- Release Date: 11/1/2013
- Written By: Anthony Schaffer
- Directed By: Robin Hardy
- Starring: Edward Woodward, Christopher Lee, Britt Ekland, Ingrid Pitt, Diane Cilento, Lindsay Kemp, Gerry Cowper
THE WICKER MAN is one of the most well received horror films of all-time, a 1973 classic from Robin Hardy that featured a weird medley of paganism, Christianity, lots of sex, and missing children. Oh, and Christopher Lee as the not to be trusted Lord Summerisle, the leader of the Scottish isle in which this film takes place. Even with the presence of Lee, its adult content and atmosphere, this wasn’t a Hammer movie, as the only monsters to be found are perpetrators of religious prejudice.
Despite its cult following, THE WICKER MAN is known for its ill-fated distribution, resulting in prints butchered and altered from director Robin Hardy’s original vision. The search for a complete 35 mm print has gone on for nearly 40 years, and recently a 92-minute print was found at the Harvard Film Archive, featuring the version that we were all supposed to see. Rialto Pictures restored and recut the footage, and while none of it is new footage (having languished in several different versions previously), its the most complete cut of THE WICKER MAN we’re bound to ever see, timed perfectly for its 40th anniversary. Most importantly, Robin Hardy gives THE FINAL CUT his blessing, stating that “it fulfills my vision.” That’s likely all that matters for devout fans of the creepy and bizarre horror flick.
Most of the film looks beautiful and crisper than you’d expect, with the exception of the new pieces added to the picture, which is jarring, but serves to give us an earlier introduction to Lee’s Lord Summerisle. The film is also given a time frame, letting viewers know the events take place over 72 hours, which serves to heighten the tension and suspense, and while it doesn’t actually, it feels like it picks up the pace of the film.
The film, in case you’re unaware, follows police sergeant Howie, who receives an anonymous letter from a mother grieving the mysterious disappearance of her daughter Rowan Morrison from Summerisle in Scotland. Howie, played by the gruff Edward Woodward (THE EQUALIZER star, whose role in HOT FUZZ is indebted to his influence on Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright from this role), takes a trip to Summerisle, a remote backwoods Scottish island filled with pagan worshipers. Since Howie is a pious Christian, and a celibate one, having saved himself for marriage, he obviously has all kinds of problems with their lifestyle. In short order, we’re introduced to an open, yet shady, citizenry that is brimming with public intoxication, fornication (sometimes in the graveyard), naked rituals, and a penchant for booze (naturally). One of the funniest and best scenes involves Howie walking in on a class taught by Miss Rose (played by Diane Cilento, who was married to Sean Connery at the time), teaching little girls the importance of the symbol of the phallus.
The island’s citizens, due to their isolation and harsh climate (oh, is Scotland beautiful and shot wondrously here!), have resorted to pagan worship of the old Celtic Gods to sustain them, to bring about a bountiful harvest. But… we soon learn that a sacrifice must be made. The twist ending is as effective and chilling as ever, even if the content isn’t as controversial as it was in 1973, unless you’re as devout as Howie is. If you are, you’re probably not watching THE WICKER MAN in the first place.
Everyone who hasn’t seen this fever dream of a movie should.
See it for its campy performances and to uncover the deep mystery behind the missing Rowan Morrison, the town-wide conspiracy to cover it up, and a gloriously hippy performance from Christopher Lee. At one point, the master of horror even puts on a long wig, cross dresses, and sings along with the rest of the small town, perhaps foreshadowing his rock career. Or something. See it for Ingrid Pitt as the Librarian, who’s about as convincing a Scottish lass as you’d expect (not very, but that matters not). Or see it for Swedish vixen Britt Ekland (FANTASY ISLAND, THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN) as Willow, the innkeeper’s daughter who doubles as a temptress who literally slaps her thighs and gyrates against Howie’s room, hoping to entice him amid a rabble rousing score from Paul Giovanni. It’s great… acting.
The movie is gluttonous with nudity and cool moments, like a lit and dismembered hand, a mother feeding her child a frog, and the haunting, fiery prison that is the Wicker Man itself. While fans are likely tired of the various versions of THE WICKER MAN at this point, I think we’ve finally found THE definitive one, the 35 mm print worthy of being seen on the big screen.
The film arrives at the Nuart Theatre in Santa Monica on November 1st for a one week engagement. If you’re in the LA area, be sure to buy tickets to the 7:30 PM screening, as Britt Ekland will be in attendance to introduce the film, as well as provide a Q&A afterwards. Snag tix here. THE WICKER MAN: THE FINAL CUT can be seen all over the country through Halloween. For other showtimes, check out Rialto’s website.
Here’s the press release if you want more information:
THE WICKER MAN—FINAL CUT is the definitive version of Robin Hardy’s thriller of pagan worshippers on a remote Scottish isle, presented in a new director-approved DCP restoration for a special 40th-anniversary engagement. Seen for decades only in mutilated copies, the new restoration by Studiocanal is the culmination of a worldwide search conducted via Facebook.
After receiving an anonymous letter about a missing 12-year-old girl, devoutly Christian cop Edward Woodward travels by seaplane to a remote Scottish island to investigate. But the islanders welcome neither his badge nor religious devotion, for laird of the isle Christopher Lee and his devoted followers worship only the pagan gods of old – and those gods demand a sacrifice. Woodward fears for the missing girl’s life and follows every possible lead to find her – despite the islanders’ interference – before she becomes a human sacrificial lamb.
Starring Edward Woodward (Breaker Morant, TV’s The Equalizer), horror film legend Christopher Lee, stalwart Hammer vampiress Ingrid Pitt, and Swedish blonde bombshell/Bond Girl Britt Ekland (Man With The Golden Gun, After The Fox, Get Carter), WICKER MAN is a quintessential 70s thriller, with the search for its integral version one of cinema history’s great detective hunts.
Butchered by its doomed UK distributor to fit on double bills, with its original camera negative apparently lost, THE WICKER MAN has gathered a devoted fan base over the past four decades, with the complete version their Holy Grail. Some missing scenes were recovered from an obsolete one-inch broadcast tape, but over the years there were rumors of complete 35mm prints floating around.
Earlier this year, the search intensified when worldwide rights holder Studiocanal initiated a Facebook campaign to recover the missing 35mm material, resulting in the discovery of a 92-minute 35mm release print at the Harvard Film Archive. This print was scanned and sent to London, where it was recently inspected by director Robin Hardy, who confirmed that it was the same cut he had put together for its American distributor in 1979. This culminated in a digital restoration of the complete U.S. theatrical version, which director Hardy recently anointed as “the final cut.” Hardy, now 83, has said of this restored version, “It fulfills my vision.”
Described by the Los Angeles Times as “the gold standard of reissue distributors,” Rialto’s catalogue includes classics by Godard, Fellini, Renoir, Kurosawa, Buñuel, Costa-Gavras, Pontecorvo, Bresson, Ophuls, Becker, Carol Reed, Michael Powell, Jules Dassin, Jean-Pierre Melville, and many others.
THE WICKER MAN – FINAL CUT is part of Studiocanal’s vast library of over 2,000 titles, now distributed for U.S. theatrical release by Rialto. Since its founding, Rialto’s close partnership with Studiocanal has included major reissues of such jewels of the French company’s classic library as Renoir’s Grand Illusion, Reed’s The Third Man, and Melville’s Army of Shadows, and Fellini’s Nights of Cabiria.
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