Fan-Written ICHF: Lord Summersisle

This ICHF was written by Nickel Smart.

Among the many genres of horror, one of the most notable is Folk Horror. Key features of this genre include the occult and its opposition by those of Christian belief, isolated rural locations, and the power of the natural world. Unlike Religious Horror, where the horror comes from supernatural evils spawning out of the pages of the Bible, the threat in works of Folk Horror come from the actions and beliefs of seemingly regular people, usually against outsiders. It is widely agreed among horror fans that three films defined the genre forever: Witchfinder General, The Blood on Satan’s Claw, and the subject of this article, The Wicker Man.

Released in 1973, The Wicker Man details Police Sergeant Howie arriving at the island of Summerisle in search of a missing child named Rowan Morrison. Upon arriving, the devoutly Christian Howie is horrified to learn that the islanders are pagans who worship a pantheon of nature gods. After trying and failing to find her, including finding a hare in what is believed to be in her grave, Howie believes that Rowan will be sacrificed on May Day to appease the gods after their crops failed the year before. However, when Howie manages to rescue Rowan, he learns that he was the intended sacrifice, not Rowan. Afterwards, Howie is placed into a giant wooden man and is burned to death, the head falling off to reveal the setting sun and the credits.

Throughout the movie, Howie learns of the islanders’ leader Lord Summerisle through his encounters with the schoolteacher and librarian. In both scenes, the two women tell Howie that they need Summerisle’s permission to do certain things, like checking the school registry and the index of death for proof of Rowan’s existence and then her death. Howie then ignores what they say and even threatens to arrest the librarian for supposedly hindering his investigation and proceeds to check the registry and index. Its only when Howie finds Rowan’s grave does he decide to meet Summerisle so he can dig up the grave so an autopsy can happen. After witnessing naked women jumping over fire, Howie arrives at Summerisle’s mansion and meets the ruler of the island.

One of the major factors in Howie’s character is, as a devout conservative Christian living in the 70s, he takes offense to the islanders’ religious beliefs, to the point that when he begins threatening to arrest people, it feels like he is doing so because of these beliefs. In general, Howie can come across as unlikeable to modern audiences because of this. This is in direct contrast to Lord Summerisle who, despite his religious beliefs, is very friendly and courteous to Howie, even when Howie antagonizes him. He is happy with the pagan traditions as he sees it as a way to remind each generation that the old gods are still alive. When Howie retorts and asks him of the Christian god, who he sees as the true god, Summerisle tells him that he’s dead as he had his chance in the modern world but blew it. Summerisle then describes that his scientist grandfather came to Summerisle and, after finding out the island’s unique climate, developed strains of fruit that could grow on the island. Then, Summerisle’s grandfather allowed the people living on the island to worship the old gods in order to harvest the fruit, which Summerisle and his father continued out of love of the people and the gods. As we learn later, however, the island’s latest harvest failed for the first time since Summerisle’s grandfather arrived and causes the islanders to turn to darker means to appease the gods. Animal sacrifices are good but imagine the gods’ joy that a human is sacrificed, especially if it’s the right kind of adult.

This is where we get to arguably the scariest part of Summerisle’s character: he believes that what he is doing is genuinely good. While the film never outright states if the gods the islanders believe in are actually real, Summerisle is so devoted to his beliefs that he is willing to sacrifice a fellow human being to save the islanders, even joyously singing along with them as Howie burns to death. All the while, Summerisle is still friendly with Howie before the sacrifice, even respecting his beliefs and faith to his god and calling him a martyr. This belief makes Summerisle feel very realistic in compared to other horror villains, as real people have killed thousands over what they believe their higher power wants. However, unlike real monsters who mostly use their religious beliefs as an excuse to commit horrible acts, Summerisle seems to genuinely believe that the sacrifice of a human being was the right thing to do in order to save his people. Summerisle genuinely sees himself as the hero of the story, no matter how anyone else sees it. As a result, Summerisle becomes the center of one of the greatest horror films of all time. Hail the queen of the May!

This entry was posted in Creepy Columns, Gothic Horror Characters, Iconic Characters of Horror Fiction, Slasher Horror Characters and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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