The Wicker Man


1h 37m 1974
The Wicker Man

Brief Synopsis

A conservative police officer investigates a girl's disappearance on an island dominated by paganism.

Film Details

Also Known As
Wicker Man
MPAA Rating
Genre
Horror
Musical
Mystery
Thriller
Release Date
1974
Distribution Company
RIALTO PICTURES/WARNER BROS. PICTURES DISTRIBUTION (WBPD); Rialto Pictures; Warner Bros. Pictures Distribution
Location
England, United Kingdom

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 37m
Sound
Mono
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.85 : 1

Synopsis

When Police Sergeant Neil Howie goes to the isolated island of Summerisle to search for a missing girl, the local inhabitants insist that she never existed. During his investigation, Howie, a staunch Christian, is horrified to learn that the locals on the island practice a type of Celtic paganism.

Photo Collections

The Wicker Man - Movie Posters
Here are a few different styles of movie posters for The Wicker Man (1973), starring Christopher Lee.

Videos

Movie Clip

Wicker Man, The (1974) -- (Movie Clip) Lord Summerisle Alarmed Sergeant Howie (Edward Woodward) is delivered to the sovereign Lord Summerisle (Christopher Lee) who, in his first appearance, is happy to explain the virtues of the old gods, in The Wicker Man, 1974.
Wicker Man, The (1974) -- (Movie Clip) Maypole Willow (Britt Ekland) awakens visiting Sergeant Howie (Edward Woodward), who soon finds children being schooled in lewd fertility rites, Miss Rose (Diane Cilento) instructing, in The Wicker Man, 1974.
Wicker Man, The (1974) -- (Movie Clip) Open, Low Country Opening title sequence and policeman Edward Woodward sailing his sea-plane off the west coast of Scotland, where The Wicker Man, 1974, will take place, with Britt Ekland and Christopher Lee.
Wicker Man, The (1974) -- (Movie Clip) Rowan's Not Dead! Busting into the island dark-room, then in the library and talking, mostly, to himself, Sergeant Howie (Edward Woodward) suddenly gets a handle on the pagan goings-on, in The Wicker Man, 1974.
Wicker Man, The (1974) -- (Movie Clip) Send A Dinghy! Testy, but not yet altogether weird, as Sergeant Howie (Edward Woodward) arrives at Summerisle and encounters the harbour master (Russell Waters) and cohort, in the first dramatic scene from The Wicker Man, 1974.
Wicker Man, The (1974) -- (Movie Clip) Late With The Headstone Still on his initial survey of the island, notably Christian Sergeant Howie (Edward Woodward) encounters the cemetery, the grave of the missing Rowan, and a spooky groundskeeper (Aubrey Morris) in The Wicker Man, 1974.
Wicker Man, The (1974) -- (Movie Clip) The Landlord's Daughter Mainland cop Sergeant Howie (Edward Woodward) is rightly baffled by the bawdy tone as island innkeeper Macgreagor (Lindsay Kemp) introduces daughter Willow (Britt Ekland), with song, in The Wicker Man, 1974.

Film Details

Also Known As
Wicker Man
MPAA Rating
Genre
Horror
Musical
Mystery
Thriller
Release Date
1974
Distribution Company
RIALTO PICTURES/WARNER BROS. PICTURES DISTRIBUTION (WBPD); Rialto Pictures; Warner Bros. Pictures Distribution
Location
England, United Kingdom

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 37m
Sound
Mono
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.85 : 1

Articles

The Gist (The Wicker Man) - THE GIST


The Producer would like to thank
The Lord Summerisle and the people of his island
off the west coast of Scotland
for this privileged insight into
their religious practices and for their
generous co-operation in the making of this film
.

