MIDSOMMAR. (2019) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©


MIDSOMMAR. (2019) WRITTEN AND DIRECTED BY ARI ASTER. STARRING FLORENCE PUGH AND JACK REYNOR.
REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

If the young American college students in this film had ever seen the 1973 mystery film, The Wicker Man, they would never have done any of the following: travelled to Sweden to stay on some kind of hippy, culty commune at the behest of one of their mates; timed the visit to coincide with a massive once-in-every-ninety-years festival to celebrate the arrival of Mid-summer; allowed themselves to be disorientated and confused as a result of drugs pressed upon them by their so-called Swedish ‘mates’; watched an horrific ceremony involving geronticide- or old people euthanasia- without a murmur of protest or so much as a what the fuck is going on here in this fucked-up fucking place???; had public sex as part of a bizarre fertility ritual and, lastly, they certainly wouldn’t have allowed themselves to become mere kindling on the eventual, terrible fire of sacrifice…

Yes, dear reader, a quick watch of The Wicker Man would have solved those little problems for them all right. The Wicker Man did it first and The Wicker Man did it better. Midsommar is still a great watch, though, if a little long at one-hundred-and-fifty minutes.

Dani is a psychology student who falls to pieces when her sister Terri commits suicide, selfishly taking their parents into the afterlife with her. Her boyfriend Christian, a cultural anthropology student, had been just about to dump Dani for her clinginess and neediness but now, after her family tragedy, he feels like he can’t do it. But their relationship is so unhealthy and Dani so emotionally needy that it would almost be a kindness to give her the push, dead family or not, and put this unhealthy relationship out of its misery.

Instead, he reluctantly invites her along on the trip to Sweden, much to the disgust of all his college mates… all except the Swedish one, who can clearly see a place for Dani in the festivities to come. Christian, Dani, Josh, Mark and Pelle, the Swedish guy, all travel from the States to the commune of the Harga in Sweden, set in splendid rural isolation amongst some of nature’s most fabulous glories.

Christian, who’s still stuck for a subject for his thesis, decides that the secluded cult of the Harga would make an ideal subject, and that’s why he doesn’t push to leave the commune when they all witness a geronticide so appalling that it genuinely would give you nightmares.

The cult leaders explain it away and tell the shocked students that it’s actually a joyous occasion for the geriatrics involved, but it doesn’t look joyous to me, or to Dani. It just looks barbaric, completely and utterly barbaric.

One gets the feeling that the American kids, plus a young couple from London, are being gaslit, in pretty much the same manner as poor old Sgt. Neil Howie in The Wicker Man, into believing that no harm can come to them in a commune where everyone wears flowing white robes and garlands of flowers and lives off the land in an atmosphere of peace and love, learning and harmony. Drugged-up, free-love-having, non-believing-in-Jesus hippies, lol.

The Harga people’s ‘Wicker Man’ is a triangle-shaped, man-made oddity that’s curiously at odds with the scenes of nature all around it. It doesn’t take a genius to work out why these post-grads have been lured from America with the promise of experiencing the fascinating indigenous rituals and ceremonies of another country’s Mid-summer festival.

But the film is still worth watching right to the end of the one-hundred-and-fifty minutes, just to see how Ari Aster, the director of Hereditary, achieves a sort of re-make of The Wicker Man, but without actually mentioning that this is what he’s doing.

It seems at times like the film is a bit crowded, a wee bit too busy, as the director tries to cram as many rituals as he can into the one festival, but how-and-ever. The violence in the film is hard to stomach. Some images are extremely disturbing, while others don’t make much sense or are confusing, misleading.

Some of the rituals, especially the ones that take place at the outside tables during meal-times, go on a bit too long and my mind started to wander for a bit. Male frontal nudity is in evidence in the film too, plus the fiery come-uppance of a cheating scumbag of a boyfriend, lol.

It’s a gorgeous film to look at, with a suitably unsettling score, but I said it earlier and I’ll say it again: The Wicker Man did it first and The Wicker Man did it better. That doesn’t mean that directors shouldn’t try to make a film about a pagan cult who worship the old gods and approve of group sex and human sacrifice. It just means that they have to try to make it a bit different to its predecessors. Does Midsommar succeed in this? I’ll be nice, and give it five out of ten.

