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To investigate an anonymous missing persons report concerning 12-year
old Rowan Morrison (Geraldine Cowper), inspector Howie (Edward Woodward),
a deeply religious and prudent man, comes to Summerisle, a privately owned
island off the Scottish coast, where the mores seem to be loose (with
people fornicating in public spaces and strolling around in the nude and
that sort of stuff) and the whole populace doesn't seem to be believing in
the Christian God at all, instead a Midieval cult of the Old Gods
prevails, that also involves sacrifices - as Howie will soon find out.
When Howie starts questioning people, he has to find out that nobody
seems to know Rowan or has even heard her name. Even May (Irene Sunters),
who Howie believes to be Rowan's mother (and she is, too) denies having
ever even heard of her. Still, Howie is convinced that something sinister
is going on and thus is unrelenting ... until in the register of the local
school, he finds a first mention of her - for which schoolteacher Miss
Rose (Diane Cilento) finds a rather unconvincing excuse, that she has
passed on to another level of existence and is thus no more ... she has a
grave, though ...
Eventually, Howie gets an audition with the owner of the island, Lord
Summerisle (Christopher Lee), and asks for permission to open Rowan's
grave - which Summerisle gives him rather surprisingly. In Rowan's coffin
though, Howie finds not a litle girl but a dead hare ...
Eventually, Howie reads up on the island and its ancient rituals, and
all this leads to a shocking conclusion: That Rowan is to be sacrificed to
the Older Gods on Mayday for better crops - and Mayday is today.
Immediately, he wants to fly back to the mainland to return with
reinforcements, but his plane has been sabotaged, so he decides to join
the Mayday celebrations in the guise of Punch the fool (while Christopher
Lee is disguised as a woman) - and ultimately, he really meets Rowan when
she is about to be sacrificed - but he helps her escape, only to finally
realise the whole thing, the kidnapping of Rose and everything, was a
trick to trap him, a virgin fool who has come here out of his own will,
and make him this year's Mayday sacrifice.
The end sees him plead to the islanders and call upon their common
sense and decency, but to no avail - he is ultimately burned alive for the
sake of the community ...
Britt Ekland, as the innkeeper's (Lindsay Kemp) sexy daughter, does a
sing-and-dance-routine in the nude.
A fantastically weird and creepy film that doesn't work so much because
of its far-out story but its genuinely other-worldly, even surreal and
sometimes also darkly comical atmosphere that's closer to a nightmare than to horror genre mainstays.
And in that respect, even the occasional sond-and-dance-routine thrown in
(quite unusual for a horror film, don't you think ?) makes perfect sense.
A deserved classic. Recommended.
In 2006, the film was remade as a Hollywood-production (what ?),
directed by Neil LaBute and starring the vastly overrated Nicholas Cage.