There is a tradition (thanks largely to John Carpenter’s Halloween, which was not the first but is still the best) of horror movies tied to specific holidays, most of them tied to Christmas, Valentine’s Day or April Fool’s Day. You Better Watch Out is one of the only truly great ones in the Christmas horror genre, if you ask me, and Eli Roth memorably parodied the entire genre with his trailer for the fake movie Thanksgiving. But possibly my favorite of the holiday horror movies is the May Day movie, The Wicker Man.
The springtime festival of May Day is an ancient tradition based on pagan celebrations of the arrival of spring. Robin Hardy’s 1973 movie taps into the Celtic culture of the British Isles by crafting a strange, dreamlike movie about a dogged British policeman who travels to a remote island village to look into a year-old missing persons case. He finds that the villagers are part of what appears to be a peaceful, pagan cult led by Lord Summerisle (Christopher Lee, with an epic ’70s haircut).
If you are familiar with the late Sir Christopher Lee’s work in British cinema in the mid-1970s, you will not be surprised to learn that all as not as innocent as it seems on the bucolic island. The film has a truly shocking ending that is unfortunately almost always spoiled by not only trailers but simply by the artwork on posters or videos. If you’ve somehow managed to not be familiar with the iconic ending, don’t do a Google Image search. The film itself is deeply strange — the pacing is uneven, there are long sequences of singing and chanting, and it doesn’t play out as a traditional mystery or thriller or horror movie. It’s not a traditional anything. But the central conflict of modern law and order running into rural, pagan superstition and tradition is unnerving and eerie. Celebrate the start of May in Boston by watching a different kind of celtics!
High five, constable!
Screening this week in 35mm at the Coolidge Corner Theatre at midnight on Saturday night as part of the series “Coolidge After Midnite”.