I remember first seeing the 2006 remake of The Wicker Man in college. I was just coming to the realization that an entire culture existed around fascination with films so bad that they are beloved, and The Wicker Man was one of my seminal introductions to that world. I would later move on to love such disasterpieces as Troll 2, Birdemic, Hell Comes to Frogtown, and, of course, The Room—but The Wicker Man holds a special place in my heart, so I think it’s worthwhile to take a look back on the film’s 10th anniversary (and its addition to Netflix for streaming) to see exactly what makes it so special.
Nicholas Cage stars as policeman Edward Malus, traumatized by the deaths of a mother and daughter killed in a traffic accident while he had pulled them over. While wallowing in his grief, he receives a letter from his ex-fiancée, who claims that her young daughter Rowan has gone missing and begs for Edward to come investigate on the island of SummersIsle, which is populated exclusively by female-led pagan extremists. So, Edward packs his bags and leaves his California police job to go investigate the missing girl, who looks mysteriously like the girl who died in the car accident.
When The Wicker Man was released in theaters, it was both a critical failure and a box office flop, failing to even make back its relatively modest $40 million budget. And it’s really not hard to see why: As a horror film, it’s a nonsensical mess, light on scares, and constantly set in sunny, outdoor environments that neither lend themselves well to jump-scares or psychological trickery. The plot is a dense weave of coincidences and contrivances that are supposedly tied together by the ending reveal, yet even a moment’s contemplation just raises more questions than answers.
So what makes this terrible movie so special? A great part of the credit has to go to Nicholas Cage as the star player. It’s hard to say when exactly Cage gained his reputation as a chronic over-and-under actor who only takes projects of questionable artistic merit, but this role is definitely a prime example of how that reputation was earned. Cage mumbles his way through early scenes with a wooden dispassion that the musical score desperately tries to carry, then he suddenly explodes with spouts of manic anger whether or not the scene calls for it. There’s no medium volume on this guy; he’s either at a dead zero or an infernal 11, and the juxtaposition makes him a hilarious viewing pleasure. But Cage is only half the equation; he’s starred in plenty of horrible movies that haven’t gained nearly the reputation this one has. No, the real deciding factor is that this movie. Is. Insane.
There’s a fine line between comedy and horror. Both rely on shocking the audience into a visceral reaction, usually not based on logic or extensive thought. The Wicker Man is so ineffective at scaring us that it veers directly into comedy. A scene where Cage watches a girl who looks suspiciously like the girl he just watched die is interrupted as he imagines that girl mowed down by a semi… except this is while they are on a boat, so the whole thing isn’t just shocking, it’s ludicrous! When Cage arrives on the island, he very casually asks what’s being held in a struggling, BLEEDING sack, only to be jump-scared by the local residents when he tries to look in, BUT NEVER ACTUALLY FINDS OUT WHAT’S IN THE SACK! In a terrible movie, the best kind of comedy one can hope for is the unintentional kind, and the way this film spirals out of control is wonderfully cathartic.
Here are just a few of the more classic moments:
- Cage walks into a classroom full of little girls who are being asked what men represent. Their reply: “Phallic symbol. Phallic symbol.”
- Multiple scenes where Cage storms from location to location without any sense of direction, calling out Rowan’s name at the slightest sound as if she could always be just around the corner.
- A sequence where Cage swims to reclaim Rowan’s body from under a dock, wakes up mid-rescue, shockingly finds the dead girl in his arms, then wakes up again and screams, “GOD DAMN IT!” as if that was an annoying, but not all that unusual, occurrence.
- A scene where Cage searches room after room and finds a man covered in bee stings and a naked woman covered in bees. No explanation is offered.
- Cage karate kicks a woman half his size into a wall.
- Dressed in a full bear costume, Cage casually jogs up and cold cocks an unsuspecting woman in the face.
The piece de resistance, though, is an exclusive to the unrated cut of the film, and is probably the biggest reason why it became such a cult hit. I speak, of course, of the infamous “Not the bees!” scene:
This is the kind of movie that drinking games are made of, the kind that deserves to be watched with friends and mocked mercilessly. If you haven’t seen it yet, don’t worry, none of the moments I detailed above will be any less amusing. That’s the mark of a great terrible movie: even when you know the unintentional joke is coming, it will still make you laugh.
‘The Wicker Man’ opened in theaters on this day in 2006.