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The Wicker Man is a 1973 British film, combining thriller, horror and musical genres, directed by Robin Hardy and written by Anthony Shaffer. The film stars Edward Woodward, Christopher Lee, Diane Cilento, Ingrid Pitt, and Britt Ekland. Paul Giovanni composed the soundtrack. The film is now considered a cult classic.

Inspired by the basic scenario of David Pinner's 1967 novel The Ritual, the story centres on the visit of Police Sergeant Neil Howie to the isolated island of Summerisle, in search of a missing girl the locals claim never existed. Howie is a devout Christian, and is appalled by a religion loosely inspired by Celtic paganism practised by the inhabitants of the island.

The Wicker Man is generally well regarded by critics and film enthusiasts. Film magazine Cinefantastique described it as "The Citizen Kane of Horror Movies", and during 2004 the magazine Total Film named The Wicker Man the sixth greatest British film of all time. It also won the 1978 Saturn Award for Best Horror Film. A scene from this film was #45 on Bravo's 100 Scariest Movie Moments.

In his 2010 BBC documentary series A History of Horror, writer and actor Mark Gatiss referred to the film as a prime example of a short-lived sub-genre he called "folk horror", grouping it with 1968's Witchfinder General and 1971's Blood on Satan's Claw.[1][2]

A poorly received[3] 2006 Canadian/German/American remake was produced, from which Robin Hardy and others involved with the original have disassociated themselves.

The Wicker Tree, a "spiritual sequel" also directed by Hardy, is set for release in 2011.

PlotEdit

Sergeant Neil Howie of the West Highland Police receives an anonymous letter requesting his presence on Summerisle, a remote Hebridean island famed for its popular and unusually abundant fruit produce. A young girl named Rowan Morrison has been missing for a number of months and her mother is being uncooperative with enquiries. Due to the island's isolation it is unlikely she could have left by herself, abduction is suspected.

File:Summer Isles Jan 2006.JPG

Howie, a devout and celibate Christian, travels by seaplane to the island and is profoundly disturbed to find a society that worships the old pagan, Celtic gods of their ancestors. Couples copulate openly in the fields, children are taught in school of the phallic importance of the maypole, toads are placed in the mouth to cure whooping cough, and the island has no Christian ministers or priests. Its church and graveyards have long been deconsecrated and are now used for the idiosyncratic burial rituals of the locals, who believe in re-incarnation.

In the course of his investigation, Howie encounters difficulty in extracting information from the islanders, who claim never to have heard of Rowan, and whose own mother insists does not exist. Rooming at The Green Man Inn, where he is introduced to the beautiful young daughter of the landlord, Willow, Howie notices a series of photographs celebrating the island's annual harvests adorning the wall of the bar with each photograph featuring a young girl, the May Queen. The latest photograph is missing due to it being "broken". No negative exists.

After discovering a grave bearing Rowan Morrison's name in the cemetery, Howie's search eventually brings him into contact with the island's community leader, Laird and de facto figurehead Lord Summerisle, who explains to Howie the island's recent history and culture. Summerisle's grandfather, a distinguished Victorian scientist, developed several new strains of fruit that he believed could prosper in Scotland's climate given the proper conditions. Drawn to Summerisle's unique combination of fertile, volcanic soil and local waters heated by the Gulf Stream, he inculcated in the local populace a belief that the old gods were real and worshipping them by farming the new crop strains would deliver them from their meagre livelihood. The crops bore fruit and the island's Christian clergy were driven away, with the population now embracing pagan teachings wholesale. Enraged by Summerisle's glib comment that the Christian god is "dead", Howie demands permission to exhume Rowan's body, which Lord Summerisle subsequently grants, confident in the belief that such a deeply religious community as his is incapabale of murder. Howie's exhumation of the grave reveals only the body of a hare. He angrily confronts Summerisle once more, declaring that he believes that Rowan Morrison was murdered as part of a pagan sacrifice and that he intends to bring the full weight of the law upon the inhabitants of the island.

Breaking into the local chemist's shop, Howie discovers that a negative of last year's harvest photograph does in fact exist. It shows Rowan standing amidst a meagre, pathetic group of boxes, indicating that last year's harvest was a poor one and that the crops – the island's only means of income – had failed. Struck by his recollection of an offhand remark made by Lord Summerisle about appeasing the old gods "when necessary" and by research that indicates pagan societies offer up a human sacrifice in the event of crop failure, Howie deduces that Rowan is in fact still alive and that she is being kept hidden until she can be sacrificed as part of the May Day celebrations to ensure a plentiful harvest for the coming year.

Howie spends another night at the Inn where, in the room next to his, Willow sings to him and openly attempts to seduce him. The next morning, discovering that his plane has been sabotaged and is unable to take off, Howie elects to search the island for Rowan himself ahead of the impending May Day parade. Howie ties up the innkeeper and assumes his place as Punch, a principal character of the May Day festival. Disguised, he joins the procession of islanders as they cavort through the town and perform harmless sacrifices to the various lesser gods. Then Lord Summerisle announces that a grimmer sacrifice awaits them, and Rowan is finally revealed, tied to a post. Howie cuts her free and flees through a cave but after a brief chase emerges at another entrance on a precipice where Summerisle and his followers stand waiting for them. Howie is shocked to see Rowan merrily embrace her captors and then notices that he is being surrounded.

Lord Summerisle explains to Howie that, after painstaking research on their behalf, he specifically was lured to Summerisle by the islanders, who have been successful in a conspiracy to lead him to believe that a missing girl was being held captive against her will, and confirms to him that last year's harvest failed disastrously, threatening the inhabitants with a return to their previously desperate existence and that they have no intention of allowing that to happen. Their religion calls for a sacrifice to be made to the Sun god as Lord Summerisle explains that, "animals are fine, but their acceptibility is limited. A young child is even better, but not nearly as effective as the right kind of adult." Howie's devout Christian lifestyle and his livelihood as a policeman mean that he meets the outstanding criteria for a human that is to be sacrificed to appease the gods – he has come of his own free will, with the power of a king and he is a virgin. In spite of his protestations that the crops failed because fruit was not meant to grow on these islands and that next year the sacrifice of Lord Summerisle himself will be called for, Howie is stripped bare, then dressed in ceremonial robes and led to the summit of a cliff with his hands tied. He is horrified to find a giant, hollow wicker man statue which he is then locked inside. The statue is soon set afire. As the islanders surround the burning wicker man and sing the Middle English folk-song "Sumer Is Icumen In", a terrified Howie curses them and recites Psalm 23 as he prays to God for accession to Heaven. The film ends as the burning head of the wicker man falls from its shoulders, as the sun sets in a blood-red sky.

CastEdit

Background and productionEdit

Christopher Lee was a Hammer Films regular, in particular playing Dracula in a series of successful films. At the time, Lee wanted to expand his acting roles, and collaborated with British Lion head Peter Snell and playwright Anthony Shaffer (already well known for Sleuth) to develop a film based on the David Pinner novel. Though the book was all but completely abandoned (all that survived from Pinner's book into the finished film is the scene in which Howie presses himself against his bedroom wall to hear the siren-like calls of Willow next door), the idea of a confrontation between a modern Christian and a remote, pagan community continued to intrigue Shaffer, who performed painstaking research on paganism. Brainstorming with director Robin Hardy, the film was conceived as presenting the pagan elements objectively and accurately, accompanied by authentic music and a believable, contemporary setting.

Television actor Edward Woodward was cast in the role of the policeman after the part was declined by both Michael York and David Hemmings.[4] In Britain Woodward was best known for the role of Callan, which he played from 1967 to 1972. He came to international attention portraying the title character of the 1980 Australian film Breaker Morant. (American audiences probably know Woodward best for his role in the 1980s CBS TV series The Equalizer.)

Diane Cilento was lured out of semi-retirement after Shaffer saw her on the stage[4] to play the town's schoolmistress, and Ingrid Pitt (another British horror film veteran) was cast as the town librarian and registrar. The Swedish actress Britt Ekland was cast as the innkeeper's lascivious daughter, although her singing and possibly all of her dialogue was redubbed by Annie Ross,[5] and some of her nude dancing was performed by a double called Jane Jackson who lived in Castle Douglas at the time.

The film was produced at a time of crisis for the British film industry. The studio in charge of production, British Lion Films, was in financial trouble and was bought by wealthy businessman John Bentley. To convince the unions that he was not about to asset-strip the company, Bentley needed to get a film into production quickly. This meant that The Wicker Man, a film set during spring, was actually filmed in October: artificial leaves and blossoms had to be glued to trees in many scenes. The scenes at Culzean Castle were filmed during February, 1972. The production was kept on a small budget.[4] Christopher Lee was extremely keen to get the film made; he and others worked on the production without pay.[6] While filming took place, British Lion was bought by EMI Films.

