By Richard Winters
My Rating: 8 out of 10
4-Word Review: Pagans on an island.
Police sergeant Howie (Edward Woodward) receives a letter stating that their daughter named Rowan Morrison (Gerry Cowper) has disappeared and it compels him to travel by plane to an obscure island village off the coast of Scotland to find her. Once he arrives he finds nothing but resistance from the people and everyone denying that she even exists. He also learns that the people practice a pagan type of religion and begins to suspect that the girl’s disappearance may have something to do with the upcoming harvest celebration and decides to infiltrate the proceedings in order to weed-out the culprits and find the girl.
The film, which was inspired by the 1967 novel ‘Ritual’ by David Pinner, manages to be quite intriguing despite being material better suited for a short story. The whole concept is woven around the big twist that occurs at the end and everything that occurs beforehand is simply a lead up to that, which could’ve been a stretch for feature length but director Robin Hardy’s tight editing and deft use of atmosphere keeps things permanently lodged in the creepy and compelling even though I did figure out at around the 60 minute mark where it ultimately was headed. The film’s original length is supposedly longer than the 1Hour 28Minute release that is currently available, but to be honest I felt this was a perfect runtime for this type of story and stretching it out further would’ve simply been diluting it.
Edward Woodward, who later became familiar to American audiences with his starring role in the TV-show ‘The Equalizer’, is terrific in the lead and I liked that fact that the character wasn’t a completely ‘nice guy’ either, but instead rigidly entrenched in his Christian religious beliefs and arrogantly convinced that his spirituality was superior to anyone else’s. Christopher Lee again makes a good nemesis even though his mod hair style looks a bit goofy. Britt Ekland is on hand as well singing a weird song and even doing a provocative dance although the nude scenes of her from the waist down were done by a body double.
The only issue that I had with Anthony Shaffer’s script is the fact that the sergeant must go back to the mainland to get more men from the force to help him search for the girl, which to me was a bit of a loophole because I would think he could’ve just gotten on a phone and called in for more backup without arduously having to travel back. The facts that no one else knows where he is seemed a little implausible as well as most people working on the force have a supervisor that they must report to and who is at least somewhat aware of what case they are working on and where they are traveling to do it.
The ending though, which features an actual giant wicker man made of wood is an amazing site. When it gets set on fire with the victim and even some animals trapped inside of it is quite exciting and I liked how the point-of-view shifts between the people who view it from the ground as well as the victim seeing the people on the ground from inside the burning structure.
I remember seeing the 2006 remake starring Nicholas Cage in the theaters. While the details of it are vague I do recollect coming away from it finding grossly inferior in literally every way to this one and something that should be avoided at all costs.
My Rating: 8 out of 10
Released: December 10, 1973
Runtime: 1Hour 28Minutes
Director: Robin Hardy
Studio: British Lion Film Corporation
Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube