Oct. 28: The Wicker Man (1973):
If you see enough horror movies, even the ones that work can seem a little old hat at times. When something comes along that is truly unique, you really sit up and take notice. The Wicker Man is one of those films.
Edward Woodward plays Sgt. Neil Howie, a devoutly religious policeman sent to the remote Scottish island called Summerisle to investigate a young girl'92s disappearance. Once he arrives on the island, Howie finds the locals to be shockingly unhelpful, claiming that they don'92t know the girl. Howie also discovers that the locals practice a sort of neo-paganism, with all the attendant rites and rituals. This deeply offends his devoutly Christian nature.
The island is owned by Lord Summerisle (a terrific Christopher Lee), whose cultivation of special strains of fruits and vegetables has made the island a thriving, resurgent place to live. Howie hopes that the English aristocrat will be as appalled by the natives'92 practices as he is, but the lord turns out to be a practitioner himself. He tells Howie not to regard the islanders as heathens; they merely worship different gods than him.
As his investigation deepens, things become increasingly weird and unsettling. Howie becomes convinced that the girl has become a human sacrifice, or will become one soon, but he fears he is too late.
The Wicker Man is a film in which everything, the entire world the film is set in, just seems wrong and uncomfortable. The film rarely jolts you; instead, director Robin Hardy steadily increases the atmosphere and eeriness until we'92re cringing at every turn. We'92re sure something bad is going to happen, but we have no idea what it is.
The film was written by Anthony Shaffer, who wrote Frenzy and Sleuth, which prove that he knows his way around mystery and suspense. The script is rich and intelligent, and works as well as an indictment of religious zeal (for any religion) as it does as a horror film. Still, Shaffer keeps the chills coming, even as the villagers engage in pagan singalongs, and the movie builds to a climax that will leave you shaken.
The disastrous Nicolas Cage remake ('93How'92d it get burned? How'92d it get burned?!'94) may be good for an altogether different kind of horror, but the original stands as one of the best, most original horror films ever made.
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'97'a0'a0'a0 Frenzy (1972): Anthony Shaffer also wrote this story of a serial killer who rapes women and strangles them to death with neckties. Jon Finch plays a man suspected of the crimes, who must find the real killer before the police find him. The best film from Alfred Hitchcock'92s last decade as a director, this is also his kinkiest and most violent. But that doesn'92t keep Hitchcock from injecting some dark humor, as in one notable set piece in which the real killer is stuck in the back of a potato truck with a corpse that just won'92t stay hidden.
'97'a0'a0'a0 Rosemary'92s Baby (1968): More deviant religious practices hiding in plain sight, Roman Polanski'92s tale of a woman who may or may not have been knocked up by Satan doesn'92t really need my endorsement, but it will definitely get under your skin.
'97'a0'a0'a0 Horror of Dracula (1958): Christopher Lee'92s breakout role was as the Count in this compelling Hammer film, which injects a little more life into the classic story.