The Wicker Man

Year: 1973
Director: Robin Hardy
Cast: Edward Woodward, Christopher Lee, Britt Ekland, Diane Cilento
Routinely touted as a classic among the cineaste and movie magazine industry, but it's easier to see the story's quality than the cult appeal.

A classic good vs evil story writ small, it deals with Scottish police inspector Howie (Woodward) investigating the disappearance of a local girl on an offshore Island populated by a strange and insular but seemingly harmless community.

As Howie digs deeper, past the prejudices, closed doors and plain weirdness of the locals, he discovers more about their beliefs. Led by an enigmatic Lord (Lee, passionate as he was about the story, agreed to appear for free), they perform elaborate and - to Cowie - increasingly heathen rites worshipping the land, heavens and animals instead of Christ, like every good Scot should.

Led down a path of increasing frustration, despair and temptation at their hedonistic practices - personified by the beautiful and maddeningly available willow (Ekland) - Howie gets more desperate to overturn the mystery and bring the fear of God to these people.

The twist gets him - literally - and the final scene is indeed one of considerable power. Where I think the appeal lies however is in the parable of the traditional Christian church's struggle against its detractors and competitors in the world - everything from crystal-wielding nymphettes dancing naked around fires at midnight to spiritual apathy.

It's a little hard to be caught up in the passion of it all because it really sneaks up on you - you're watching understated performances by a stiff upper lip mainland copper and a bunch of seemingly harmless islanders right up until Howie is locked inside the wicker man to meet with his feet. That's where it reaches up to bite you like a snake in the grass you haven't even seen, and that's where its power comes from.

It's also testimony to the power of fandom and movie criticism to help shape the movie business. After years of talk about what a cult classic it is, routinely making it onto best movies of all time lists and undergoing repeated analysis, Hollywood has announced the inevitable remake.

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