With this canny opening text, the makers of the British thriller The Wicker Man (1973) quickly establish that their startling tale takes place in the present day and lend it a seeming verisimilitude. Over the opening credits we see a sea plane approach the island, and after some jostling to come ashore, Police Sergeant Neil Howie (Edward Woodward) informs the dock locals that he has received an anonymous letter informing him about a girl, named Rowan Morrison, who has gone missing from the island. The islanders deny even knowing the girl, and Howie proceeds with his investigation. Considering himself a righteous, Christian man, he is shocked to witness pagan rituals being carried out by the townsfolk; young boys sing merrily about impregnation while dancing around a maypole, and young girls jump naked over a bonfire as they worship the gods of the earth, sun, and elements. While interviewing people about Rowan's disappearance, Howie is tempted by the provocative sexuality of the landlord's daughter Willow (Britt Ekland), and has disagreements of conscience with schoolmistress Rose (Diane Cilento), and the leader of the community, Lord Summerisle (Christopher Lee). Howie eventually comes to suspect that the missing girl is being hidden away in anticipation of a May Day rite of human sacrifice to appease the gods.

The Wicker Man achieved instant cult status with a proclamation in Cinefantastique magazine (in a 1978 issue-length article by David Bartholomew) calling it "the CITIZEN KANE of horror films." Hyperbolic to be sure, but at first glance the genre classification may seem too limiting - the movie is literate and also functions as a mystery, a police procedural, and a thriller, while its intellectual script touches on history, theology, religion, and many aspects of the human condition. Yet, screenwriter Anthony Shaffer asserted that, in fact, "The Wicker Man is a horror film, if only because of its horrific ending." Shaffer qualifies the term, asking "What is a horror film? It's Christopher Lee with those silly teeth in rushing around through papier-mache corridors chasing nubile ladies... I really think we should be finding new names for these things, because 'horror' implies second-rate bits of crap."

Shaffer had established his reputation with the 1970 stage play Sleuth and the screenplay for the 1972 adaptation starring Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine. He had also written the screenplay for Frenzy (1972), directed by Alfred Hitchcock. As Shaffer elaborated to Cinefantastique, "one of the things that works so well in The Wicker Man is that we took reasonable trouble to make it perfectly contemporary; the people could wear suits and didn't run around in old cowls or something, which I often find takes away from the horror of the situation. ...But you can find just as much horror on High Street with supermarkets and chemist shops, in the sunlight, if you have a really good story."

The story takes the form of a puzzle; not surprising for the game-loving Shaffer, but at its core it deals with a clash of beliefs, personified by the characters played by Woodward and Lee. It was plotted by Shaffer and his friend Robin Hardy; the two had worked together for years for a firm in England producing documentaries and commercials for French and British television. Shaffer showed the screenplay to Christopher Lee, who had wanted to play the leading role of a priest in an earlier, then-unproduced project of Shaffer's called Absolution (Richard Burton played the part when that film was made in 1978). Lee and Shaffer found a sympathetic producer, Peter Snell, who in turn persuaded British Lion to put up the production costs. The Wicker Man was budgeted for $750,000, and shot for seven weeks in many locations in Scotland. Filming was largely uneventful, but it did prove to be unseasonable. The story is set in the Springtime, a crucial point, but filming took place in October and November. Trees and plants in camera range had to be dressed with false blooms, and the cast had to suppress the chattering of teeth from the cold, especially in windswept cliffside scenes.

Because music was so important to the pagan rites that the film depicts, it was decided to prerecord all of the soundtrack material prior to filming. Paul Giovanni only had six weeks to research, compose and record the material, much of which was drawn from centuries-old folk tunes. For example, "Gently Johnny", the song that accompanies Britt Ekland's ritualistic nude dance of seduction, combines the lyrics from three separate folk songs. Songs are used with almost every rite, celebration, and proccession in the film, and while traditional "mood" scoring is absent, the production team realized that the use of songs would be a delicate balance, and that too much emphasis on music and singing would tilt the film into a musical.

Actor Christopher Lee has long described his role as Lord Summerisle as the favorite of his career. Shaffer wrote the part with Lee in mind, and the actor later said that "...Summerisle is an amalgam of many roles I have played onscreen. Figures of power, of mystery, of authority, of presence. There is quite a lot of my natural delivery in the way Summerisle's dialogue was written... While being genuine, the character had to carry the sense that something was not quite right in that village, and you can't quite put your finger on it. Something is going to happen, but it was so cleverly written, that everyone was charming and normal, even Summerisle, although he's really quite bizarre."

