man; however, nothing really substantial has emerged about this one.
  • Real Men Love Jesus: Howie's Christianity is a major source of friction between himself and the villagers, and it comes to a head in the climax of the film.
  • Red Herring: At first Howie suspects Rowan has been murdered, but then discovers evidence that she has been kidnapped and is being held prisoner waiting to be sacrificed. It's a trick for both the audience and Howie; the actual plan is to use Rowan as bait to lure Howie to be the sacrifice instead.
  • Religious Horror: A small island in northern Scotland is home to a secluded and zealous cult of pagans who still believe in human sacrifice. Opposing them is Sgt. Howie, a unusually devout Protestant.
  • 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.
  • Rule of Symbolism: Lampshaded by Lord Summersisle, as he tells the pious Howie he should feel proud of being a Christ-like sacrifice.
  • Same Language Dub: Britt Ekland speaks with a Swedish accent that wouldn't have made any sense for her character. She was dubbed by Annie Ross to give her a Scottish accent, and it's extremely noticeable in several scenes.
  • Schrödinger's Canon: Willow and her attempt to lure Howie, which is present on the wiki too. The longer cut reveals that it didn't matter whether or not Howie succumbed to her, because it only mattered that he was a virgin when he came to the island, but as this isn't in a lot of versions, it's easy to adopt the perspective that Summerisle either needed to test Howie or Willow was trying to prevent the sacrifice.
  • Separated by the Wall: Willow and Howie are separated by a wall as she sings her seductive song to him. She slaps on the wall throughout her song, and he's moved to press his body against it with desire, but he ultimately restrained himself.
  • Scenery Porn: There's plenty of gorgeous shots of the Scottish islands.
  • The Scream: Played straight with the line "In the name of God, THINK WHAT YOU'RE DOING!" Cut to the sunset, with "doing" echoing. And guess what? It's really creepy.
  • Secret Test of Character: Much of the eccentric behaviour of the islanders as directed by Lord Summerisle appears to be this, getting Howie to reveal his suitability as a sacrifice to the community - and presumably to the gods as well.
  • Sex as a Rite-of-Passage: Ash Buchanan's night with Willow is effectively a priestess initiating a novice, and is explicitly a part of the May Day festivities. Ash takes a leading role in several May Day events afterward (placing the wreath on top of the maypole, for example), and it is strongly implied that his initiation by Willow is what made him worthy for a ceremonial leadership role.
  • Sex Is Evil: Played Straight, in that the straight-laced Christian Howie is shocked at the depraved sex and immorality surrounding him on the island, believing that they were evil heathens—and he was proven right.
  • Sex Is Evil, and I Am Horny: One of the main themes, if not the main theme is the conflict between the stuck-up, virginal, devoutly religious Sgt. Howie and the sexually liberal, promiscuous pagan islanders. The filmmakers have stated that Howie's decision of whether or not to have sex dictates what happens to him in the end.
  • Shameful Strip: Before he is executed, Howie gets stripped out of his clothes and put in a white tunic.
  • Shown Their Work:
    • The song sung by the villagers in the final scene is 13th century folk song celebrating the return of spring.
    • Apples feature prominently in many Celtic traditions. "Avalan" from Arthurian mythology is thought to be derived from apples.
    • Celtic pagans did practice human sacrifice, though many have questioned whether wicker men actually existed or it was just Roman propaganda. The film is inspired by an engraving from the 1600s.
  • Smug Snake: MacGregor the innkeeper. What a loathsome creature he is.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: Much of the soundtrack is composed entirely of cheerful folk numbers, and the finalé is set to the rousing Summer Is Icumen In.
  • Spiritual Successor: The Wicker Tree
  • Stealth Pun: Since the rest of the score is acoustic folk, "Cave Chase," an electric rock and roll instrumental that plays as Howie is fleeing the villagers through a cave near the end of the film, stands out. According to score composer/arranger Paul Giovanni, this was meant as a pun on "rock music".
  • Stout Strength: Oak is a very large fat man, but he's also the strongest man on the island, as introduced in an early scene where he carries a grown man on his shoulders.
  • Survival Mantra: The 23rd psalm is used at an appropriate moment.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Targeted Human Sacrifice: Sgt. Howie is slated to be the sacrifice because he's a virgin, because he's acting as a representative of the Crown, and because of his firm religious beliefs so different than the island's.
  • Town with a Dark Secret: The islanders certainly aren't afraid to show their pagan beliefs... but they keep quiet on the whole Human Sacrifice bit.
  • Title Drop: "Come, it is time to keep your appointment with the Wicker Man."
  • Tragic Hero: Howie, whose honor and morals make him a perfect sacrifice.
  • The Ugly Guy's Hot Daughter: Willow MacGregor, the beautiful daughter of the paunchy, balding and ratlike innkeeper.
  • The Vamp: Invoked with Willow
  • Viewers Are Geniuses : 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.
  • Virgin Power: As a staunch Christian, Howie is a firm opponent of sex before marriage and displays strength of will by keeping to his beliefs. In spite of being diametrically opposed to Howie's belief, the pagan residents of Summerisle also think that his purity gives him certain spiritual qualities.
  • Virgin Sacrifice: The movie is building towards one. The twist comes when the audience and Howie realize which virgin the town is going to sacrifice.
  • What Does She See in Him?: Howie's fellow police officers wonder this about his fiancée.
  • Where Do You Think You Are?:
    • "We're a deeply religious people. We don't commit murder here."
    • "No apples? On Summerisle?"
  • 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: He brought you up to be a pagan!
    Lord Summerisle: A heathen, conceivably, but not - I hope - an unenlightened one.
  • You're Insane!:
    May Morrison: Can I do anything for you, Sergeant?
    Sgt. Neil Howie: No, I doubt it, seeing as you're all raving mad!


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