Monday, December 14, 2009

Druids! Druids! Druids!: Ivanlandia Visits Summerisle--to roast some pigs!

Ivanlandia is jumping on the Final Girl Wicker Man Blog-a-thon Film Club, providing its own entry about that classic film, The Wicker Man.

In junior year high school English class, the teacher told us that the reason the Romans has such a hard time conquering England and Ireland was because the inhabitants of those islands were Druids, and, as old Mr. Hayden asked the class rhetorically, “How can you defeat people who worship trees?!?

With its close affinity to the cycles of nature, Druidism often seems more “logical” (or natural) that the monotheistic Desert Religions (Christianity, Judaism, Islam) with their seemingly arbitrary, random, contradictory and often cruel rules.

Xmas is around the corner, so let’s not forget that much of this supposedly Christian tradition was swiped and co-opted from “pagan” rites and rituals.
Christians didn’t invent the Christmas tree: crazy heathen krauts living in the Black Forest came up with that.
And there’s a reason why Easter (yea, He is risen) is situated near the vernal equinox….

With that in mind, one approaches the story of The Wicker Man with no small amount of dread…

The Wicker Man (1973)
Directed by Robin Hardy
Written by Anthony Shaffer

It’s unnerving watching a noose tighten for about 90 minutes, but that’s my metaphorical description of The Wicker Man.
It’s probably one of the smartest horror flicks ever made, more about cross-cultural collision, than any sort of monster, and it’s a heck of a lot of food for thought.

The cast is swell, but Christopher Lee (in what’s really an extended cameo) is marvelous, and Edward (RIP) Woodward is fantastic as the virginal cop who gets in well over his head.

Sui generis, it’s a mystery with music (!), and
The Wicker Man certainly challenges your feelings about religion and sexuality, almost uncomfortably so.

If you have any seriously religious relatives, you can easily image them being quite shocked by the movie’s seemingly pro-druidic viewpoint and casual nudity.

But it's a flick all fans of "fantastic" cinema need to see.

Check HERE for a synopsis/plot….

And is the movie’s viewpoint truly pro-Druidic? Facing death, Howie finally gets around to mentioning science, warning the villagers that crop failure is natural in their region, especially since the fruits being grown are not indigenous to Summerisle, then what happens if the crops fail again?
Howie screams that Lord Summerisle will have to be sacrificed next if the crops fail again, and Lee’s expression tells us that that may be true.
When Howie (a child’s name, or better yet: a childish name) is informed that his sacrifice for the Druids means martyrdom as a Christian, it’s essentially the same for the viewer: who wins? Perhaps no one. The massive joke played on Howie may be for naught---but Howie’s such a close-minded jerk, that it’s hard to feel sympathy for him, but after a while, you do—because you know he’s doomed.

When Howie’s plane is sabotaged, that’s the point we know the noose is tight around his neck, and it’s only a matter of time: we’ve been given no indication that the cop has any idea of how to get off the island, even if he does find Rowan Morrison.

For more about Druids, make sure and watch Halloween III: Season of the Witch

Author Anthony Shaffer also wrote Sleuth (the original from 1972 is one of my faves; I won’t watch the remake, just like I forget that there’s a Wicker Man remake out there—even though some are it calling camp-o-riffic)
and Hitchcock’s Frenzy (which a lot of people love, but that, well, my review’s below….).

Shaffer is the master of the brilliant and twisty script, and but his output wasn’t that prolific, which is too bad, but if you enjoy brain-teasing puzzles, you must check out his films.

Additional review:

Frenzy (1972)
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Written by Anthony Shaffer
Based on the novel by Arthur La Bern

I get the feeling Frenzy was Hitchcock’s attempt to show those young upstarts who were popping up in the late-1960s/early-1970s who was boss and how it was done.
But compared to Targets, Last House on the Left, Rosemary’s Baby, Night of the Living Dead and others, Frenzy is a contrived mess.
The actors are given mannerisms and attitudes only to the extent that those personality characteristics push the plot in a certain direction. In no way are the characters fleshed-out or fully drawn people.

Because of that, the film’s clinical and cold style becomes an annoyance. I don’t mind if a flick is mean-spirited or ruthless, but it absolutely needs some depth and logic, something Frenzy doesn’t seem to have.
For a film called Frenzy, it’s hardly very frenzied. A generic title, dull.
I rented the movie wanting to like it, but after seeing it, I’m starting to think Hitchcock is overrated.

(I’m not really a fan of Strangers on a Train, either….)

Lately, I’ve been finding myself re-assessing all of Hitchcock’s films. On the whole, I’m not as impressed with Hitch overall like I used to be.

Except Psycho.
Ahhhhh, there’s a different story:

It’s still an almost perfect movie—even with the goofy psychiatrist scene at the end.

Psycho (1960)
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Written by Joseph Stephano
Based on the novel by Robert Bloch


  1. I agree with you. I also think Hitch is overrated. He was a great technical director, but on the same level as many others who haven't had every frame of their film work coated with critics' jism. Psycho is his best movie and it's because the director seems willing to get down in the mud and make a "B" picture in the best sense of the term. He's not pulling his punches. There's a naked id on display that isn't layered over with half a ton of Hitchcock superego.

    I love The Wicker Man. I want to marry that movie. (I don't consider it a horror film, though, so I always feel the need to correct people to avoid the inevitable complaint of "how come it's not scary?") The soundtrack CD has become indispensible to my pagan lifestyle.

  2. Toestubs:
    Otto Mannix lent me the good book "Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho," and it essentially says the same thing you do.

    I'll still consider The Wicker Man a horror flick because of the dread it inspires (and until a term is developed that accurately describes a flick that isn't necessarily "scary" but moody and full of dread).

    Anyway, back to the day job/thanks for reading!

  3. Hmm, some serious Hitchcock bashing going on here. And i appreciate it because too much over-rating is going on in our culture; we need to step back and look at the bigger picture instead of searching for 'gods', like Bob Dylan; jeez you'd think the guy was in league with Aristotle the way the deaf masses idolize him.

    But to whittle The Hitch's career down to just 'Psycho' may be too strong a rebuke!!! I do believe he is over-rated but now i must peruse the filmography of the so-called 'master of suspense' and render a verdict on this.

  4. Certainly, the guy did some impeccable moviemaking. It wasn't my intention to be such a reductionist jerk. Strangers on a Train is very entertaining, though I understand it didn't do boffo boxoffice in Ivanlandia. This discussion has inspired a desire to watch more of Hitchcock's seven billion films, so as to pontificate more knowledgably and effectively.

  5. Toestubz, I know I should seek out more of Alfred Hatchplot's (as Mad magazine used to call him) movies; so at least I can have an opinion--I still haven't seen Vertigo or Marnie, but I'm scared to: I really get the feeling, from what I've seen and read, that these two might drive me up the wall. We'll just have to wait and see...

  6. Ivan, DO NOT see those two. they WILL drive you up the wall. even Bruce Dern cannot save MARNIE from its stilted Psych-101 tone. ugh. And Vertigo may be his most overrated movie, very aggravating.

  7. RR:
    Wow, I WILL follow your advice--it sounds like these flicks would make me poke out my eyes!