The post-production fate of The Wicker Man has become one of the legendary tales of woe that point out an industry that is too often blind to art. After production wrapped, the film went into editing at Shepperton Studios. According to Giovanni, the editor, Eric Boyd-Perkins, was "a very dull man" who didn't understand the film and found elements of it "disgusting." He turned in a 102-minute cut that satisfied Hardy and Snell, although Christopher Lee was displeased, saying that "...so much magnificent dialogue and meaningful story elements had been removed." The film would end up on the receiving end of more abuse and neglect, however. Before the 102-minute version could be properly exhibited, British Lion changed hands, a new regime was brought in, and the film was taken away from the producer and director. The new man in charge had no interest in releasing the film in Britain, but held out some hope that he could sell it in America. To that end, he sent the film to legendary low-budget producer and distributor Roger Corman. Corman put in a low bid for the rights but also sent a detailed analysis of the film, detailing the cuts he would make to render the film more palatable to American audiences. Consequently, the film was cut to between 87 and 88 minutes. Several key scenes of character development were shortened or eliminated, and the story structure was drastically changed; in the new cut Howie's stay on the island was shortened from two nights to just one. The film, in this state, was finally released in Britain as the lower half on a double bill with Nicholas Roeg's Don't Look Now (1973), and only during that film's run in the secondary houses. All of the principal participants were shocked at the shortened version; Lee said that "...the film was just butchered, it was just outrageous. It was in a form that some of it didn't make sense." Nevertheless, Lee lobbied all of the critics he knew to go and see the film. By the following year, Warner Bros. had acquired the film as part of a package and it played a few dates in America to meet tax requirements, then it was shelved. Virtually the only review that The Wicker Man received during its American run was in Variety - a rave in which they said "Anthony Shaffer penned the screenplay which, for sheer imagination and near-terror, has seldom been equaled."

Unfortunately, the 102-minute version of The Wicker Man could only be reconstructed, years later, with inferior video elements that Roger Corman still had in his possession. The fate of the original prints and negative trims has entered into the unfortunate folklore of Lost Movie Footage: incredibly, the reels that British Lion threw out ended up as concrete filler for a freeway project.

Even in the 88-minute version, The Wicker Man retains its power to intrigue, shock, and challenge conventional precepts. As director Hardy told Cinefantastique, "...everything you see in the film is absolutely authentic. The whole series of ceremonies and details that we show have happened at different times and places in Britain and Western Europe. What we did was to bring them all together in one particular place and time." Hardy spent months researching pagan traditions and found it ironic that "...people do these things today and [don't] know why they do them. We call them 'superstitions.' There are millions of people who know nothing about the Golden Bough who will... 'touch wood.' Or won't walk under ladders. They all have profoundly important and real origins in pagan belief." As Christopher Lee said about the film's approach to Christianity, "The Wicker Man is not an attack on contemporary religion but a comment on it, its strengths as well as its weaknesses, its fallibility, that it can be puritanical and won't always come out on top. Even the Christian religion is based on the execution and sacrifice of one man. In that respect, there's no difference at all."

The Wicker Man was given a needless, Americanized remake in 2006, written and directed by Neil LaBute, which starred Nicolas Cage as the hapless protagonist, now a California motorcycle cop perplexed by a matriarchal pagan society. More intriguing is a semi-sequel, in production as of this writing, to be called The Wicker Tree (aka Cowboys for Christ), which is being directed by Robin Hardy and will feature Christopher Lee in a Summerisle-type role as Sir Lachlan Morrison.

Producer: Peter Snell
Director: Robin Hardy
Screenplay: Anthony Shaffer; David Pinner (novel "Ritual," uncredited)
Cinematography: Harry Waxman
Art Direction: Seamus Flannery
Music: Paul Giovanni
Film Editing: Eric Boyd-Perkins
Cast: Edward Woodward (Sergeant Howie), Christopher Lee (Lord Summerisle), Diane Cilento (Miss Rose), Britt Ekland (Willow), Ingrid Pitt (Librarian), Lindsay Kemp (Alder MacGreagor), Russell Waters (Harbour Master), Aubrey Morris (Old Gardener/Gravedigger), Irene Sunter (May Morrison), Walter Carr (School Master), Ian Campbell (Oak), Leslie Blackater (Hairdresser), Roy Boyd (Broome), Peter Brewis (Musician)
C-88m.

