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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 Neil 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 that he is 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 character who Hardy has said might be an unnamed Lord Summerisle, and Lee has said definitely isn't.

This film provides examples of:

  • Affably Evil: Lord Summerisle. It is never clear whether Summerisle actually believes in 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.
    • The people of Summerisle in general, in deliberate contrast to Howie's harshly authoritarian Good is Not Nice.
  • All for Nothing: Stated by Howie, who tells them that the reason their apple trees are failing is because the soil on the island simply is not 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 is 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.
  • Anti-Villain: The people of Summerisle just want their harvest to succeed so their community can survive.
  • 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 that something is definitely off about the place.
  • Aristocrats Are Evil: Lord Summerisle again. He sees himself as an enlightened ruler, but regularly offers human sacrifices to the gods. He also manipulates Howie for much of the film.
  • Aroused by Their Voice: Howie can only hear Willow's song, not see her, but he is 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."
  • Bad "Bad Acting": Most of the isle's residents uphold a convincing masquerade, as their task requires them to raise Howie's suspicions as to Rowan's intended fate, but the MacGraegors lay it on pretty thick when it's their task to spur the sergeant to action on May Day. Rowan herself is disconcertingly merry for a purported Human Sacrifice; although Howie is too harried to register such oddities until too late.
  • The Bad Guy Wins: Though thanks to Howie's final speech, perhaps only until the apple harvest fails again.
  • Bad Liar: It is really, really obvious that the villagers of Summerisle are concealing information. Maybe they are fundamentally honest people who are not used to this sort of thing. Or maybe it is 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 their cooperation in depicting their religion. There was no such lord, no such island, and no Scottish community practicing any such religion in the twentieth century.
  • 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 Howie the perfect sacrifice:
    • A man who would come here of his own free will.
    • A man who has come here with the power of a king by representing the law.
    • A man who would come here as a virgin.
    • A man who has come here as a fool.note 
  • Bawdy Song:
    • The customers at the Green Man 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 is a good song when you have got a pint in your hand.
    • "Gently Johnny" may just be the sweetest, gentlest, most romantic bawdy song you have 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. Summerisle is a private island and effectively everyone has to obey him. But he treats them in a rather friendly way.
    Rowan: Did I do it right?
    Summerisle: You did it beautifully!
  • Big Bad: Lord Summerisle is the head of the pagan village that commits Human Sacrifice to maintain their crops, and is behind the disappearance of Rowan Morrison that Sergeant Neil Howie is investigating, intending to lure him in to become the sacrifice.
  • Big Fancy House: Lord Summerisle lives in one of these, which was actually Culzean Castle and Country Park in Maybole, South Ayrshire.
  • 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 "WHAT?!": Howie gives one in response to Lord Summerisle's blasphemy.
  • 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 is 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!"
  • Book Ends: The Final Cut begins and ends with a religious ceremony (and Howie sings "The Lord's My Shepherd" at both of them).
  • But I Would Really Enjoy It: Howie does not 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 film has an interesting way of giving its setting physical isolation - it is set on the (fictional) remote Scottish island of Summerisle.
  • Camp Straight: The innkeeper Alder MacGregor, played by gay mime artist Lindsay Kemp. He is Willow's father.
  • Captain Obvious: During the scene where Howie is in a classroom. He is in full police uniform:
    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 does not believe in sex outside marriage. He is sorely tempted during the film however.
  • Central Theme: The power of belief, for both good and bad. The film pits a group of pious pagans against a pious Christian. There are no non-believers in the film.
  • 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 (though he’s still only middle-aged). He is wealthy, cultured, and charismatic.
  • Creepy Child: All of them, really, but Daisy Pringle in particular. They all hide secrets, and Daisy likes to torture beetles.
  • Comically Missing the Point: Lord Summerisle. He and Howie are observing a group of naked girls jumping over bonfires.
    Howie: But they are... are naked!
    Summerisle: Naturally, it's far too dangerous to jump through fire with your clothes on.
  • Corrupt Church: A former church and its churchyard (graveyard) have been taken over by the pagans. "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 Rose of "corruption of the young" when she teaches her early-pubescent class about the dominance 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.A seemingly prosperous island where humans regularly disappear.
  • 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 could not 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. It is part of a pagan ritual where the high priest has to dress as the goddess of the orchards.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: Howie dies by being trapped in the wicker man and burned alive, screaming in agony all the while.
  • Cruel Twist Ending: An incredibly famous one; see also It Was His Sled. A film where the main character is burned alive as a human sacrifice.
  • 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.
  • Culture Clash: Howie's Anglican Christian beliefs clash with the Blue-and-Orange Morality of the Celtic pagan islanders. Both sides are confused by each other. It all comes to a head at the end when the villagers have Howie sacrificed in a burning wicker man to save their crops.