The film was shot almost entirely in the small Scottish towns of Gatehouse of Fleet, Newton Stewart, Kirkcudbright and a few scenes in the village of Creetown in Dumfries and Galloway, as well as Plockton in Ross-shire. Culzean Castle in Ayrshire and its grounds were also used for much of the shooting. Some of the opening flying shoots feature the Isle of Skye, including the spectacular pinnacles of The Old Man of Storr and the Quiraing. The amphibian aircraft that takes Sergeant Howie from the religious certainties of the mainland to the ancient beliefs of the island was a Thurston Teal. The end burning of the Wicker Man occurred at Burrow Head (on a caravan site). According to Britt Ekland, some animals did actually perish inside the Wicker Man.[citation needed]

DistributionEdit

By the time of the film's completion the studio had been bought by EMI, and British Lion was managed by Michael Deeley. The DVD commentary track states that studio executives suggested a more "upbeat" ending to the film, in which a sudden rain puts the flames of the wicker man out and spares Howie's life, but this suggestion was refused. Hardy subsequently had to remove about 20 minutes of scenes on the mainland, early investigations, and (to Lee's disappointment) some of Lord Summerisle's initial meeting with Howie.[4]

A copy of a finished, 99-minute film[5] was sent to American film producer Roger Corman in Hollywood to make a judgment of how to market the film in the USA. Corman recommended an additional 13 minutes be cut from the film. (Corman did not acquire US release rights, and eventually Warner Bros. test-marketed the film in drive-ins.) In Britain, the film was ordered reduced to roughly 87 minutes, with some narrative restructuring, and released as the "B" picture on a double bill with Don't Look Now. Despite Lee's claims that the cuts had adversely affected the film's continuity, he urged local critics to see the film, even going so far as to offer to pay for their seats.

RestorationsEdit

During the mid-1970s, Hardy made inquiries about the film, hoping to restore it to his original vision. Along with Lee and Shaffer, Hardy searched for his original version or raw footage. Both of these appeared to have been lost. Alex Cox said that the negative "ended up in the pylons that support the M4 motorway" in his Moviedrome introduction of 1988.[7] Hardy remembered that a copy of the film, prior to Deeley's cuts, was sent to Roger Corman; it turned out that Corman still had a copy, possibly the only existing print of Hardy's version. The US rights had been sold by Warner Bros. to a small firm called Abraxas, managed by film buff Stirling Smith and critic John Simon. Stirling agreed to an American re-release of Hardy's reconstructed version. Hardy restored the narrative structure, some of the erotic elements which had been excised, and a very brief pre-title segment of Howie on the mainland (appearing at a church with his fiancée). A 96-minute restored version was released in January 1979,[4] again to critical acclaim. Strangely, the original full-length film was available in the US on VHS home video from Media Home Entertainment (and later, Magnum) during the 1980s and 1990s. This video included additional, early scenes in Howie's police station that Hardy had left out of the 1979 version.

During 2001 the film's new worldwide rights owners, Canal+, began an effort to release the full-length film. Corman's full-length film copy had been lost, but a telecine transfer to 1-inch videotape existed. With this copy, missing elements were combined with film elements from the previous versions. (In particular, additional scenes of Howie on the mainland were restored, showing the chaste bachelor to be the object of gossip at his police station, and establishing his rigidly devout posture.) The DVD "Extended version" released by Canal+ (with Anchor Bay Entertainment handling US DVD distribution) is this hybrid version, considered the longest and closest version to Hardy's original, 99-minute version of the film.[4] A two-disc limited edition set was sold with both the shortened, theatrical release version and the newly restored extended version, and a retrospective documentary, The Wicker Man Enigma.[8] In 2005, Inside The Wicker Man author Allan Brown revealed he had discovered a series of stills taken on-set during the film's production showing the shooting of a number of sequences from the script that had never been seen before; indeed, it had never been certain that these scenes had actually been filmed. They include a scene in which Howie closes a mainland pub that is open after hours, has an encounter with a prostitute, receives a massage from Willow McGregor and observes a brutal confrontation between Oak and a villager in The Green Man pub. These images might be featured in a revised edition of the book Inside The Wicker Man.

Anchor Bay Entertainment released a limited edition wooden box of The Wicker Man. Fifty thousand 2-disc sets were made, of which 20 were signed by actors Christopher Lee and Edward Woodward, writer Anthony Shaffer, producer Peter Snell, and director Robin Hardy.