By John M. Miller

The Gist (The Wicker Man) - The Gist

The Gist (The Wicker Man) - THE GIST

The Producer would like to thank The Lord Summerisle and the people of his island off the west coast of Scotland for this privileged insight into their religious practices and for their generous co-operation in the making of this film. With this canny opening text, the makers of the British thriller The Wicker Man (1973) quickly establish that their startling tale takes place in the present day and lend it a seeming verisimilitude. Over the opening credits we see a sea plane approach the island, and after some jostling to come ashore, Police Sergeant Neil Howie (Edward Woodward) informs the dock locals that he has received an anonymous letter informing him about a girl, named Rowan Morrison, who has gone missing from the island. The islanders deny even knowing the girl, and Howie proceeds with his investigation. Considering himself a righteous, Christian man, he is shocked to witness pagan rituals being carried out by the townsfolk; young boys sing merrily about impregnation while dancing around a maypole, and young girls jump naked over a bonfire as they worship the gods of the earth, sun, and elements. While interviewing people about Rowan's disappearance, Howie is tempted by the provocative sexuality of the landlord's daughter Willow (Britt Ekland), and has disagreements of conscience with schoolmistress Rose (Diane Cilento), and the leader of the community, Lord Summerisle (Christopher Lee). Howie eventually comes to suspect that the missing girl is being hidden away in anticipation of a May Day rite of human sacrifice to appease the gods. The Wicker Man achieved instant cult status with a proclamation in Cinefantastique magazine (in a 1978 issue-length article by David Bartholomew) calling it "the CITIZEN KANE of horror films." Hyperbolic to be sure, but at first glance the genre classification may seem too limiting - the movie is literate and also functions as a mystery, a police procedural, and a thriller, while its intellectual script touches on history, theology, religion, and many aspects of the human condition. Yet, screenwriter Anthony Shaffer asserted that, in fact, "The Wicker Man is a horror film, if only because of its horrific ending." Shaffer qualifies the term, asking "What is a horror film? It's Christopher Lee with those silly teeth in rushing around through papier-mache corridors chasing nubile ladies... I really think we should be finding new names for these things, because 'horror' implies second-rate bits of crap." Shaffer had established his reputation with the 1970 stage play Sleuth and the screenplay for the 1972 adaptation starring Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine. He had also written the screenplay for Frenzy (1972), directed by Alfred Hitchcock. As Shaffer elaborated to Cinefantastique, "one of the things that works so well in The Wicker Man is that we took reasonable trouble to make it perfectly contemporary; the people could wear suits and didn't run around in old cowls or something, which I often find takes away from the horror of the situation. ...But you can find just as much horror on High Street with supermarkets and chemist shops, in the sunlight, if you have a really good story." The story takes the form of a puzzle; not surprising for the game-loving Shaffer, but at its core it deals with a clash of beliefs, personified by the characters played by Woodward and Lee. It was plotted by Shaffer and his friend Robin Hardy; the two had worked together for years for a firm in England producing documentaries and commercials for French and British television. Shaffer showed the screenplay to Christopher Lee, who had wanted to play the leading role of a priest in an earlier, then-unproduced project of Shaffer's called Absolution (Richard Burton played the part when that film was made in 1978). Lee and Shaffer found a sympathetic producer, Peter Snell, who in turn persuaded British Lion to put up the production costs. The Wicker Man was budgeted for $750,000, and shot for seven weeks in many locations in Scotland. Filming was largely uneventful, but it did prove to be unseasonable. The story is set in the Springtime, a crucial point, but filming took place in October and November. Trees and plants in camera range had to be dressed with false blooms, and the cast had to suppress the chattering of teeth from the cold, especially in windswept cliffside scenes. Because music was so important to the pagan rites that the film depicts, it was decided to prerecord all of the soundtrack material prior to filming. Paul Giovanni only had six weeks to research, compose and record the material, much of which was drawn from centuries-old folk tunes. For example, "Gently Johnny", the song that accompanies Britt Ekland's ritualistic nude dance of seduction, combines the lyrics from three separate folk songs. Songs are used with almost every rite, celebration, and proccession in the film, and while traditional "mood" scoring is absent, the production team realized that the use of songs would be a delicate balance, and that too much emphasis on music and singing would tilt the film into a musical. Actor Christopher Lee has long described his role as Lord Summerisle as the favorite of his career. Shaffer wrote the part with Lee in mind, and the actor later said that "...Summerisle is an amalgam of many roles I have played onscreen. Figures of power, of mystery, of