Aug. 30, 2006 — -- Nicole Kidman, Michelle Pfeiffer, Alyssa Milano, Elizabeth Montgomery and Cher long ago shattered the Hollywood image of witches as cackling old crones. As the years go by, witches seem to get increasingly hot.
But just when it seemed that Hollywood witches had become a celebrity hot-list of modern day beauties, Nicolas Cage comes out with a remake of "Wicker Man" -- one of the most chilling films to draw on the European pre-Christian religious traditions from which modern witches trace their spiritual roots -- this Friday.
In the 1973 original -- a classic that influenced "The Exorcist," "The Omen" and other horror films of that era -- Edward Woodward is a Scottish police officer who comes to a strange island to investigate a little girl's disappearance. He begins to think the inhabitants might be planning to sacrifice the child as part of their religious practices, only to find that that very fate awaits him.
One might think modern day witches, who've revived ancient traditions in the Wicca faith, would be outraged by the film, as they were with "The Blair Witch Project," and other negative depictions.
Instead, many witches like the original "Wicker Man," and are eager to see what new twists Cage and director Neil LaBute have brought to the remake.
"The original plays on Christian fears of the old traditions, and if you take it literally, it's a horror story," says Phyllis Curott, an Ivy League-educated lawyer, author and priestess of the Temple of Ara.
"But if you take a literary perspective on 'Wicker Man,' it's really a story of repression versus sexual liberation and eroticism," Curott says. "You see the charming children dancing around the maypole and other old traditions that sustained societies and were lost."
Woodward's character is indeed devotedly Catholic, decidedly uptight and shocked to find the islanders so comfortable in their nudity and so reverent of sexuality.
It's significant that the film hit theaters in the early '70s, when the free-love hippy culture was still going strong. It was also about that time that the Wiccan faith was starting to take root.