The Wicker Man (1973 film)
|The Wicker Man|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Robin Hardy|
|Produced by||Peter Snell|
|Written by||Anthony Shaffer|
by David Pinner
|Music by||Paul Giovanni|
|Editing by||Eric Boyd-Perkins|
|Studio||British Lion Films|
|Distributed by||British Lion Films|
|Running time||88 minutes|
The Wicker Man is a 1973 British horror film 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 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, a devout Christian, is appalled to find that the inhabitants of the island practise a form of Celtic paganism.
The Wicker Man is generally well regarded by critics. 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 1989, the film's screenwriter Anthony Shaffer wrote a script treatment for The Loathsome Lambton Worm, a direct sequel with fantasy elements. Robin Hardy had no interest in the project, and it was never produced. In 2006, an ill-received American remake was released, from which Hardy and others involved with the original have disassociated themselves. In 2011, a spiritual sequel entitled The Wicker Tree was released to mixed reviews. This film was also directed by Robin Hardy, and featured Christopher Lee in a cameo appearance. Hardy is currently developing his next film, The Wrath of the Gods, which will complete The Wicker Man Trilogy.
Sergeant Neil Howie receives an anonymous letter requesting his presence on Summerisle, a remote Hebridean island famed for its popular and unusually abundant fruit produce, to take the case of a young girl named Rowan Morrison, who has been missing for a number of months.
Howie, a devout and celibate Christian, travels 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 fields, children are taught in school of the phallic importance of the maypole and frogs are placed in the mouth to cure sore throat. 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 an inn, where he is introduced to the daughter of the landlord, Willow, Howie notices a series of photographs celebrating the island's annual harvests, with each photograph featuring a young girl, the May Queen. The latest photograph is missing due to it being "broken". Howie spends the night at the inn, where Willow openly attempts to seduce him, which he refuses, in the morning explaining that he is engaged and does not believe in premarital sex.
After discovering a grave bearing Rowan Morrison's name, Howie's search eventually brings him into contact with the island's community leader, Laird (Lord) Summerisle, who explains to Howie the island's recent history and culture. Summerisle's grandfather, a Victorian scientist, developed several new strains of fruit that he believed could prosper in Scotland's climate. He inculcated in the local populace a belief that the old gods were real and worshipping the gods by farming the new crop strains would deliver them from their meagre livelihood. Howie's exhumation of Rowan's grave reveals only the body of a hare. He angrily confronts Summerisle once more, declaring that he believes that Rowan was murdered as part of a pagan sacrifice.
Howie later discovers that a negative of last year's harvest photograph does in fact exist. It shows Rowan standing amidst a 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 research that indicates pagan societies offer a human sacrifice in the event of crop failure, Howie deduces that Rowan is in fact still alive and that she will be sacrificed as part of the May Day celebrations to ensure a plentiful harvest for the coming year.
Howie stays at the inn for another night. The next morning, discovering that his plane has been sabotaged, Howie elects to search the island for Rowan himself. He 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 various gods. Rowan is finally revealed, tied to a post. Howie cuts her free and flees but after a brief chase, emerges at another entrance 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 he 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, and confirms to him that last year's harvest failed disastrously. Their religion calls for a sacrifice to be made to the sun god. 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 and provide a successful harvest.
In spite of his protests that the crops failed because fruit was not meant to grow on these islands, Howie is stripped bare, 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 inside which he is then locked with several other animals. 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", an anguished Howie proclaims that God has deprived them of their harvest for their paganism and deceit, and as the fires build around him, recites Psalm 23 as he prays to God for ascension to Heaven. He then screams out the name of Jesus Christ as he perishes. The film ends as the burning head of the wicker man falls from its shoulders, revealing the setting sun in the distance.
- Edward Woodward as Sergeant Neil Howie
- Christopher Lee as Lord Summerisle
- Diane Cilento as Miss Rose
- Britt Ekland as Willow
- Ingrid Pitt as Librarian
- Lindsay Kemp as Alder MacGregor
- Russell Waters as Harbour Master
- Aubrey Morris as Old Gardener / Gravedigger
- Irene Sunter as May Morrison
- Walter Carr as School Master
- Roy Boyd as Broome
- Peter Brewis as Musician
- Gerry Cowper as Rowan Morrison
- John Hallam as Police Constable McTaggart
In the early 1970s, Christopher Lee was a Hammer Horror regular, best known for playing Count Dracula in a series of successful films, beginning with 1958's Dracula. Lee wanted to break free of this image and take on more interesting acting roles. He met with screenwriter Anthony Shaffer, and they agreed to work together. Film director Robin Hardy and British Lion head Peter Snell became involved in the project. Shaffer had a series of conversations with Hardy, and the two decided that it would be fun to make a horror film centring on "old religion", in sharp contrast to the popular Hammer films of the day.