authority, of presence. There is quite a lot of my natural delivery in the way Summerisle's dialogue was written... While being genuine, the character had to carry the sense that something was not quite right in that village, and you can't quite put your finger on it. Something is going to happen, but it was so cleverly written, that everyone was charming and normal, even Summerisle, although he's really quite bizarre." The post-production fate of The Wicker Man has become one of the legendary tales of woe that point out an industry that is too often blind to art. After production wrapped, the film went into editing at Shepperton Studios. According to Giovanni, the editor, Eric Boyd-Perkins, was "a very dull man" who didn't understand the film and found elements of it "disgusting." He turned in a 102-minute cut that satisfied Hardy and Snell, although Christopher Lee was displeased, saying that "...so much magnificent dialogue and meaningful story elements had been removed." The film would end up on the receiving end of more abuse and neglect, however. Before the 102-minute version could be properly exhibited, British Lion changed hands, a new regime was brought in, and the film was taken away from the producer and director. The new man in charge had no interest in releasing the film in Britain, but held out some hope that he could sell it in America. To that end, he sent the film to legendary low-budget producer and distributor Roger Corman. Corman put in a low bid for the rights but also sent a detailed analysis of the film, detailing the cuts he would make to render the film more palatable to American audiences. Consequently, the film was cut to between 87 and 88 minutes. Several key scenes of character development were shortened or eliminated, and the story structure was drastically changed; in the new cut Howie's stay on the island was shortened from two nights to just one. The film, in this state, was finally released in Britain as the lower half on a double bill with Nicholas Roeg's Don't Look Now (1973), and only during that film's run in the secondary houses. All of the principal participants were shocked at the shortened version; Lee said that "...the film was just butchered, it was just outrageous. It was in a form that some of it didn't make sense." Nevertheless, Lee lobbied all of the critics he knew to go and see the film. By the following year, Warner Bros. had acquired the film as part of a package and it played a few dates in America to meet tax requirements, then it was shelved. Virtually the only review that The Wicker Man received during its American run was in Variety - a rave in which they said "Anthony Shaffer penned the screenplay which, for sheer imagination and near-terror, has seldom been equaled." Unfortunately, the 102-minute version of The Wicker Man could only be reconstructed, years later, with inferior video elements that Roger Corman still had in his possession. The fate of the original prints and negative trims has entered into the unfortunate folklore of Lost Movie Footage: incredibly, the reels that British Lion threw out ended up as concrete filler for a freeway project. Even in the 88-minute version, The Wicker Man retains its power to intrigue, shock, and challenge conventional precepts. As director Hardy told Cinefantastique, "...everything you see in the film is absolutely authentic. The whole series of ceremonies and details that we show have happened at different times and places in Britain and Western Europe. What we did was to bring them all together in one particular place and time." Hardy spent months researching pagan traditions and found it ironic that "...people do these things today and [don't] know why they do them. We call them 'superstitions.' There are millions of people who know nothing about the Golden Bough who will... 'touch wood.' Or won't walk under ladders. They all have profoundly important and real origins in pagan belief." As Christopher Lee said about the film's approach to Christianity, "The Wicker Man is not an attack on contemporary religion but a comment on it, its strengths as well as its weaknesses, its fallibility, that it can be puritanical and won't always come out on top. Even the Christian religion is based on the execution and sacrifice of one man. In that respect, there's no difference at all." The Wicker Man was given a needless, Americanized remake in 2006, written and directed by Neil LaBute, which starred Nicolas Cage as the hapless protagonist, now a California motorcycle cop perplexed by a matriarchal pagan society. More intriguing is a semi-sequel, in production as of this writing, to be called The Wicker Tree (aka Cowboys for Christ), which is being directed by Robin Hardy and will feature Christopher Lee in a Summerisle-type role as Sir Lachlan Morrison. Producer: Peter Snell Director: Robin Hardy Screenplay: Anthony Shaffer; David Pinner (novel "Ritual," uncredited) Cinematography: Harry Waxman Art Direction: Seamus Flannery Music: Paul Giovanni Film Editing: Eric Boyd-Perkins Cast: Edward Woodward (Sergeant Howie), Christopher Lee (Lord Summerisle), Diane Cilento (Miss Rose), Britt Ekland (Willow), Ingrid Pitt (Librarian), Lindsay Kemp (Alder MacGreagor), Russell Waters (Harbour Master), Aubrey Morris (Old Gardener/Gravedigger), Irene Sunter (May Morrison), Walter Carr (School Master), Ian Campbell (Oak), Leslie Blackater (Hairdresser), Roy Boyd (Broome), Peter Brewis (Musician) C-88m. By John M. Miller

