wed 20/03/2019

The Wicker Man | reviews, news & interviews

The Wicker Man

The Wicker Man

The 'Citizen Kane' of horror movies returns to claim its place in cinema history

Edward Woodward discovers the real meaning behind his assignment in 'The Wicker Man'

Created in a time when we could be shocked, The Wicker Man shows its power by being shocking still. Conceived by its director Robin Hardy, writer Anthony Shaffer and star Christopher Lee as a reaction to New Age-ism, The Wicker Man delights, thrills and horrifies in this latest version, restored to the American theatrical cut.

Bad luck struck The Wicker Man back in 1973, when director Hardy’s debut was caught up, like many films continue to be, in a corporate wrangle. Its release temporarily delayed, the original cut of 102 minutes was edited down to 88, along with a reduction of its marketing and promotion. Released with the now equally memorable Nicolas Roeg feature Don’t Look Now, The Wicker Man was a film that had yet to find its footing.

That seems to have happened 40 years on, with films like Ben Wheatley’s Kill List stirring interest in this potent anomaly. This 40th anniversary re-release of The Wicker Man is not the "final" version or the most complete. It is not the director’s cut or even longest cut. Reports were that the negative vanished from Shepperton Studios' storage and, possibly, ended up as landfill in the M4. Whether the film in its entirety will ever be restored remains to be seen – in fact, there was a campaign by StudioCanal to find its missing constituents that made this version the best possible. Actually, it seems we have Roger Corman to thank for this, even if his print of the full-length version went missing in the 1980s, leaving only a video copy in its stead.

Enough of the filmic history lesson: The Wicker Man is as arresting and potent to someone who knows nothing of its creation as it is to the aficionado (pagans prepare for human barbecue, pictured right). Although the restoration here is a bit ragged (stock quality varies in certain scenes), this film vividly evokes another time and space. Christopher Lee's balanced yet hip performance as Lord Summerisle is madly appropriate. Diane Cilento is polished perfection as the pagan schoolmarm who is both alluring and smart. The base draw of The Wicker Man is Britt Ekland as the landlord’s daughter whose song and naked dance lies at the film’s palpitating core. The dubbing artistry of Annie Ross is worth watching, as the Scottish singer's voice matches Ekland’s lips quite perfectly. And if it is true that the body-double for the then recently pregnant Ekland was Scottish housewife Jane Jackson, then everyone would move to Scotland immediately.

It is Edward Woodward, looking much younger than his actual 43 years, who glues The Wicker Man together. As Sergeant Howie, a devout, insistent Scottish police officer assigned to investigate an anonymous report of a missing girl on a local island, he arrives at the isolated Scottish location of Summerisle in a swish self-flown pontoon plane. He intends to make short shrift of the case, but his arrival is met with indifference. The residents are offhand about the girl, and can’t quite answer his questions, despite Howie displaying a clear photograph of the girl in question. As the story continues, Howie thinks he is cleverly solving the case when he is actually losing control of it. The capturing on film of this innocent Christian man, sweating and lured by pagan sex magic, is testimony to Woodward’s skill. He never lets Howie slip into comedy or stereotype.

An intelligent and unsettling thriller described as "horror" only because we don’t quite know what to do with it, The Wicker Man’s longevity rests on its splendid script and convincing production design – two of the many solid elements that allowed Hardy to create a film that exists as a lasting kink in the mind of the film world as a whole. Seeing The Wicker Man is an indelible experience.

Director Robin Hardy created a film that exists as a lasting kink in the mind of the film world as a whole

rating

Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

Share this article

Comments

How can you manage to review the Wicker man without mentioning Paul Giovanni's score? The most immediate aspect of the film on first watching is that it appears to be a musical, one of the reasons it cannot be easily categorised. It's seems very fitting that the oldest known song in English accompanies the climax. Probably one the 10 best British films of all time.

Agreed,re your last sentence. The Wicker Man is a favourite of mine,so much so that I watched it on video on my birthday one year.How's that for solidarity?

Add comment

Subscribe to theartsdesk.com

Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £3.95 per month or £30 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take an annual subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?

newsletter

Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters