Director: Robin Hardy
Writer: Antony Shaffer
Starring: Edward Woodward, Christopher Lee, Diane Cilento, Britt Ekland, Ingrid Pitt
Synopsis: Police sergeant Howie (Woodward) is sent to a remote Scottish island to search for a missing girl. His inquiry proves fruitless once he realises the whole town seems to covering something up.
For the meme generation, the passing mention of The Wicker Man will more likely involve people shouting, “Aaahh, the bees!” than someone commenting on the classic 1973 horror. Aspects of Robin Hardy’s The Wicker Man have aged, it must be said, overshadowed somewhat by Nicolas Cage’s modern remake. To stress, overshadowed in the sense that Cage’s version was so absurdly awful it’s distinctly soured the title.
The rerelease of the original aims to rid the memory of the remake, an ambition easily accomplished. The restored version (having been reviewed on DVD) is not as magnificent as more recent restorations. It has enhanced the sound and removed the scratches, but colour grading is not as polished as would be desired. The special features and the trinity of versions included in the new release is the defining aspect – a final, complete, Wicker Man.
The Director’s Cut runs wonderfully smooth – without the jagged flashbacks and clumsy editing seen in previous versions – a triumphant example of the mystery/detective narrative. As normal as the form appears, what is included within it is not. The film features an island of folk-loving townspeople, who are bound together by paganism unknown to the tragic Howie character.
Woodward as the pious and stoic lead is terrific. Dogged and doomed, he leads us through a series of interviews with the islanders, leaving the audience to pick up on things he doesn’t see. As the patsy, he gains immediate empathy, with the end bitterly upsetting. Christopher Lee as his foil has little screen-time and achieves a mysterious quality perfectly fitting for the film. It seems that even as the end answers some questions, Lee’s Summerisle is still a questionable figure. You get the satisfaction of knowing and liking one character, and despising and querying the other. Woodward and Lee made a superb hero/villain duo, immortalised by their only cinematic coupling in The Wicker Man.
Heralded the best British horror film by many, The Wicker Man does indeed boast an exemplary script (by Sleuth author, Antony Shaffer) and impeccable direction. Woodward and Lee are characteristically brilliant and the atmosphere each man creates (insecurity and danger, for example) is timeless. The film will last for decades to come (even if some of the Morris dancing and folk chants do not), now serviced with its “definitive” legacy.
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