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The Wicker Man
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Genre:Thriller
Year:1974
Rating:R
Length:1 Hour 28 Minutes
Cast:Robin Hardy, Edward Woodward, Britt Ekland, Diane Cilento

A subtle, intelligent British thriller that has attained cult status over the years, director Robin Hardy's The Wicker Man is more creepy than terrifying, doling out its frights with a spare but expert hand. It benefits from a superb performance by Edward Woodward as a repressed, devoutly Christian police detective who arrives on an idyllic Scottish island to investigate the disappearance of a 12-year-old girl. The inspector is immediately rattled by the friendly but duplicitous islanders, who engage in casual nudity and wanton sex under the free-spirited rule of the foppish and eccentric Lord Summerisle (memorably played by Hammer horror icon Christopher Lee). When Woodward discovers that the natives are pagans, his disapproval turns to fear and outrage as he begins to suspect that the missing girl might have been used as a human sacrifice. Eschewing the usual horror film conventions, almost all of The Wicker Man takes place outdoors under sunny spring skies as the islanders prepare for their May Day celebrations. Hardy imbues the bucolic goings-on -- folk song sing-alongs, a maypole dance performed by children -- with an ever-increasing sense of menace. The deeper terror is psychological, though, as Woodward's inspector is confronted with a heathenism against which his faith provides no bulwark. We feel the inspector's anguish as he struggles to subdue his physical desire when the innkeeper's luscious daughter (Britt Ekland) tries to tempt him by dancing naked outside his room. It is Woodward's magnificent portrayal of this self-righteous but well-meaning man that makes The Wicker Man's dark and unexpected ending truly devastating. Hacked down to 87 minutes for its initial release, the film was a theatrical failure. The DVD presents the film, fully restored from original vault materials, in its original 102-minute version. Kryssa Schemmerling

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