Sunday, 20 March 2011

Inside The Wicker Man

When I was a kid I loved horror movies. One of my most prized possessions was the book “Monsters and Vampires” by Alan Frank. I'd bought this with money from my birthday (along side a companion volume “Science Fiction Movies” by Philip Strick) from the London Bookshop in Porirua shopping mall when I was ten or eleven, so 1977 or 1978.

I loved this book, and subsequently bought many similar volumes. The great thing about these types of book was the overview of a genre they gave my young mind. By the time I was twelve, I had a pretty good sense of the evolution of the horror movie from the primeval form, in the German expressionists, and the foundational works of the Universal studio, Val Lewton, monster movies of the fifties, then Hammer and related out-croppings, and a smattering on European directors like Mario Bava and Paul Naschy, among others.

Yes, I was one of THOSE kids.

I graduated from those sorts of books – lots of photos, generally light on commentary – to deeper books on genre and the history and theory of movies. I did the two units on film criticism they offered at Victoria and joined the film society and all that sort of thing.

The Wicker Man was not actually mentioned in this book.
I was a proper movie nerd for quite some time, although the shift from NZ to the UK seems to have dampened my enthusiasm somewhat, perhaps because of the paralysing range of choice in London compared to Wellington, and of course, the competition from the huge range of cultural experiences on offer. In Wellington, you could only read about new music or the club scene or avant garde theatre; once I was here, I could get into all that stuff first hand and there was no need for the vicarious thrill of cultural commentary.

I picked this one up in the Amnesty International sale late last year. It's one of those books I had at the back of my mind for a while, after I heard the author on the radio or something like that. I wasn't quite ready to go out and find it, but when it presented itself, I scooped it up. I'm glad I did, because it provides a lot of interesting insight into the film, as well as the corporate shenanigans surrounding its release, which are quite a story in itself.

When I first saw The Wicker Man, I already knew – pretty much – what to expect, but even so I thought it was a bit different from the movies I'd seen before. It looked different, for a start. It looked real in a way that the usual horror fare never did, even when it was set in the modern day. The people looked like real people, and there's something alive about it where the Hammer films are always a little lifeless.

The usual comparisons are Hammer – perhaps due to the presence of Christopher Lee and ingrid Pitt – but it reminds me more of The Shout or House of Whipcord, a kind of surreal drama rather than a horror in the same way as Hammer or Universal. Interestingly, on first release it was doubled up with Don't Look Now, another one of those strange British symbolist dramas.

It's interesting how the world has changed, of course, since I first read about The Wicker Man in those old horror reference books. In those days I had to keep my fingers crossed that it would turn up on TV eventually, or as a revival at a film festival or as part of a Sunday double bill. Nowadays, the whole film is available on youtube, alongside many other horror classics. A little while ago I watched the Jerry Cornelius film The Final Programme for the first time, thanks to the magic of youtube.

I am reminded once again of the words of that prescient sage, John Taylor, bass player of Duran Duran, on the effect of the internet on the young enthusiast.There's much to be gained in cultural insight, I suppose, but I can't help thinking that something has been lost. It's the end of the cult movie, I think, perhaps the end of cult culture entirely.


  1. Yep, when its all too easy to find anything, the thrill of that cool band that your friend got the bootlegged vinyl of before copying to tape has gone. Along similar lines my favourite south parks characters are the emos/goths lambasting other kids for being conformists, all in beautiful unity of course.

  2. There was a season of old Universal horrors on one of the Channel 4s a couple of years back that turned up a few I hadn't seen before - The old Dark House, Tha Black Cat (which is brilliant) - but part of it is that I am old (we are old, kiwi doc!) and have seen it all before. Perhaps old nerds still felt this way in the 70s? In terms of horror, I know I'd basically strip-mined the genre by the time I was thirty, and by then there was only the one or two good new films a year to look forward to.

    It'll be intersting to see how our kids grow up with it. I have a young lad who's inclinations are similar to mine at that age, but he is impatient with anything "old", but that brings up another key difference: when I was young, the channel for new stuff was very narrow, and so films like The Day the Earth Stood Still or Tarantula were still precious. These days, your average epsisode of The Sarah Jane Adventures knocks them into a cocked hat!

  3. Thought you might like my machinima film,
    The Lammas Wickerman
    Bright Blessings

  4. Wow, thanks Celestial Elf that was really cool.


Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.