Shaffer read the David Pinner novel Ritual, in which a devout Christian policeman is called to investigate what appears to be the ritual murder of a young girl in a rural village, and decided that it would serve well as the source material for the project. Pinner originally wrote Ritual as a film treatment for director Michael Winner, who had John Hurt in mind as a possible star. Winner eventually declined the project, so Pinner's agent convinced him to write Ritual as a novel instead. Shaffer and Lee paid Pinner £15,000 for the rights to the novel, and Schaffer set to work on the screenplay. However, he soon decided that a direct adaptation would not work well, and began to craft a new story, using only the basic outline of the novel.
Shaffer wanted the film to be "a little more literate" than the average horror picture. The focus of the film was crystallised when he "finally hit upon the abstract concept of sacrifice". The image of the wicker man, which gave the filmmakers their title, was taken from one sentence in Julius Caesar's account of his wars in what is now France. Caesar claimed that the local tribes there had executed their most serious criminals by burning them alive in a huge man-shaped sculpture of woven twigs; to Shaffer, this was "the most alarming and imposing image that [he had] ever seen". 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. One of their main resources was The Golden Bough, a study of mythology and religion written by Scottish anthropologist James Frazer.
Television actor Edward Woodward was cast in the role of Sergeant Neil Howie after the part was declined by both Michael York and David Hemmings. In Britain, Woodward was best known for the role of Callan, which he played from 1967 to 1972. After The Wicker Man, Woodward went on to receive international attention for his roles in the 1980 film Breaker Morant and the 1980s TV series The Equalizer.
Diane Cilento was lured out of semi-retirement after Shaffer saw her on the stage 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, 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. Christopher Lee was extremely keen to get the film made; he and others worked on the production without pay. 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. Some scenes were filmed in and around the Isle of Whithorn, where the owners of the castle, Elizabeth McAdam McLaughland and David Wheatley, plus several other local people featured in various scenes. 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, whereas Robin Hardy said in an interview that great care was taken to ensure that the animals were in no danger of being hurt during this scene and that they were not inside the Wicker Man when it was set on fire.
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 Nicolas Roeg's Performance. Memorable songs accompany many important scenes, such as the plane's arrival, Willow's dancing, the maypole dance, the girls jumping through fire, the search of the houses, the procession, 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". The band has also covered "Gently Johnny" as "Johnny" and is featured as a B-Side on their "Roll On" (1996) single. It also was covered by Faith and the Muse on their 2003 album ¨The Burning Season.
The songs on the soundtrack were not actual cult songs used by pagans. 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 mid-13th century song about nature in spring.
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.
A copy of a finished, 99-minute film 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.
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. 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, 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. 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. 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 were 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.
In June 2007, Christopher Lee discussed the lost original cut of the film. "I still believe it exists somewhere, in cans, with no name. I still believe that. But nobody's ever seen it since, so we couldn't re-cut it, re-edit it, which was what I wanted to do. It would have been ten times as good."
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, asserting that the film is "the Citizen Kane of horror movies" – an oft-quoted phrase attributed to this issue.
During 2003 the Crichton Campus of the University of Glasgow in Dumfries, Dumfries and Galloway hosted a three-day conference on The Wicker Man. The conference led to two collections of articles about the film.
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.
Decades after its release, the film still receives positive reviews from critics and is considered one of the best films of 1973. The film currently holds a 89% "Fresh" rating on the review aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes. In 2008, The Wicker Man was ranked by Empire Magazine as 485th of The 500 Greatest Movies of All Time.
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.
In 1989, Anthony Shaffer wrote a thirty-page film script treatment entitled The Loathsome Lambton Worm, a direct sequel to The Wicker Man, for producer Lance Reynolds. It would have been more fantastical in subject matter than the original film, and relied more heavily on special effects. In this continuation of the story, which begins immediately after the ending of the first film, Sergeant Neil Howie is rescued from the burning Wicker Man by a group of police officers from the mainland. Howie sets out to bring Lord Summerisle and his pagan followers to justice, but becomes embroiled in a series of challenges which pit the old gods against his own Christian faith. The script culminates in a climactic battle between Howie and a fire-breathing dragon – the titular Lambton Worm – and ends with a suicidal Howie plunging to his death from a cliff while tied to two large eagles. Shaffer's sequel was never produced, but his treatment, complete with illustrations, was eventually published in the companion book Inside The Wicker Man.
