In the past few weeks I have had the good fortune to see some horror classics that I have been itching to see. Last week it was The Wicker Man (1973). The original Wicker Man, directed by Robin Hardy, starring Edward Woodward and Christopher Lee, was extremely creepy (not least because of Christopher Lee’s hair-do).
From the get-go the remote island village of Summerisle seems like an X-rated version of Whoville – everyone is smiling and breaking into happy songs and dances, but then there are songs about the sexual prowess of the innkeeper’s daughter sung by leering elderly men… that’s pretty immediately horrifying. The whole film revolves around the young policeman sent in to investigate the disappearance of a young girl in the community, and his prurient response to their happy, sexually liberated, pagan ways. In a lot of ways, it pretty much encapsulates the backlash to the sexual revolution and hippie movement, or it could be read on another level as a backlash against old values, with the island society basing their decisions on a return to pagan rites of pre-Roman society. No, it’s not surprising how the tale unfolds, but that’s almost the best part about it – there is an air of inevitability to the whole movie. We, the audience, are expected to identify with the policeman, but his views seem pretty laughable in 2015. This movie is pretty unwatchable by modern standards – it’s just too weird and the shocks and scares are based on out-dated values. I would say that this is definitely not for someone who isn’t already a horror fan, or has an interest in the cultural conflicts of the era. No comment about the Nicholas Cage re-make.
This week it was The Thing (1982), directed by John Carpenter, starring Kurt Russel, Wilford Brimley, and Keith David. Fun fact: Ennio Morricone, beloved music director of many popular Westerns, did the soundtrack to this movie (even though Carpenter usually does his own). It’s pretty safe to say that the moral of this film is “kill it with fire.”
It’s pretty cool to contrast this 80s, special-effects-driven, creature-feature to the ambient horror of The Wicker Man. Both films feature a protagonist set against impossible odds, trying to defeat “evil.” Of course, in the case of The Thing evil takes the form of aliens from Outer Space, whereas The Wicker Man is decidedly human evil. Kurt Russell is great as our hero, MacReady, who makes pretty solid decisions when faced with an alien that can adapt itself to any form. This is really satisfying in a genre where any sane viewer spends a lot of their time yelling “don’t go in there!” at the screen. The characters seem to make sense, without resorting to popcorn logic, and the practical effects are also extremely impressive – they still stand up after all this time, unlike CGI which can look dated even 5 years down the road. This movie stands up very well, and would be an excellent choice for someone who isn’t necessarily a horror fan. Most of the movie is based on suspense, but when things get bad, they also get really, REALLY gross.