  • Dark Reprise: Howie's reprise of the 23rd Psalm as counterpoint to the townsfolk's "Sumer is Icumen In" at the film's climax. He recites the Psalm as he is about to die.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Lord Summerisle quite often.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: The film relies heavily on this, first for humor, as Howie's staunch Christianity means that he is horrified and baffled by the devoted Paganism of the village inhabitants and what this leads them to do. The pagans 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. He remains pure to the end, and has deduced the actual problems with the island's agriculture when everyone else seems blind to them. That does not prevent his death.
  • 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 is 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 is implied that his sacrifice may be all for nothing, and that if the next harvest is not successful, the islanders will eventually descend into anarchy in a futile attempt to restore their crops.
    • The villagers seem happy in the belief that the human sacrifice will restore fertility to their island. Howie, however, suspects that the recent crop failures are due to climatic conditions. If Howie is right, the island is practically doomed, and the islanders are deluding themselves that their gods will save them.
  • Dressing as the Enemy: Howie disguises himself as Punch for the May Day festival, blending in with the crowd of pagans.
  • 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 is burning, believing that as long as he saves some sort of life, his police mission will have not been completely in vain.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: For Folk Horror on film in general. Despite being the Trope Codifier (especially for American audiences), it has a few twists that might be surprising to people familiar with how the genre has been passed down over the years.
    • Summerisle is about as modern as any other rural Scottish village of the era would be. The people wear ordinary clothes for the early 70s and are very open about their paganism. There is no secret society dictating their actions, either. It’s just their way of life, however sinister it may be.
    • The occasionally human-sacrificing religion practiced on Summerisle isn’t a long-standing ancient practice at all. Lord Summerisle’s grandfather started the cult more or less by accident only about 120 years ago. When Howie tries to track down any record of Rowan’s death, he finds only death certificates for two of her ancestors, a Rebecca and Benjamin Morrison. As he points out, these are Hebrew names from the Bible, in contrast to the plant-themed names of the current residents, and the librarian shrugs and says they were very old when they passed. The viewer can piece together that they were born before the current religion took hold.
    • In many later folk horror stories- see, for example, Midsommar- human sacrifice is a regular necessity for a pagan cult’s activities, at every major celebration. In this film, the island just got really, really unlucky with their apple harvest, and decided to make Howie even unluckier over it- though Howie’s dying curse predicts they’ll have to do the same thing next year, too. With Lord Summerisle.
  • The Ending Changes Everything The ending makes us see the islanders and their actions throughout the film in a new light.
  • Enfant Terrible: Daisy, one of the little girls at the village school, tortures a beetle for fun.
    • 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. She also offers him an escape route which is actually a trap. Played with, however, in that Rowan really is an innocent just going along with how she was raised, and she has no real understanding of why it’s wrong. When she asks Lord Summerisle if she played her part properly, he gives her a warm hug and tells her she did it beautifully, causing her to beam with childish pride.
  • 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 has 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 various animal masks during much of the May Day celebration, though they eventually take them off in the finale.
  • "Facing the Bullets" One-Liner: Sgt. Howie is being dragged to be burnt alive as a human sacrifice, but defiantly affirms his faith in the face of the murderous villagers. Lord Summerisle immediately turns this around and reminds him it's that very piety that makes him such an ideal candidate for sacrifice - and that the only reward for his faithfulness is to die a martyr's death. Howie, shaken to the core, opts to pray aloud: "Dear God, I humbly entreat thee for the soul of this thy servant, Neil Howie, who will today depart from this world. Do not deliver me into the enemy's hands or put me out of mind forever. Let me not undergo the real pains of hell, dear God, because I die unshriven. And establish me in that bliss which knows no ending, O Christ, Our Lord..."
  • Fake Mystery: Howie is called out to Summerisle to investigate the disappearance of a young girl. The island's inhabitants are part of a pagan cult, and during his investigation notices various strange behaviours and rituals. He begins to suspect the worst, and in the final act, disguises himself in order to arrest Lord Summerisle, who is aware of Howie's attempt, and even laughs at the man's disguise. The young girl who was missing appears. It's revealed she was never missing, and was all a ploy to get the detective to the island. Howie is captured and placed in the titular Wicker Man, then burned to death.
  • 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? Do not 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 is not actually her.
  • A Fête Worse than Death: The climax occurs during the May Day celebrations. Howie is burned alive.
  • 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.
  • Freaky Funeral Forms: Possibly. While out walking on his first night on Summerisle in the extended version, Howie is shocked to see multiple couples having sex in public. But he's particularly disturbed to see a naked woman sobbing and straddling a grave - the implication being that the deceased was her lover, and if he was alive, they'd be one of the couples having sex. If this is an accepted form of grieving on Summerisle instead of Excessive Mourning on the woman's part, that would be this trope.
  • Genre-Busting: Is it a crime movie? A horror movie? A mystery? A fantasy movie? You can even argue that it is a Musical, since many scenes revolve around singing and dancing.
  • 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 appeasing their Celtic deities.
  • Good is Not Nice: Howie is kind of a judgmental jerk, to say the least. Nevertheless, he's completely right in all his actions and investigations. He's also a righteous man trying to save a little girl.
