FUN FACT: If you find this song hauntingly familiar, it’s because “How Do” by the Brit trip-hop band Sneaker Pimps was an undercover cover.
This is where the movie wins everything—The Wicker Man is in large part a musical. Just as any pagan ritual would, each ritual is punctuated with a live traditional folk or original song. I’m listening to the soundtrack as I write this, and its drums haunt my mind with a frightening march cadence, and the sparely plucked strings are uncomfortable seductive. The soundtrack, available on iTunes, is a must-get for any fan of this sublime film.
And Christopher Lee. Before he moved to Isengard and donned the mantle of Saruman the White, Mr. Lee was Lord Summerisle, the grandson of the founder of the island’s pagan community. With his signature commanding voice, he rules over the pagan people of Summerisle with a fatherly strength and an earnest concern. The people of Summerisle are happy, and Lord Summerisle is their guiding light. Cast as as Sergeant Howie’s main interlocutor, Mr. Lee has never been more believable or more frightening.
But beyond the casting and beyond the verisimilitude of the pagan rituals, it’s The Wicker Man’s transcendence of genre that makes it so disturbing. Not just a horror film, not just a musical, it’s also a mystery. In many ways it also plays as a documentary. It cannot be pinned to a single genre. This ambiguity is what makes the every day lives of these pagans so frightening. The simple, safe words (man, pole, fire, wicker, may, hair, naked) are suddenly chill-inducing. The daylight is now dangerous, the sun a devouring god.
All in all, The Wicker Man is a frightening romp through a world departed, a world in which you find yourself ultimately rooting for the pagans. And this is why The Wicker Man endures. In a world in which all we read about are the gay-hating, fun-bashing Christians who spout off their judgement and bible interpretations at every turn, watching one get burned alive is the fictional solace we desire. Enough already, guys. There are people all over the world with different beliefs that may seem crazy to you but are working out just fine for them. Sergeant Howie, as he’s led to his martyrs death, pleads, “killing me won’t bring your apples back.” That’s true, but at least it will shut you up.
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