Saturday, March 21, 2015

Pictures of Wicker Men

What can I say?  We wanted to watch The Wicker Man (1973), and had to watch The Wicker Man (2006).

Since these movies have basically the same plot, I'll save a little time and describe the common thread. There is an island, isolated and seemingly idyllic, where everyone is named after plants. To this island comes a lone policeman. He has received a letter telling him that a little girl, Rowan, has gone missing from the island. But no one on the island will admit to knowing the girl. There are hints that she exists - she's on the school attendance list. Maybe she's dead, but the grave is in a ruined churchyard. Is she even in the coffin at all?

The islanders have peculiar religious practices, modeled on the old nature cults. When our policeman finally meets the mysterious leader of the island, he begins to suspect that they even practice human sacrifice, and that the girl may be the next victim. And it is April 30, and tomorrow is May Day.

In the original 1973 stars Edward Woodward (another plant name!) as the policeman. The island is in Scotland, and the islanders engage in fertility rituals - for singing bawdy songs in the pub and dancing lewdly with the landlord's daughter, Britt Ekland to outdoor public swiving. It actually looks kind of nice - lots of folk music if you're into that, and strapping lads and lusty wenches if you're into that. Woodward is not - he is a straitlaced Catholic and has a hard time keeping his mind off the depravity. My favorite scene has Ekland in the room next to him, all nude and sweaty, working a sex spell to entice him into her room. She writhes, dances and knocks on the wall in a seductive rhythm that really raises the heat.

The mysterious leader, Lord Summerisle, is Christopher Lee. He plays it just right, an aristocratic New Age hippie type. When he shows up, things really get going.

In the 2006 version, the policeman is Nic Cage. Before he goes to the island, we see him involved in a horrible, unexpected and hilarious accident. As soon as I saw it, I knew this was going to be played for laughs. Anyway, he is traumatized, not sleeping, and popping pills for the flashbacks. The letter about the missing girl is his chance for redemption, to become whole again.

In this movie, the island is in the Puget Sound, and specializes in honey production, which is a problem, since Cage is allergic to bee stings. The inhabitants are almost all women, the men all mute drones. Although this version of the island looks cozy, writer/director Neil LaBute's famed misogyny really comes through - these are the asexual, funless type lesbians, not the skyclad dancing type. Elen Burstyn is Sister Summersisle, and a lot less fun than Christopher Lee, although just as devious - wait until you see the bee-funnel.

So, watch the 1973 version for the Hammer-like seductive horror, and the 2006 for the laughs, intended and un-.

In conclusion, Ms. Spenser would just like to say, "The bees! The bees!"

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