Sunday, November 05, 2006

Rosebud's his sled, by the way

About three months ago, I requested The Wicker Man on DVD using the public library's handy online reservation system. Not the recent remake starring Nicholas Cage--the one that I'm pretty sure no one saw except the critics who collectively gave it a dismal 15% (certified rotten) rating at Rotten Tomatoes. No, I'm talking about the 1973 original--the one ranked supposedly sixth greatest British film of all time and the one with a decidedly more respectable 90% fresh rating online.

I had almost forgotten I requested that movie until the e-mail arrived notifying me that I could pick it up. Since I requested it around the time that the remake came out, the line of holds ahead of me was more than unusually long. By the time I had the DVD in my hand, I had pretty much forgotten why I actually wanted to see it. And when I read the pull quotes on the case, I almost took it straight back.

I've already established that scary movies are not my thing. And yet, I apparently decided that on a Saturday night, home alone, it was a good idea to watch a movie about which the critics had these things to say:

"Harrowing, absorbing, eerie and erotic... A must-see!"

"A modern horror masterpiece."

"Witty and scary! No one who sits through it to the end is likely to find it easy to shake off."

And my personal favorite:

"The 'Citizen Kane' of horror films."


Um, I do not at all like horror films. Exactly why would I think watching the 'Citizen Kane' of one was a good idea?

I watched it anyway, irrational terror be damned. Knowing my history with horror films, though, I tried to set it up to ensure as little trauma as possible. I deliberately started it early enough in the night that I'd be able to stay up for at least two episodes of Freaks and Geeks on DVD afterward, should I need something to clear my head. I even gave myself a pathetic little pep-talk as I went downstairs to put in a load of laundry. Worried that I'd be too scared after the movie to retrieve my clothes from the dryer, I looked around my basement saying, "You're not scared now... There's nothing and no one here that's going to hurt you or creep you out, and there won't be after the movie, either. If you're not scared now, you needn't be an hour and a half from now, either."

Yes, I really talk to myself. Quite regularly, in fact. But we've already covered that, I believe.

Anyway, all of this prepping proved unnecessary after all, as The Wicker Man was, in fact, probably the least scary horror movie I've seen in my life. Bizarre and a tad unsettling, yes. Scary, no. After all, how frightening can a movie be when it's part horror, part musical? How much fear can rural pagan villagers incite when a few scenes earlier they were dancing naked around a fire in broad daylight while Scottish folk songs played in the background?

The nakedness was probably what surprised me most about the film (I did get it at the library, after all, and I had no idea the library was the go-to place for softcore porn), but in retrospect, it's actually the part I should have been expecting all along. As I said earlier, it wasn't the 2006 remake of this film that made me curious enough to check it out. It was actually an old episode of Coupling. Specifically, it was the one about Patrick's extensive... video collection, titled "The Cupboard of Patrick's Love." In that episode, Steve, Jeff, and Patrick recall Britt Ekland in The Wicker Man as one of their most memorable formative crushes. They didn't get into specifics, and at the time, I'd heard of neither Britt nor her most famous role, so the reference was lost on me. But when she started singing in her bed topless and then got up to dance with the walls like a provincial showgirl, that episode came rushing back.

As I put the DVD back in its case, I looked back at the pull quotes again. "The 'Citizen Cane' of horror films," said Cinefantastique. And that's when I realized there are at least two distinctly different ways to interpret a quote like that. I took it to mean "best of the best; the greatest within its genre." I forgot, for a minute, that to non-critics like me, that quote is actually an excellent way of calling something wholly bizarre and overrated and inexplicably more popular than is warranted.

In all fairness, I haven't seen Citizen Kane in years, so maybe I should refresh my memory before I disagree with every major film critic on record. I'm pretty sure I'm done with The Wicker Man, however. One viewing of these guys was, I think, more than quite enough.

6 comments:

guinness girl said...

Do I live in a cave? I have never heard of this movie - the old version OR the new version! Should I ever decide to drop acid, though, I will certainly rent it.

stefanie said...

GG, I hadn't heard of it either until they mentioned it on "Coupling." And I don't know if I would actually remember the remake coming out if I hadn't first heard of the original. I do remember seeing previews, but since it didn't do so well, it probably would have vanished from my brain with barely a blip.

Darren McLikeshimself said...

I too only saw The Wicker Man because of the "Coupling" episode. That and Leonard Maltin's movie guide said it was "surprisingly effective" or something like that.

Although, campy, seventies, and really British, I kind of liked The Wicker Man. I'd agree with you that it was more unsettling than scary. What I liked about it is that I really admired that the hero was a Christian but not a religious zealot. I'm not Christian, but I appreciated seeing a positive portrayl of one for once.

And you'll never know how close you came to being removed from my sidebar over the Citizen Kane parts of this post. Eye-poppingly ballsy of you, I must say.

stefanie said...

Yikes. Of all the idle things I have written on this site, I had no idea that would be the most controversial. Like I said, I really should see Citizen Kane again. I've seen it only once, in college, in a very crappy old theater with a lousy sound system and a grainy screen. It probably wasn't a fair venue for it, and it was so long ago that it's honestly only vaguely still in my memory. I promise you I will give it another chance.

Wicker Man, though? I don't know.

Also (this is getting long enough that I probably should have just replied via email, but oh well), you thought it was a positive portrayal of the uber-Christian guy? Really? Because I spent most of the movie rolling my eyes at him and thinking, "Loosen up, dude." I guess you're right, though... they could have gone way more over-the-edge with his portrayal, I suppose.

Incidentally (OK, this is REALLY getting too long now), I read the synopsis for the remake (since I don't feel the need to see it myself), and it said they decided not to make Nicholas Cage's character a virgin (as in the original), because they figured nobody would buy the idea of an adult male virgin these days. Maybe Steve Carell wasn't available for the role...

ePixie29 said...

I think the most controversial part of this post is not the Citizen Kane stuff but the fact that you thought the library would censor this movie from the patrons on the basis that it contains some nudity. What other kinds of books and movies do you normally check out from the library? Stefanie - I didn't think your tastes would be so vanilla!

Just for future reference, librarians are often liberal, believe in getting materials (books, movies, etc.) into the hands of the public and feel that censorship in its many forms is usually wrong.

As for the rest of your post - you crack me up. Mostly because I can see myself doing the same things you mention. I can totally relate to the talking yourself into not being scared part. I do it too! And I am not a fan of horror flicks either, but every once in a blue mooon I find myself watching something that totally freaks me out and then the furnace kicking on will make me scream.

stefanie said...

Oh, no, epixie! I LOVE that librarians are, the vast majority of the time, liberal-minded people with a deep respect for art and literature in all forms. I also love that the Minneapolis library carries just about everything I've ever looked for. (I think there have been only two or three times that I went to the online catalog to find something and discovered they didn't have it.) The nudity didn't really throw me or offend me; it just surprised me because I didn't know to expect it. (Like I said, my knowledge of the film was pretty slim.)

You're right, though; that paragraph totally reads like I was appalled by the library or something, and I really didn't mean it that way.