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Vampirology. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

Her debut romantic fiction novel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books:

The sequel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS LATER,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books:

THE WICKER MAN. (1973) BRITAIN’S BEST HORROR FILM REVIEWED BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

wicker man chop

THE WICKER MAN. (1973) DISTRIBUTED BY BRITISH LION FILMS. SCREENPLAY BY ANTHONY SCHAFFER. INSPIRED BY DAVID PINNER’S 1967 NOVEL ‘RITUAL.’

PRODUCED BY PETER SNELL. DIRECTED BY ROBIN HARDY. MUSIC BY PAUL GIOVANNI. CINEMATOGRAPHY BY HARRY WAXMAN.

STARRING CHRISTOPHER LEE, BRITT EKLAND, INGRID PITT, DIANE CILENTO AND EDWARD WOODWARD.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

‘Welcome, Fool. You have come of your own free will to the appointed place. The game’s over.’

‘Oh Sergeant. You’ll just never understand the true nature of sacrifice.’

‘Come. It is time to keep your appointment with the Wicker Man.’

‘Here comes the chopper to chop off your head…’

‘And now for our more dreadful sacrifice…’

‘We carry death out of the village!’

‘That’ll make you sleep, my pretty Sergeant.’

This is a superior cult horror film by anyone’s standards. It’s deemed by many to be the best British horror film ever made- I concur- and legendary actor Christopher Lee is said to consider his performance as Lord Summerisle in the cult movie to be his finest. I graciously concur once more.

Mark Kermode, esteemed and delicious film critic, loves this film. Ditto moi-même. If I sat here for a thousand years, I couldn’t think of anything derogatory to say about the film, so yes, my review will be nothing more than a great big love-in, lol. Read on if that’s your thing.

Flawless performances by a superior cast make for mesmerising viewing. Edward Woodward of CALLAN fame plays Sergeant Neil Howie, a straight-laced, upright Christian police officer who travels to the nearby Scottish island of Summerisle to investigate a report of a missing child called Rowan Morrison from an anonymous source.

To the tune of ‘Corn Rigs’ by Paul Giovanni, Howie flies in the police seaplane over the bit of sea separating the Scottish mainland from Summerisle. (The movie was filmed in Dumfries in Scotland.) The green and rocky land looks like it hasn’t been inhabited since the time of the Druids. You immediately get the sense that something special- and dreadful- is going to happen here.

The old lads who greet Howie at the harbour are just brilliant. I wonder if they were actors or locals, some of which might well have been. ‘Have you lost your bearings, sir?’

Howie passes the photo of Rowan Morrison around amongst them and they hem-and-haw and reach into inside pockets for spectacle cases and say they’ve never seen the ‘gerril’ before in their lives, before eventually admitting that they do have a May Morrison on the island. She ‘keeps the Post Office in the High Street.’ ‘That’s not May’s daughter, though…!’

The motherly May Morrison does indeed preside over the Post Office-cum-sweet shop, whose window is filled with chocolate March hares and curious-looking cakes baked to commemorate God-knows-what kind of strange celebrations.

May is adamant that the girl in the picture is not her daughter and her ‘real’ little daughter Myrtle says that Rowan is, in fact, a hare, who ‘has a lovely time. She runs and plays in the fields all day long.’

The people of Summerisle are a mighty strange bunch in general and immediately set about leading poor old Sergeant Howie on a merry dance/wild goose chase. He is fed any number of conflicting snippets of information about Rowan Morrison, the supposedly missing child, which frustrate him no end and eventually cause him to doubt the veracity of anything he is told by these weird, insular people.

As if that weren’t bad enough, Howie is bewildered and befuddled by the apparent lack of any morals or good Christian values on the heathen island of Summerisle. Men and women engage openly in a sexual free-for-all that mortifies and horrifies the virginal Sergeant.

Men and women copulate openly on the village green at night. In the Green Man pub, where Howie is billeted for the duration of his fateful two-night stay, the regulars sing bawdy songs like ‘The Landlord’s Daughter,’ which are simply peppered with outrageous sexual innuendo.

Virginal young men are sent to the bedroom of Willow McGregor, the actual landlord’s daughter, for sexual deflowering and initiation. Gently now, Johnny! No-one, not the villagers, not even Alder McGregor, her gnome-like little father, bats an eye at such flagrantly unabashed conduct.