ReceptionEdit

The Wicker Man had moderate success and won first prize in the 1974 Festival of Fantastic Films in Paris, but largely slipped into obscurity. In 1977 the American film magazine Cinefantastique devoted a commemorative issue to the film,[9] asserting that the film is "the Citizen Kane of horror movies" – an oft-quoted phrase attributed to this issue.[10]

During 2003 the Crichton Campus of the University of Glasgow in Dumfries and Galloway hosted a three-day conference on The Wicker Man.[11] The conference led to two collections of articles about the film.

During 2006, The Wicker Man ranked 45th on Bravo's 100 Scariest Movie Moments.[12]

Wicker Man actress Britt Ekland appeared on the British TV show Friday Night with Jonathan Ross on BBC1 on February 1, 2008. Ross described the movie as one of his "all time favourites", and presented the infamous "wall slapping" scene from the film. Britt explained that she had refused to dance fully nude in the scene because she recently learned she was pregnant; Scottish housewife Jane Jackson appeared as a body double.[13]

Decades after its release, the film still receives positive reviews from critics and is considered one of the best films of 1973.[14][15] The film currently holds a 89% "Fresh" rating on the review aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes.[16] In 2008, The Wicker Man was ranked by Empire Magazine as 485th of The 500 Greatest Movies of All Time.[17]

A stage adaptation was announced for the 2009 Edinburgh Festival Fringe,[18] to be directed by Andrew Steggall, based on the original script, with input from Robin Hardy, and original songs and music from the film to be supervised by Gary Carpenter, the original music director.[19][20] Workshop rehearsals were held at the Drill Hall in London in March 2008,[21] and a casting call was held in Glasgow in May 2009.[22] After three weeks at the Pleasance in Edinburgh in August 2009, the production was to visit the Perth Rep, the Eden Court Theatre in Inverness, and then have a short run at Citizen's Theatre in Glasgow, with hopes for a run in London in 2010.[23] However, in July 2009 it was announced that the production had been cancelled, three weeks before it had been due to preview.[24]

SoundtrackEdit

Main article: The Wicker Man soundtrack

An important and often overlooked element to the film is the soundtrack, which often forms a major component of the narrative, just as with other important arthouse films of the era such as Nicholas Roeg's Performance.[25] Memorable songs accompany all of the crucial scenes i.e. the plane's arrival, Willow's dancing, the maypole dance, the girls jumping through fire, the search of the houses and the final burning scene. Indeed, director Robin Hardy surprised the cast by suddenly announcing midway through filming that they were making a "musical" (according to Seamus Flannery in a subsequent documentary).

Composed, arranged and recorded by Paul Giovanni and Magnet, the soundtrack contains folk songs performed by characters in the film. The songs vary between traditional songs, original Giovanni compositions and even nursery rhyme in "Baa, Baa, Black Sheep".

"Willow's Song" has been covered or sampled by various rock music bands. It was covered by the Sneaker Pimps as "How Do", and can be heard in the movie Hostel (2006). The song is included also in their 1996 release "Becoming X". Additionally, the band has also covered "Gently Johnny" as "Johnny" and is featured as a B-Side on their "Roll On" (1996) single.

The songs on the soundtrack were not actual cult songs used by pagans, as some have claimed[who?]. All the songs were composed by Paul Giovanni, except in instances where he used well-known lyrics such as the words from the rhyme "Baa, Baa, Black Sheep". The song sung by the cultists of Summer Isle at the end of the film, "Sumer Is Icumen In" is a real song from the mid-13th century, but is not about Pagan rites as such. It is instead a song about Spring, or the Crucifixion if using the Latin words.

RemakeEdit

Main article: The Wicker Man (2006 film)

A remake, starring Nicolas Cage and Ellen Burstyn and directed by Neil LaBute was released on September 1, 2006. Robin Hardy expressed concern about the remake.[26] After its release, Hardy simply described it as a different film rather than a remake.[27] The remake was panned critically and was also a failure at the box office. Today it has a significant cult following as an unintentional comedy, with several scenes on YouTube boasting Cage brutalizing various women throughout and terrorizing children, a fan-made comedy trailer of the film, and more.[28]

Hardy is filming a follow up to The Wicker Man, which has previously gone under the working titles May Day Riding the Laddie and Cowboys for Christ and is now referred to as The Wicker Tree. Hardy has already published this story as a novel. First announced during April 2000, filming on the project began on 19 July 2009 according to iMDb. It follows two young American Christian evangelists who travel to Scotland; like Woodward's character in The Wicker Man, the two Americans are virgins who encounter a pagan laird and his followers.[29]