Robin Hardy was not asked to direct the sequel, and never read the script, as he did not like the idea of Howie surviving the sacrifice, or the fact that the actors would have aged by twenty to thirty years between the two films. In May 2010, Hardy discussed The Loathsome Lambton Worm. "I know Tony did write that, but I don't think anyone particularly liked it, or it would have been made."
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. After its release, Hardy simply described it as a different film rather than a remake. The remake was panned critically and was 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.
A stage adaptation was announced for the 2009 Edinburgh Festival Fringe, and was directed by Andrew Steggall. The production was based on Anthony Shaffer's original The Wicker Man script and David Pinner's novel Ritual. Robin Hardy gave input on the project, and original songs and music from the film were supervised by Gary Carpenter, the original music director. Workshop rehearsals were held at The Drill Hall in London in March 2008, and a casting call was held in Glasgow in May 2009. 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. However, in July 2009 it was announced that the production had been cancelled, three weeks before it had been due to preview.
The National Theatre of Scotland then produced a musical adaptation of The Wicker Man called An Appointment with the Wicker Man. Written by Greg Hemphill and Donald McCleary, the story involves a local community's attempt to stage a Wicker Man play.
In 2011, a spiritual sequel entitled The Wicker Tree was released. It was directed by Robin Hardy, and featured an appearance by Christopher Lee. Hardy first published the story as a novel, under the name Cowboys for Christ. 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.
Those involved in the production of the film have given conflicting statements regarding the identity of Christopher Lee's character, referred to only as "Old Gentleman" in the credits. Writer–director Robin Hardy has stated that the ambiguity was intentional, but that fans of The Wicker Man will immediately recognise Lee's character as Lord Summerisle. Lee himself has contradicted this, stating that the two are not meant to be the same character, and that The Wicker Tree is not a sequel in any way.
Possible graphic novel
As a former artist, Hardy has expressed great interest in the medium of comics, and is currently planning a graphic novel which retells the story of The Wicker Man, based on his own storyboards for the film. Hardy is in talks with yet unnamed artists to work on the project, as he finds it too difficult to make the characters look consistent from one panel to the next, and is busy producing and directing The Wrath of the Gods, the third instalment of The Wicker Man Trilogy. He intends the graphic novel and the new film to be released at the same time, in autumn 2013.
- The Wicker Man (2006) has a 15 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes: The Wicker Man (2006) – Ratings Rotten Tomatoes
- "The Wicker Man : Part 2". AnthonyShaffer.co.uk.
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- Hardy, Robin. "RM-051.mp3 (audio/mpeg Object)". Rue Morgue Radio. Retrieved 12 April 2012. "Well, it is very ambiguous. We don't really know who he is. He's an antecedent, of some kind, of Lachlan's. Lachlan remembers him, when he was a boy. There's a boy painting a bridge, and it may have been Lachlan as a young person. He's remembering this grandfather figure, or this great-grandfather figure – whatever – who the people who are fans of The Wicker Man and the wicker [inaudible], if you like, will of course immediately recognise as Summerisle. But we don't give him a name or anything. I think in the credits he's just called the old man."
- Lee, Christopher (27 December 2011). "Christopher Lee 2011 Christmas Message Part 1". Retrieved 11 April 2012. "The first one that I can think of is The Wicker Tree, in which I make a very brief appearance. I must emphasise this is not a sequel to The Wicker Man. In no way. And I do not play an older Summerisle, or his son, or whatever."
- Ashby, Devon (23 April 2012). "Paganism is in Christianity: Robin Hardy on 'The Wicker Tree'". CraveOnline. Retrieved 13 May 2012.
- Brown, Allan (2000). Inside the Wicker Man: The Morbid Ingenuities. Sidgwick & Jackson. ISBN 978-0-283-06355-8.
- Catterall, Ali; Simon Wells (2002). Your Face Here: British Cult Movies Since the Sixties. Fourth Estate. ISBN 978-0-00-714554-6.
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- The Wicker Man at the Internet Movie Database
- The Wicker Man at Rotten Tomatoes
- Information on the 2009 stage adaptation of the film