You see, the islanders on Summerisle worship what they call ‘the old gods,’ the gods of the sun and the gods of the sea and the goddess of the fields, and they don’t attend any kind of church services, even supposing they had any working churches in which to hold them. Their churches are in ruins and their grounds allowed to run wild. ‘Minister?’ repeats the Old Grave-digger-Gardener incredulously, before lapsing into mad fits of laughter at Howie’s ignorance.

There is a deliciously pagan feel to the film that quite simply transports the viewer back a thousand years to more primitive, godless ancient times. Young women, under the supervision of Miss Rose the school-teacher, dance naked around open fires in the hopes of being made fertile. (‘They do love their divinity lessons…’)

Schoolchildren- Miss Rose again!- are taught to ‘venerate the penis’ because that is the source of all life. Makes sense, I suppose, but do they have to rub it in like that? The islanders are encouraged to ‘appease’ their gods with sacrifices in order to ensure a plentiful harvest of apples, the main source of industry and income on Summerisle.

Howie has a big spat with Miss Rose about the way the schoolchildren are taught such things. She succeeds in completely bamboozling him with her skilful double-talk and innuendo and the clever way she has of never fully answering any of his questions. He becomes quite frustrated with her, and she’s not the only islander to so flummox him.

The people in the pub, as well as the good folks down at the school, swear they’ve never seen hide nor hair of a person called Rowan Morrison. The Old Grave-digger-Gardener says that the piece of skin hanging over one of the graves is ‘the poor wee lass’s (Rowan’s) navel-string,’ and ‘where else would it be but hung on her own little tree?’ The doctor who filled out Rowan’s death certificate says she was ‘burnt to death, like my lunch will be if I stand here talking to you.’

So, does Rowan Morrison exist or does she not? Do the villagers know her or not? Did she die or did she not? Is she buried somewhere or is she not? Howie rightly feels like he’s going insane. Everywhere he turns, he finds conflicting information. Come to that, did last year’s crops fail or did they not? And what does that have to do with the missing girl?

Christopher Lee puts on a show-stopping performance as the devastatingly handsome and aristocratic Lord Summerisle, lord of all he surveys and unquestioned leader of his people.

He is perfectly supported by three beautiful blonde females in the shape of Diane Cilento as Miss Rose, Ingrid Pitt as the Librarian and Britt Ekland as Willow McGregor. Ask Britt what she thought of the weather in Dumfries during the shooting of the film, by the way. Go on, ask her!

Lord Summerisle, tall and wild-haired and obviously sexually charismatic, condones all the naked dancing-over-fires and sexual permissiveness on the island. ‘Have these children never heard of Jesus?’ a horrified Howie demands of him.

Howie is quite simply flabbergasted by all the ‘fake biology’ and ‘fake religion’ and the bizarre Celtic paganism he observes going on around him. He won’t get any joy from Lord Summerisle. Jesus? ‘Himself the son of a virgin, impregnated, I believe, by a ghost.’ The strait-laced Howie nearly explodes with anger.

You’ll find out exactly what Lord Summerisle thinks of Howie’s devotion to the Christian religion in his monologue- ‘I think I could turn and live with animals’- outside Willow’s bedroom window while the snails are copulating.

This scene was butchered for the original theatrical release and Christopher Lee was rightly angry about this because the lazy, languorous, almost sensuous movement of the snails on the stalks exactly mirrors those of Willow and Ash Buchanan and is a metaphor for their off-camera coupling, which we hear but don’t see.

Lord Summerisle’s grandfather was the man who, in Victorian times, first grew the famous Summerisle apples on the island, availing himself of the handy soil conditions and the warm Gulf Stream to do so.

He was also the man who brought back ‘the old gods’ to the people, the gods of nature, and now Lord Summerisle carries on the tradition with all the gusto of his male ancestor. Nature is acting up, is she, getting all pissy? Chuck her a sacrifice. A chicken, a keg of ale, a human being, depending on the severity of the crisis.

Are you beginning to see where this is going? The horror mounts as the all-important Mayday celebrations approach and, by the time Sergeant Howie finally discovers exactly why he’s been summoned to Summerisle, the viewer is staring wide-eyed at the screen, appalled both at the poor man’s fate and at the knowledge that he’s not the first to which such things have happened and he may not even be the last.

The lead actors and actresses are wonderful, but the villagers are all so memorable too. The mighty Oak, who thrusts and dry-humps behind the petite blonde Willow during the pub rendition of ‘The Landlord’s Daughter.’

