Picked up a copy of Brit guitar rockers’ eponymous debut disc, The Coral (Columbia) a couple weeks ago, and I’ve been keeping it in regular rotation for the spring. The Liverpool group favors guitar sounds, mysterioso organ fills and lyrics that wouldn’t be out of place on a late sixties psychedelic platter. If sometimes the effort comes across a bit too arch (e.g., “Simon Diamond,” which sounds like something the bass player for a garage band would’ve contributed just to show girls that he, too, could compose a song), most of the disc works just fine, thanks. Even like the way the band breaks its faux reggae song, “Shadows Fall,” with a jaunty horn riff that reminds me of early Mothers of Invention.
Like most new releases these days, the disc also has a pair of videos snuck onto the disc. I have mixed reactions to this practice: I play a lot of my music at the computer, running it through the p-c, and I really hate it when a disc tries to take over my computer with a lot of Macromedia screens and such. (Every once in a while, it’ll freeze my ancient computer.) The Coral’s album, thankfully, doesn’t do that. To get to the videos, you have to seek ’em out.
Of the two videos proffered, the more interesting is for the exceedingly radio-friendly “Goodbye,” which has a bee-sting guitar riff like something you might’ve heard from – oh, I don’t know, the Electric Prunes, say – and a happily pointless bridge with a launch countdown and Who-ish power chords. The video places the band outside in the English countryside and keeps cutting away to a group of frolicking types in medieval garb (Oh no, this isn’t the Safety Dance, is it?) We see a girl bedecked in flowers and a white gown being led toward what turns out to be a large wicker statue of a man. As the music grows more ominous and frantic, the film geeks in the audience realize: we’re watching a video remake of The Wicker Man!
The 70’s cult film is a personal favorite of mine. Written by Anthony Shaffer (Sleuth, Hitchcock’s Frenzy), the flick saw limited play in the U.S. at the time of its release, in part, because it was being marketed as a horror film. (Oooh! A man made of wicker: pretty frightening, but only if you’re subject to panic attacks in Pier One!*) In reality, it’s more a mystery thriller bound in the trappings of a somewhat warped theological debate.
The flick concerns Scottish police sergeant Howie (Edward Woodward at his most self-righteously tight-assed), who is sent to a small island off the coast to investigate the disappearance of a young girl named Rowan. The devoutly Christian Sgt. Howie (first time we see him, he’s singing hymns in church) is taken aback by the populace of Summerisle: this agrarian community is composed of even more devout pagans, who believe that the ongoing practice of their religion is responsible for the success of their most successful export, Summerisle Apples. Much of the film’s first two-thirds are devoted to Howie’s reactions to these happily unchristian folk: exemplified by the openly sexual innkeeper’s daughter (Britt Ekland, who does a provocative naked dance to tempt the sergeant) and the island’s Lord (Christopher Lee, playing his usual creepily majestic self). In one of the movie’s funnier moments, an appalled Howie witnesses a school lecture on the phallic meaning of the Maypool then barges into the classroom to chastise the teacher for teaching such “filth.”
The titular Man turns out to be a statue that is burned, caged animals within its torso, as part of a ritual spring harvest sacrifice. The movie does not end happily for our stalwart investigator, but it also remains ambiguous about the ultimate fate of the Summerislians, too.
The Wicker Man unfolds at a deliberate pace. Shaffer and director Robin Hardy are less concerned with scaring the audience than with unsettling them. Fans of more traditional horror pics are frequently disappointed with it, but if you’re willing to get into its procedural rhythms (and accept a soundtrack that is packed with traditional British folk music), the movie is engrossing. Gotta admit that the sight of Chris Lee in drag is disconcerting, though.
The pic’s available in video and DVD formats. But if you’re looking for it, make sure it’s the 103 minute version (there are shorter versions available which, for instance, have Ekland’s dance snipped – and what fun is that?) This time of year, my wife and I try to watch the flick at least once: have never played it on Beltane (a.k.a. May Day), but one year we did sit down to it on Easter Sunday. There aren’t a lot of flicks out there that so clearly dramatize the conflict ‘tween Christian and Pagan – and give the edge to the latter. Wonder if that’s what drew the psychedelicized Coral (or their viddy director, at least) to the movie?
*Okay, so Kirstie Alley is plenty damn scary.