  • 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 is 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. The cultists are islanders living in a remote island of the Hebrides. Played with, however, in that the people seem relatively sophisticated and modern, and don’t dress very differently than anybody else in the UK in the early 70s.
  • Holier Than Thou: Sgt. Howie's behavior is, depending on interpretation, either that of a sanctimonious prude, or that of a deeply honorable and upright officer motivated by his faith. He considers himself more ethical than the islanders, even when he resorts to threats or violence.
  • 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." He downs it in one gulp.
  • "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 is 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 is 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 is 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 is 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. 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!"
  • Large and in Charge: Lord Summerisle is the leader of the community and played by the 6'5 Christopher Lee.
  • Last Note Nightmare: The soundtrack is a great find as it includes all the Celtic folk songs featured in the movie, including the classic round "Sumer Is Icumen In," which is sung by the townsfolk at the film's climax. It takes a turn for the horror however when that track on the album ends with Howie screaming, "Oh, God! Oh, Jesus Christ!" in absolute terror as he sees the wicker man.
  • Mating Dance: Willow's naked dance. The man she is dancing for is in the next room and can not see her, but that is hardly necessary to get his attention.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: It is 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: Paul Giovanni wrote several original songs for the musical and adapted others from actual folk songs and poems. They are all 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 is 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 does not faze her father.
  • The Namesake: The titular object is not 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 do not 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 that they were not hurt. He also said that 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 is no given reason why the Librarian speaks with a faint Polish accent, other than that she is 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 does not 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.
  • Photo Identification Denial: The islanders flatly deny knowing Rowan from her picture, including her mother, May.
  • 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. He also 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 that it would not 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 has 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 Equalizernote . 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 StudioCanal, 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, while waiting to be sacrificed. It is 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 that he should feel proud of being a Christ-like sacrifice.
  • Same Language Dub: Britt Ekland had her entire performance re-dubbed by an actress with a Scottish accent. Possibly.
    • To clarify, most sources state that Ekland's dialogue was dubbed by Annie Ross, and her singing was dubbed by Rachel Verney. However, this is complicated by the fact that "Verney" appears to have no other music or film credits outside of The Wicker Man, suggesting it might have been a pseudonym. Comments from Ekland and director Robin Hardy seem to suggest that Ross did, in fact, do both dialogue and singing. To add even further to confusion, yet more sources claim that Verney recorded a singing track but that it ultimately wasn't used in lieu of Ross', despite her being credited on the soundtrack.
    • And to top it off, there's a very good chance that Ekland's voice might not have even been dubbed at all. Editor Eric Boyd-Perkins insists that neither he nor his soundman dubbed anything more than a song, assertions supported by Robin Hardy.
      • It's possible her voice was only dubbed in certain versions of the film, or that the dubbing was done without Boyd-Perkins and Hardy's involvement. But nobody knows for certain.
  • Schrödinger's Canon: Willow and her attempt to lure Howie, which is present on the wiki too. The longer cut reveals that it did not 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 is not included in a lot of the film's versions, it is 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 is moved to press his body against it with desire. He ultimately restrained himself.
  • Sex Signals Death: Inverted. The pious virgin is killed, and losing his virginity just might have made him an unacceptable sacrifice.
  • Scenery Porn: There are 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 is 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:
    • "Sumer is icumen in", the song sung by the villagers in the final scene, is a 13th century folk song celebrating the return of spring.
    • Apples feature prominently in many Celtic traditions. "Avalon" 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 17th century.
  • Smug Snake: Alder 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
  • Spoiler Cover: They put the titular Wicker Man smack dab on the poster.
  • 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".
    • In addition to being a type of tree, the name Rowan means "red-red haired one" in Gaelic. The character of Rowan does, indeed, have red hair. She also serves as a distraction from Sgt. Howie's true purpose on the island. So that makes her a red-haired Red Herring named "red-haired one".
  • Stout Strength: Oak is a very large fat man, but he is 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 does not 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 is a virgin, because he is acting as a representative of the Crown, and because of his firm religious beliefs which are so different than the island's.
  • Title Drop: "Come, it is time to keep your appointment with the Wicker Man."
  • Town with a Dark Secret: The islanders certainly are not afraid to show their pagan beliefs... but they keep quiet on the whole Human Sacrifice bit.
  • 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
  • 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.
  • Windmill Crusader: In a scene cut from the film, Miss Rose calls Howie one of these:
    Miss Rose: May one know, without too much self-important mystery making, what it is you have come here to investigate?
    Howie: I've come to find a missing girl – a girl whom everyone says never existed.
    Miss Rose: How quixotic of you.
    Howie: Quixotic?
    Miss Rose: From Don Quixote - an enthusiastic visionary, a pursuer of lofty but impracticable ideals.
    Howie: Also a man of honour, I believe.
    Miss Rose: Which did not prevent him from continually making a fool of himself.
    Howie: Aye, aye, well we'll see about that.
  • 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!