See alsoEdit

FootnotesEdit

  1. Clarke, Donald. "Mark Gatiss’s History of Horror". Irish Times.com. http://www.irishtimes.com/blogs/screenwriter/2010/11/02/mark-gatisss-history-of-horror/. Retrieved 2010-11-02. 
  2. "A History of Horror with Mark Gatiss – Home Counties Horror Ep 2/3". BBC. 2010-10-18. http://www.bbc.co.uk/pressoffice/proginfo/tv/2010/wk42/mon.shtml#mon_horror. 
  3. The Wicker Man (2006) has a 15 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes: The Wicker Man (2006) – Ratings Rotten Tomatoes.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 Philips, Steve (2002). "The various versions of The Wicker Man". Steve's Web Page. http://steve-p.org/wm/. Retrieved 2006-12-11. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 Kermode, Mark. "Something Wicker This Way Comes". Channel4. http://www.channel4.com/film/reviews/feature.jsp?id=111049. Retrieved 2009-01-30. 
  6. The Wicker Man (Trivia) at the Internet Movie Database
  7. Cox, Alex. "Moviedrome – Wicker Man – Alex Cox intro". YouTube. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K8IGJjukTzc. Retrieved 2009-02-20. 
  8. The Wicker Man Enigma 2001 documentary on the film's production and releases. at the Internet Movie Database
  9. The Wicker Man Issue, Cinefantastique, 1977 (Vol. 6 No. 3).
  10. "Google search for quote". http://www.google.com/search?q=%22citizen+kane+of+horror+movies%22+cinefantastique. Retrieved 2009-01-30. 
  11. Dr. Benjamin Franks, Lecturer Conferences: The Wicker Man: Readings Rituals and Reactions, July 2003. http://gla.ac.uk; University of Glasgow. Retrieved 2010-05-30.
  12. "The 100 Scariest Movie Moments". Bravo TV. October 27, 2006. Archived from the original on 2007-10-30. http://web.archive.org/web/20071030070540/http://www.bravotv.com/The_100_Scariest_Movie_Moments/index.shtml. Retrieved 2010-05-30. 
  13. Morrison, Jenny (September 15, 2009). "Why being Britt's body double was a bum deal". The Daily Mail. Archived from the original on 2009-09-15. http://www.thefreelibrary.com/Why+being+Britt%27s+body+double+was+a+bum+deal%3B+Housewife%27s+regret+over+...-a0207819720. 
  14. Dirks, Tim (2010) The Greatest Films of 1973 filmsite.org; American Movie Channel. Retrieved 2010-05-30.
  15. (anonymous) Most Popular Feature Films Released In 1973 imdb.com; Amazon.com. Retrieved 2010-05-30.
  16. Wicker Man (1973) ratings Rotten Tomatoes.
  17. "The 500 Greatest Movies of All Time". empireonline.com. Empire Magazine. http://www.empireonline.com/500/3.asp. Retrieved 2009-01-30. 
  18. Edinburgh Fringe Programme Launched, STV News, 10 June 2009
  19. Wicker Man Set for Stage Crossover???, WhatsOnStage.com, 8 February 2008
  20. The Motion Group website, March 2008, via archive.org
  21. Brian Pendreigh, The Wicker Man and the Showgirl, Scotland on Sunday, 8 March 2008
  22. Brian Pendreigh, Wicker Man rewoven for the Fringe stage, Daily Mail, 26 May 2009
  23. The Wicker Man, The Musical, Wild Hunt blog, 11 June 2009
  24. The Wicker Man facebook page, 10 July 2009
  25. Sean H. Stewart. "10 of the Most Underrated Horror Scores!". BloodyDisgusting. http://www.bloody-disgusting.com/news/20063. 
  26. Pendreigh, Brian (2005-09-11). "Wicker Man director is flaming furious over Hollywood remake". http://heritage.scotsman.com/heritage/Wicker-Man-director-is-flaming.2660325.jp. Retrieved 2009-01-30. 
  27. nqure (2006-09-04). "Original Wickerman Screening + Q+A with Robin Hardy". IMDb Boards. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0323808/board/nest/50768229. Retrieved 2009-01-30. 
  28. Best Scenes From “The Wicker Man” on YouTube
  29. Buckley, Heather. "Exclusive: A Night with The Wicker Man / The Wicker Tree Footage Premiere Report". DreadCentral. http://www.dreadcentral.com/news/34502/exclusive-a-night-with-the-wicker-man-the-wicker-tree-footage-premiere-report. 

ReferencesEdit

External linksEdit

Soundtrack
Related film documentaries
Other sites


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