Wicker Man, The - THE WICKER MAN - The 1973 Version Written by Anthony Shaffer ("Sleuth") on DVD


Responding to a mysterious letter about a missing girl, devoutly religious Sergeant Howie (Edward Woodward) travels to the nearby but remote Summerisle, where the pagan-worshipping inhabitants prove to be less than forthcoming with details about the girl – and even imply she might not even exist. Howie's interrogations not only force him to confront a number of bewildering, sexualized rituals but a colorful array of characters including the lord of the island (Christopher Lee), an obtuse schoolmarm (Diane Cilento), and the innkeeper's voluptuous daughter (Britt Ekland) who puts Howie's morals to the test. However, none of these oddities can compare to the truth he eventually discovers about the missing child...

Catapulted from a mistreated, hacked-up curio bound for oblivion in 1973 to a critically-hailed cult classic in the early 1980s, The Wicker Man is now widely regarded as one of the crowning achievement of English horror cinema, which is only understandable given the impressive roster of talent involved. Writer Anthony Shaffer was fresh off the success of his twisty screenplay for Alfred Hitchcock's Frenzy and his hit stage play, Sleuth (not to mention its film adaptation), while the cast consists of a who's who of British character actors and genre favorites including Ingrid Pitt, a recent favorite for The Vampire Lovers. Unfortunately the film fit neither into the expected gothic template established by Hammer Films nor the burgeoning market for blood-and-thunder modern horror established by The Exorcist; instead the film offers a deceptively sunny, gentle experience shattered during the harrowing final few minutes, with numerous musical interludes and moments of wry humor to keep the audience constantly off-balance. Though the tone has never been duplicated, the ingenious plot has had its share of imitators over the years including Fox's shameless Spellbinder and the Americanized remake from Neil LaBute.

In retrospect, The Wicker Man may have also been simply too dangerous for its time. Much has been made of the film's dichotomy between Christianity and paganism, though the conflict is far more complex and disturbing than a simple clash of ideals. Shaffer's screenplay briefly but importantly insinuates that the paganism was instigated on the island after long-held Christian beliefs failed the locals, and as such the worship of nature offered a vibrant salvation from outdated religious mores. At the time of this film's creation, most of the Western world was reeling from the tumultuous past decade of upheaval and social change, with the youth counterculture finding its idealism shaken by the Manson murders and the increasingly horrific situation in Vietnam. Britain's status quo was disturbed by the increasingly alien, rebellious nature of the young, whose sense of entitlement and disrespect (in their eyes) proved a threat that only a retreat to solid religion and traditional values could relieve. Here we have an entire island of "born again" pagans who revel in sexual freedom, folk singing, and the glories of nature, in sharp contrast to Howie's stoic demeanor, chastity, and devotion to established procedure. When the film ultimately comes to a showdown between the two faiths, the lack of conviction on both sides is unmistakable; as the usually astute critic Danny Peary points out, the viewer is unlikely to buy either argument proposed during the climax. What this says about the entire state of Britain (and, by implication, the world) is perhaps even more terrifying; the "new breed" is too self-absorbed and delusional to maintain anything resembling a genuine moral center, while the old guard is too out-of-touch and blinded to even begin to comprehend how much the world around them is changing.

