Sean and Cody wish you a happy and delightfully spooky Halloween as we continue to social distance, and the headlines are far scarier than anything we can find in a highly influential early ‘70s horror film. In The Wicker Man from 1973, stodgy cop Sergeant Howie (Edward Woodward) flies his groovy seaplane to a small Scottish island only to find a bunch of standoffish people who say they’ve never heard of the missing girl he’s looking for. It turns out Lord Summerisle (Christopher Lee), the polyester-jacketed, fright-wig bedecked chieftain of the island, is throwing a dinner party for the gods and he’s got Howie penciled in as the main course. Environmental issues discussed include the ecological dimensions of Christianization in the early Middle Ages, the influence of the Gulf Stream, how paganism and its back-to-nature vibes were distorted in the 1960s counterculture era, and the role of the harvest in human tradition.
Did the ancient Celts actually burn people alive in giant wicker statues, or was Caesar just making stuff up to make barbarians look bad? How come we know so little about what was going on in the early Middle Ages? What’s Zozobra and why is it infamous among college students in New Mexico? Can you grow citrus fruit in the Outer Hebrides? Was Wagner (the composer) a Nazi? If not, why did Hitler like him so much? Did those black metal guys who went around burning churches in Norway in 1992 really believe in anything, or were they just trying to sell records? Is it even fair to list Britt Ekland in the credits of this movie considering you can barely find her on-screen? What was Christopher Lee’s favorite subgenre of heavy metal music? All of these questions are ready to go up in smoke in this folk horror-themed episode of Green Screen.
Original trailer for The Wicker Man.
Additional Materials About This Episode
A round-up of iconic scenes from The Wicker Man.
The Environmental History
Commentarii de Bello Gallico (Commentaries on the Gallic Wars) by Julius Caesar, the source of the whole “Wicker Man” legend:
Review (by Paul Buckland) of The Christianization of Iceland, Priests, Power and Social Change 1000-1300 by Orri Vesteinsson (Oxford University Press, 2000):
A “Wicker Man” as pictured in an 18th century Welsh book.
The Zozobra festival in Santa Fe, New Mexico, from 2020. Every year a large paper marionette is torched in a ritual that is not unlike the “Wicker Man” tradition.
The Human Echoes YouTube channel gives us five facts about The Wicker Man. Some of these are covered in our episode.
Christopher Lee talks about the making and background of The Wicker Man in an interview from 2002.
Lee sings! Here he is with the metal band Rhapsody of Fire, singing (in English) “The Magic of the Wizard’s Dream” from 2005.
The same song–but the German version. I think you’ll agree it’s completely epic. Lee also cut versions in French and Italian.
Next Movie Up: Dune (1984)