The harbour-master who from the outset proclaims himself as completely untrustworthy. The gentle, mild-mannered little Apothecary, who can’t remember if the ‘gerril’ in last year’s harvest festival was Rowan or not.

The hairdresser, whose blank but smug stare at Howie during his house-to-house search proclaims that she knows way more about Rowan Morrison than she’s letting on. Broome, the laird’s smirking manservant. The schoolteacher, who sings lewd songs about procreation to his pupils.

And, of course, we have the head-wrecking May Morrison herself, who might or might not be party to the terrible fate in store for her daughter, Rowan. If she’s even May’s daughter, that is. Howie still doesn’t know.

I can’t finish without mentioning Willow’s Dance, the one that’s designed to seduce the sexually uptight Howie, who’s still a virgin, if you please, despite the fact that he’s engaged to a nice wee girl from his church called Mary. ‘She’ll spend more time on her knees in church than on her back in bed…!’ That’s only the postman’s opinion, of course, lol. You don’t want to listen to him.

Howie is sorely tempted by Willow’s wild naked dancing. ‘How a maid can milk a bull, and every stroke a bucketful…’ He suffers agonies of temptation, in fact. Britt Ekland, whose Scandinavian accent was dubbed in the film, apparently only agreed to being topless in this iconic dance scene, but a body double was used for the lower body without her knowledge. To this day, she won’t sign photos of that other woman’s ‘big fat ass…!’

My favourite scenes? Howie in the deserted and decaying churchyard, fashioning a rough cross out of two sticks, watched by a breastfeeding young mother. Christopher Lee expertly playing a few bars of piano music while Miss Rose’s girls jump naked over the fire.

Howie doing his house-to-house search and ‘accidentally’ coming upon the truly beautiful Ingrid Pitt in her bath. Lord Summerisle prancing and cavorting down the road in his Cher wig and Laird-issue sneakers as if he were born to do it.

The swordsmen cavorting in the final, dreadful procession. Britt and Ingrid ‘anointing’ a shell-shocked Howie with their long hair. The first terrible sighting of You-Know-Who. The singing and swaying at the end. The huge structure collapsing into the sea while the blazing red sun goes down.

A word about the fabulous, fabulous music. Performed by the specially-formed folk-rock group Magnet, it’s seriously sexy and complements the action beautifully. I’m being totally serious when I say that I can never hear the opening strains of ‘Gently, Johnny’ without wanting to rip all my own clothes off and engage in the wildest, hottest, most primeval sexual activity imaginable with Christopher Lee. Ahem. Just watch the film. You’ll see what I mean…

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger, poet and book-and-movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens’ fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

http://sexysandieblog.wordpress.com

http://serenaharker.wordpress.com

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

https://twitter.com/SandraAuthor

HAMMER FILM PRODUCTIONS PRESENTS: WAKE WOOD. (2009) A CREEPY IRISH FOLK HORROR FILM REVIEWED BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

wake wood family

WAKE WOOD. (2009) DIRECTED BY DAVID KEATING. WRITTEN BY DAVID KEATING AND BRENDAN MCCARTHY.

STARRING AIDEN GILLEN, EVA BIRTHISTLE, TIMOTHY SPALL, ELLA CONNOLLY, AMELIA CROWLEY, AOIFE MEAGHER AND RUTH MCCABE.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

Eeeeeeh by gum, this ain’t half a proper little belter of a horror movie. It’s Oirish like meself, to begin with, with loads of the fabulous Oirish scenery, woods, rivers, trees and streams we have on offer here and, no, I don’t work for the bleedin’ Tourist Board, lol.

Can’t stand bloody tourists, me. Sure, they bring millions of foreign dollars, euros and pounds into our economy but every time you try to cross the feckin’ street there’s about a hundred of ’em standing there en masse in a big unmovable block, obscuring your bloody path.

Anyway, to get back to WAKE WOOD (partially shot in Sweden), it’s also a Hammer movie, from the British film production company that, in the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s, brought us such films as DRACULA, THE MUMMY, THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, THE VAMPIRE LOVERS, LUST FOR A VAMPIRE and FEAR IN THE NIGHT.

Famous for using such magnificent actors as Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, their actresses were women so busty and beautiful that the term ‘Hammer Glamour’ was coined to describe them. WAKE WOOD sees the return of Hammer, as it were, and it’s a film they needn’t be ashamed of. Let’s have a squint at the plot, shall we, and see what we think?