Thanks to a disastrous distribution history and numerous cuts over the years, The Wicker Man was impossible to see in anything resembling a complete form until its resurrection on home video in the 1980s with the restoration of director Robin Hardy's original cut. Unfortunately the film elements were soon lost again (reputedly used as filler for a roadway), leaving any future definitive transfers impossible. Anchor Bay's single-disc edition of The Wicker Man features the standard theatrical edition, clocking in just under an hour and a half. Image and sound quality are excellent throughout, offering a solid approximation of the film's theatrical impact; the 5.1 audio mix (the only option) thankfully remains faithful to the texture of the original mono mix while opening it up a bit, particularly during the finale.

Extras on this disc include the original theatrical trailer, television and radio spots, bios for the director, writer and two stars, and most generously, a worthwhile half-hour documentary, "The Wicker Man Enigma," which covers the film's tortuous history via interviews with Hardy, Woodward, Lee, Pitt, Shaffer (who passed away shortly afterwards), producer Peter Snell, editor Eric Boyd-Perkins, art director Seamus Flannery, assistant director Jake Wright, American distributor John Simon, and most surprisingly Roger Corman, who was actually instrumental in the salvation of the extended version. Dedicated fans may also note that in 2001, Anchor Bay released a two-disc limited box set containing the longer cut on a second disc; in many respects this version is deeper and more satisfying, particularly its first-act establishing of Howie's character, but the use of the dated one-inch video master intercut with the much more pristine theatrical cut results in dramatic, extremely jarring shifts in quality that tend to leave first-time viewers confused and frustrated. Since the single-disc version is the only viable option for now, it will have to do as a respectable presentation of a crucial horror film no cinema fan can do without.

For more information about The Wicker Man, visit Anchor Bay. To order The Wicker Man, go to TCM Shopping.

by Nathaniel Thompson

Wicker Man, The - THE WICKER MAN - The 1973 Version Written by Anthony Shaffer ("Sleuth") on DVD

