Laurel Zwissler
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A deeply religious people
The Wicker Man, contemporary Paganism and Dracula reversed
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Often hailed as the quintessential Folk Horror film, the ethical cosmology of The Wicker Man (1973) contrasts sharply both with British horror films that precede it and with many later films overtly influenced by it. Neither demonizing pre-Christian British religion as satanic, as films such as Night of the Demon (1957; aka Curse of the Demon in the USA) and Blood on Satan’s Claw (1971) explicitly do, nor using pagan ritual trappings to facilitate neo-colonialist Heart of Darkness polemics on human evil, as in Kill List (2011), The Wicker Man stands out for a curiously positive representation of contemporary Pagan worldviews. This chapter contrasts the Pagan cosmology of The Wicker Man, recognizable to, if not representative of, actual Pagan practitioners, with the conflation of non-Christian practices into the ‘satanic’ in other Folk Horror films. Such elision perpetuates Christian hegemony, its concomitant xenophobia, and censuring of sexuality. Despite the intentions of its creators to continue in this tradition, The Wicker Man instead follows a different trajectory, driven in part by desire to distinguish the project from Hammer gothics, especially Christopher Lee’s Dracula franchise. This difference also helps explain why, despite being hailed as a third of the ‘unholy trinity’ of Folk Horror, The Wicker Man nonetheless fits uneasily within the horror genre more broadly. Though packaged as a Pagan exploitation film, The Wicker Man can nonetheless be read, and has been read, by contemporary practitioners as an actual Pagan film.

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Folk horror on film

Return of the British repressed


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