THE WICKER MAN (1973). Director: Robin Hardy. Screenplay: Anthony Shaffer.
"You'll simply never understand the nature of sacrifice."
Sergeant Hardy (Edward Woodward) travels to a Scottish village on a remote island in answer to a letter claiming that a woman's young daughter has disappeared. The townspeople, including the woman who allegedly wrote the letter, claim that no one is missing and they never heard of the little girl in question. Seeing the free-spirited natures of the pagan villagers and their unashamed attitudes towards sexuality brings out the prig in the Catholic police officer, who is outraged by the licentiousness and confused by the weird rituals he sees all around him. On the other hand, Hardy is truly concerned with the welfare of the child he is searching for. Which makes his ultimate fate all the more troubling ... The Wicker Man, although conventional enough in its thinking at its core [substituting Paganists for Satanists], is an unusual horror suspense film. At times it plays like a weird musical with the villagers breaking out in song at the drop of a hat -- these sequences don't really work and were wisely cut in some versions -- and a scene with a naked Britt Ekland dancing and singing around her bedroom seems like nothing so much as a rock video [she even sings into the camera like a rock star!]. Ekland is the nubile daughter of the tavern keeper; Ingrid Pitt is a librarian; Diane Cilento is a teacher; and Christopher Lee is Lord Summerisle, leader of the Pagan cult. In general the cast is very good and Edward Woodward gives the performance of a lifetime. The version on the DVD is still not complete, as a documentary on the movie shows clips from scenes that are not included and were supposedly "lost." It's too bad that some fairly serious directorial missteps prevent this from being a true classic, although it certainly has many admirers, and once you get past the foolish moments it's actually quite good, with a chilling wind-up. Remade in 2006 with Nicolas Cage in the Woodward role.
Verdict: You just can't trust those Pagans -- and Edward Woodward's finest hour and a half. ***.