My top-ten horror films #5

5 – THE WICKER MAN (1973)

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Some of the most effective horror films are penned or directed by people who aren’t immersed in the genre. Anthony Shaffer, who scripted the film, is best known for his play Sleuth and his foray into Agatha Christie territory with a couple of scripts featuring Hercule Poirot. Director Robin Hardy was making his debut. I love this film because it manages to get under your skin despite most of it being shot in daylight.

Edward Woodward excels as the upright Sergeant Neil Howie who flies out to the Hebrides on the hunt for missing schoolgirl Rowan Morrison. Christopher Lee reins in his creep gland and plays the charming Lord Summerisle with panache. Britt Ekland catches the eyes as the landlord’s daughter, and gives the oblivious Howie an escape route if only he’d quell his Christian virtues. Howie is simultaneously aroused and disgusted by the promiscuity prevalent on the island and the internal battle he wages – you can almost see the angel and the demon sitting on his shoulders – plays itself out in every nuanced expression.

The title of the film and the iconic picture of the wicker man are like the gun that appears in the first scene of a thriller. You know what’s coming, but that knowledge doesn’t soften the blow when Howie claps his eyes on it for the first time. You find yourself echoing Howie as the sun sets and the torches are lighted. Oh God. Oh Jesus Christ…

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