THE WICKER MAN and Human Superstition

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As part of its Orbiter Year-Round Series, Other Worlds Austin SciFi Film Festival is proud to present the US premiere of the Horror film THE HERETICS on Wednesday, October 18 (7:30pm) at Flix Brewhouse. Director Chad Archibald will be in attendance and will do a Q&A after the screening.

In the film, a notorious cult kidnaps a young girl, and sacrifice themselves by the light of the locust moon. The next morning the girl awakes, caked in dried blood and surrounded by corpses...but safe - or so she thinks. Years later, the locust moon is about to rise again and the girl is captured once more by a surviving member of the cult. She is taken to a remote cabin where she learns that a demon has been growing inside of her all these years, and before the dawn it will rise.

Find Out More About The Heretics

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OWA team members have cults on the brain...here, OWA Programmer & Operations Director Courtney Hazlett mulls over the idea & history of superstition


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Superstition is real. It is suffice to say that everyone, whether they realize it or not, has, in some way, a belief in something big or small that holds a power over actions, reactions, and the like.  It’s akin to an invisible Newton’s third law. For some, it’s all encompassing. My mother grew up under the care of her Latina grandmother who had overpowering superstitious beliefs such as if you had a pimple that meant you were promiscuous, or the need to rattle a spoon in your mouth when geese flew overhead. I, personally, have sports superstitions. If I turn on a game and my team immediately fouls up or the opposing team scores, it’s my fault and I should turn the TV off right then, right there. Think about it - what do you believe? What fear, belief, and/or hope causes you to do something “out of the ordinary” or “strange” because you firmly believe it to be true? Lucky hats, your favorite jersey you only wear during home games, avoidance of black cats crossing your path… We all participate in some way.

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The word 'superstition' is defined by Merriam-Webster as “a belief or practice resulting from ignorance, fear of the unknown, trust in magic or chance, or a false conception of causation.”  According to Wikipedia, one of the first known uses of the idea was in the 1st century, where the term superstition was applied when describing particular religious cults in the Roman Empire that were officially outlawed. It is this “illegal” mindset regarding superstition that has led some to fear the term in its basic form.  And it's common knowledge that, over time, stories have great potential to morph and turn into something completely different than what originally happened. For example: have you ever played the telephone game? Imagine a telephone game existing over decades or centuries. Stories are bound to change. These ancient cults may or may not have done horrible things. But then again, they could have just been going about their daily business only to have things invented about them out of fear and “warning”.  However, these urban legend rituals and beliefs held by cults have evolved into some really great modern day entertainment.

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THE WICKER MAN (1973) is inspired by the 1967 novel Ritual written by David Pinner. The film follows Police Sergeant Neil Howie as he visits an isolated island in search of a missing girl.  All is not as it seems in this idyllic village as the townspeople practice Celtic paganism, which is appalling to Howie (a devout Christian). This film is slow, calculated, and provides such immense intensity as the world unhurriedly reveals itself and we see the townspeople’s plans for the well-intentioned visitor.  The people of Summerisle, based on their superstition, firmly believed that the only way to recover from a poor harvest is to make a human sacrifice.  They unfortunately had a bad year, and therefore they needed to find a sacrifice to ensure next year’s harvest will be bountiful. Their god has four requirements of their sacrifice and the police sergeant fit the bill: he came of his own free will, with "the power of a king" (by representing the Law), is a virgin, and is a fool.  Protest as he may - spoilers - Howie meets his demise reciting Psalm 23 as he burns to death inside a giant wicker man statue surrounded by the townspeople singing “Sumer Is Icumen In.”  He was the solution to their problem and they gladly committed murder to appease their god.  Their superstition is their life, and this was the only way to combat the failing harvest. It’s chilling, and honestly terrifying, to watch a whole group of people not only being complacent, but in their hearts probably excited to kill another human being. It’s for the greater good. This ritual will work - they just know it will. It has to.  That is what makes this movie so horrific. And that is why it tops many charts and is well-regarded by critics.

Of course, not all superstition leads down a path of murder. But, as in the case of THE WICKER MAN, it does make for a great Horror film. All-in-all let’s leave the scary ritualistic superstitions to cinema and stick to things like eating black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day. Now, if you don’t mind, I am going to get back to my eternal search for a four-leaf clover. Break a leg out there, guys!

© 2014 OWA SciFi Film Fest, LLC