Wicker Man, The (1973)

Wicker Man, The (1973)

“You simply don’t understand the true nature of sacrifice.”

A devout Christian detective (Edward Woodward) arrives on a Scottish island to locate a missing girl (Gerry Cowper), only to find that the Pagan locals — including Lord Summerisle (Christopher Lee), a schoolteacher (Diane Cilento), a librarian (Ingrid Pitt), the daughter (Britt Ekland) of the innkeeper, and the missing girl’s mother (Irene Sunter) — insist she never existed.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Britt Ekland Films
  • Christopher Lee Films
  • Cults
  • Detectives and Private Eyes
  • Horror
  • Mysterious Disappearance
  • Scottish Films
  • Sexuality
  • Village Life

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that this “one-of-a-kind occult film” — “written for the screen by Anthony Shaffer” — is “overrated and much less profound than the few critics who saw it in 1973 contended” (I disagree) “but it’s beautifully photographed by Harry Waxman, witty, erotic, and such an unusual entry in the horror genre — particularly because of Paul Giovanni’s extensive and clever use of music (bawdy ballads are sung, acoustic instruments are played throughout) — that one can understand why it would impress many viewers.” He adds that the “film is a combination of British TV’s The Avengers and British horror films Doomwatch and Horror Hotel, in which Lee lures victims to Salem for sacrifice in a satanic rite” — but he notes that “this is the only Christianity (good) vs. paganism (evil) film in which both are shown to be impotent.”

There has been much written — including in Peary’s Cult Movies 2 essay, and Allan Brown’s book Inside The Wicker Man — about the film’s notoriously challenging post-production and distribution history. The first restoration (released to great fanfare in 1979) bumped the running time up from 87 to 96 minutes and finally gave the film a significant audience; the 2001 Director’s Cut was a 95 minute hybrid; and the Final Director’s Cut (available on BluRay) is 93 minutes. Originally deleted (but now restored) footage includes a hypnotic nude dance by Ekland in a hotel room adjacent to Woodland’s as she bangs on the walls in an attempt to seduce him; and scenes from Woodland’s pre-island-visit life.

Regardless of the film’s cuts, however, it remains an entirely unique movie experience: a “musical” which incorporates song and dance into the very fabric of its narrative; other-worldly (yet very-much-real) locations across small Scottish towns and hills; a missing-person-search with a stunning horror plot twist; an unusual tale (as pointed out in the short documentary “Burnt Offering: The Cult of the Wicker Man”) in which an entire town is “in” on a collective attempt to pull the wool over The Fuzz’s eyes; and a memorably knock-out ending. This one remains well worth a look; it’s easy to see how it’s remained a cult classic for so many years.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Christopher Lee as Lord Summerisle
  • Edward Woodward as Sergeant Howie
  • Harry Waxman’s cinematography
  • Excellent use of authentic outdoor locales

  • Many memorable moments

  • Paul Giovanni’s score

Must See?
Yes, as a genuine cult classic.


  • Cult Movie

(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)


3 thoughts on “Wicker Man, The (1973)

  1. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ out of ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

    A classic and truly disturbing. Best seen cold with no foreknowledge … if at all possible. Must see.

  2. A once-must, for its rep as a cult item. As per my 3/25/20 post in ‘Revival House of Camp & Cult’ (fb):

    “Have you lost your bearings?”

    ‘The Wicker Man’: A one-of-a-kind item in the history of cult cinema. In Robin Hardy’s film of the script by Anthony Shaffer (who also wrote ‘Frenzy’ and ‘Sleuth’), a policeman (Edward Woodward) shows up at a remote island in search of a missing girl. Almost from his arrival, the inhabitants of the isolated community appear to be of one, cookie-cutter mind – and, to a person, they treat the officer with either cloaked benevolence or bemused tolerance. Everyone seems quite blissful being part of where they live. But, as they are questioned, we learn about the pagan belief that binds them together and defines their daily existence; it’s a life they will do anything to protect. …as the officer discovers when the annual May Day celebration begins.

    This is horror in a rather bucolic setting; the kind of ‘benign’ terror found in ‘Rosemary’s Baby’. The film moves quickly and unfolds in an increasingly creepy manner, with hints left like bread crumbs along the way. Overall, very effective and ultimately chilling. Also starring Christopher Lee and Britt Ekland (coming off a bit like a voluptuous Hayley Mills).

    I’ve not seen the (apparently awful) Nicolas Cage remake, nor the recent ‘Midsommar’ – which seems to have been inspired by ‘TWM’. But re: the film itself, the Wikipedia page on it is worth a look. It details the singular history of the film’s distribution, its cut versions, restoration, etc. The version Netflix has is the standard one: about 5 minutes short of the director’s cut; it feels complete, yet it seems the director had a slightly different intent for his original vision.


  3. Midsommer is hideously overlong (in both versions) and populated exclusively by dull or uninteresting characters.

    Ultimately it just tells the same story, so save your time and stick to the ’73 Wicker Man. Robin Hard wrote a sequel Cowboys for Christ (2006) which he also filmed as The Wicker Tree (2011). Not read or seen it alas.
    ⭐️⭐️ out of ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

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