Responding to a mysterious letter about a missing girl, devoutly religious Sergeant Howie (Edward Woodward) travels to the nearby but remote Summerisle, where the pagan-worshipping inhabitants prove to be less than forthcoming with details about the girl – and even imply she might not even exist. Howie's interrogations not only force him to confront a number of bewildering, sexualized rituals but a colorful array of characters including the lord of the island (Christopher Lee), an obtuse schoolmarm (Diane Cilento), and the innkeeper's voluptuous daughter (Britt Ekland) who puts Howie's morals to the test. However, none of these oddities can compare to the truth he eventually discovers about the missing child... Catapulted from a mistreated, hacked-up curio bound for oblivion in 1973 to a critically-hailed cult classic in the early 1980s, The Wicker Man is now widely regarded as one of the crowning achievement of English horror cinema, which is only understandable given the impressive roster of talent involved. Writer Anthony Shaffer was fresh off the success of his twisty screenplay for Alfred Hitchcock's Frenzy and his hit stage play, Sleuth (not to mention its film adaptation), while the cast consists of a who's who of British character actors and genre favorites including Ingrid Pitt, a recent favorite for The Vampire Lovers. Unfortunately the film fit neither into the expected gothic template established by Hammer Films nor the burgeoning market for blood-and-thunder modern horror established by The Exorcist; instead the film offers a deceptively sunny, gentle experience shattered during the harrowing final few minutes, with numerous musical interludes and moments of wry humor to keep the audience constantly off-balance. Though the tone has never been duplicated, the ingenious plot has had its share of imitators over the years including Fox's shameless Spellbinder and the Americanized remake from Neil LaBute. In retrospect, The Wicker Man may have also been simply too dangerous for its time. Much has been made of the film's dichotomy between Christianity and paganism, though the conflict is far more complex and disturbing than a simple clash of ideals. Shaffer's screenplay briefly but importantly insinuates that the paganism was instigated on the island after long-held Christian beliefs failed the locals, and as such the worship of nature offered a vibrant salvation from outdated religious mores. At the time of this film's creation, most of the Western world was reeling from the tumultuous past decade of upheaval and social change, with the youth counterculture finding its idealism shaken by the Manson murders and the increasingly horrific situation in Vietnam. Britain's status quo was disturbed by the increasingly alien, rebellious nature of the young, whose sense of entitlement and disrespect (in their eyes) proved a threat that only a retreat to solid religion and traditional values could relieve. Here we have an entire island of "born again" pagans who revel in sexual freedom, folk singing, and the glories of nature, in sharp contrast to Howie's stoic demeanor, chastity, and devotion to established procedure. When the film ultimately comes to a showdown between the two faiths, the lack of conviction on both sides is unmistakable; as the usually astute critic Danny Peary points out, the viewer is unlikely to buy either argument proposed during the climax. What this says about the entire state of Britain (and, by implication, the world) is perhaps even more terrifying; the "new breed" is too self-absorbed and delusional to maintain anything resembling a genuine moral center, while the old guard is too out-of-touch and blinded to even begin to comprehend how much the world around them is changing. Thanks to a disastrous distribution history and numerous cuts over the years, The Wicker Man was impossible to see in anything resembling a complete form until its resurrection on home video in the 1980s with the restoration of director Robin Hardy's original cut. Unfortunately the film elements were soon lost again (reputedly used as filler for a roadway), leaving any future definitive transfers impossible. Anchor Bay's single-disc edition of The Wicker Man features the standard theatrical edition, clocking in just under an hour and a half. Image and sound quality are excellent throughout, offering a solid approximation of the film's theatrical impact; the 5.1 audio mix (the only option) thankfully remains faithful to the texture of the original mono mix while opening it up a bit, particularly during the finale. Extras on this disc include the original theatrical trailer, television and radio spots, bios for the director, writer and two stars, and most generously, a worthwhile half-hour documentary, "The Wicker Man Enigma," which covers the film's tortuous history via interviews with Hardy, Woodward, Lee, Pitt, Shaffer (who passed away shortly afterwards), producer Peter Snell, editor Eric Boyd-Perkins, art director Seamus Flannery, assistant director Jake Wright, American distributor John Simon, and most surprisingly Roger Corman, who was actually instrumental in the salvation of the extended version. Dedicated fans may also note that in 2001, Anchor Bay released a two-disc limited box set containing the longer cut on a second disc; in many respects this version is deeper and more satisfying, particularly its first-act establishing of Howie's character, but the use of the dated one-inch video master intercut with the much more pristine theatrical cut results in dramatic, extremely jarring shifts in quality that tend to leave first-time viewers confused and frustrated. Since the single-disc version is the only viable option for now, it will have to do as a respectable presentation of a crucial horror film no cinema fan can do without. For more information about The Wicker Man, visit Anchor Bay. To order The Wicker Man, go to TCM Shopping. by Nathaniel Thompson

Quotes

Do sit down, Sergeant. Shocks are so much better absorbed with the knees bent.
- Lord Summerisle
Animals are fine, but their acceptability is limited. A small child is even better, but not NEARLY as effective as the right kind of adult.
- Lord Summerisle
And what of the true god, whose glory, churches and monasteries have been built on these islands for generations past? Now sir, what of him?
- Sergeant Howie
He's dead. Can't complain, had his chance and in modern parlance, blew it.
- Lord Summerisle
Much has been said of the strumpets of yore / Of wenches and bawdyhouse queens by the score / But I sing of a baggage that we all adore / The landlord's daughter.
- Harbor Master
Some things in their natural state have the most VIVID colors.
- Willow

Trivia

Although the film is set in May it was filmed in October and November 1972.

A body double was secretly used for the naked rear shots of Willow dancing. The scenes were filmed after Britt Ekland had left the set and without her knowledge.

A body double was used for some shots of Britt Ekland's dance sequence, because she was pregnant at the time.

The negative and the outtakes of the film were stored at the vault in Shepperton studios. When it was bought, the new owner gave the order to clear the vault to get rid of all the old stuff. Foolishly, the vault manager put the negatives, which just arrived from the lab, with the ones which were to be destroyed..

Robin Hardy originally wanted Michael York for the role of Sgt. Howie, but since he was unavailable, writer Anthony Shaffer and producer Peter Snell recommended Edward Woodward.

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States Summer June 1974

Re-released in United States September 27, 2013

Released in United States Summer June 1974

Re-released in United States September 27, 2013

Limited re-release in United States September 27, 2013 (New York)

Limited re-release in United States September 27, 2013

Released in United States on Video December 22, 1988

Released in United States on Video December 22, 1988