Patrick and Louise Daley are an attractive young couple in their thirties who relocate to a remote Irish village called Wake Wood after the death of their daughter, Alice.

It’s a horrible death, too, as the child is mauled to death by a vicious dog. Patrick, a veterinarian, and Louise, a pharmacist, become estranged from each other after the death, which often happens after a couple lose a child.

What the young grieving couple don’t realise, however, is that Wake Wood is the exact right place to be in if you’ve suffered a bereavement and you want to see your lost loved one again.

Louise in particular is desperate to get her precious daughter back. Even though fathers suffer too- people often forget that fact- the mother’s grief is often the most vocal, the most obvious, because she’s carried this child inside her for nine months and given birth to it in a nightmare of blood, pain and whalesong.

In fact, the weird, clannish and mysterious villagers (they’d put you in mind of the community of Summerisle in the 1973 film THE WICKER MAN), led by the marvellous Timothy Spall as Arthur, have a way of bringing the dead back to life.

It involves a long and complicated pagan ritual that sees a ‘re-birthing’ of the dead person through the nice fresh cadaver of a recently deceased person. ‘Re-birthing’ is a very WICKER MAN idea. The mad inhabitants of Summerisle would be well on board with such an idea.

Timothy Spall as the ‘I see all and hear all’ Arthur offers Patrick and Louise the chance to see their adored daughter Alice again. Alice alive again, to be specific. There are conditions attached, however.

The couple, if they go through with the ritual, must promise to stay in Wake Wood forever and ever and ever, no matter what. Keep the secret in the village, that kind of thing. Fair enough. Patrick, in order to please Louise and keep her with him, would agree to putting on a dress and a flowery hat and calling himself Roxanne if it would only bring Alice back.

Next, Alice will only ‘return’ for three days. The couple will get the chance to say their goodbyes properly this time and make peace with their child’s passing. I say that this mad idea of ‘returning’ will only bring misery and unhappiness to Louise and Patrick. They’ll be losing Alice all over again when the allotted three days are up. How will they bear it?

There’s one final proviso. The ritual will only work correctly if the person to be brought back has been dead less than a year. How long has Alice been in the ground, Patrick and Louise, Arthur asks the couple in all seriousness.

Oh, much less than a year, Arthur, don’t you worry about that, only about eleven months, the couple carol in unison, while looking at each other with the shifty eyes of people who are telling big fat porkies.

If they’re telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, well, grand. Alice will come back for the three days just like Arthur promised. If they’re lying, well, Alice might still come back, but there’ll be something very, very wrong with her. On their own heads be it, I say…

The scene where Patrick and Louise are breaking into their daughter’s coffin in the graveyard, in the dead of night in the middle of a rainstorm, is super-atmospheric. You’ll be reminded of Stephen King’s PET SEMATARY and of an anguished Heathcliff digging up a long-dead Cathy. I also think of DON’T LOOK NOW, in which a couple who’ve lost a child are tormented by what they think are visions of her in her little red raincoat.

I’m reminded too of that old story which I think is called ‘THE MONKEY’S PAW.’ An elderly couple who’ve lost their son in a terrible disfiguring accident are granted their wish to have their beloved boy back with them again. But the thing that has returned from the dead to bang so heavily and ominously on their door one dark stormy night is not the son they remember so fondly…

The whole film- WAKE WOOD, that is- is wonderfully creepy and atmospheric. And it poses the question, should you raise the dead or leave them in peace? Some folks would give their own lives to see a deceased loved one just one more time.

They have things they still want to say, like ‘I love you’ or ‘I’m sorry.’ They might want to ask where the fuck the telly remote is, missing since before the funeral, stuff like that. Or the keys to the bloody shed. They might want to hug the person one more time, or punch them in the face if it was a husband, say, who cheated and you only found out after he’d croaked. But does all this just make the second parting a million times harder to bear?

Personally, I would think that the second parting would be even worse than the first. Plus, you’re messing with things that are better left alone. It’s never a good idea for us mere mortals to play God. Please do bear that in mind, won’t you, if you go down to the woods today…

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS. 

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger, poet and book-and-movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens’ fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

http://sexysandieblog.wordpress.com

http://serenaharker.wordpress.com

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

https://twitter.com/SandraAuthor