The Wicker Man (1973) – Film Review
Director: Robin Hardy
Cast: Edward Woodward, Christopher Lee, Diane Cilento
By Sarah Morgan
“It is time to keep your appointment with the Wicker Man…”
With those words – said in his inimitable fear-inducing manner – Christopher Lee turns one of the finest films of the 1970s on its head.
Before that happens, he’s the affable Lord Summerisle, a welcoming, friendly figure whose apparently laidback, pagan beliefs baffle Sergeant Howie (Edward Woodward), a devout Christian police officer – and a bit of a bore – sent to the remote Summerisle off the Scottish coast to investigate an anonymous report of a missing child. Rowan Morrison disappeared some time ago and one person at least is beginning to worry.
However, on his arrival, Howie discovers the local population are more interested in singing bawdy songs and frolicking naked in the sunshine than they are about wee Rowan.
Temptations and red herrings (or should that be hares?) are thrown in the strait-laced copper’s way until the true meaning of his trip to what he regards as a god-forsaken place is finally revealed.
Up until that point, Howie, thanks to his dour nature, is assumed to be the villain of the piece, keen to put an end to the locals’ fun-loving ways. But by the time the final credits roll, most people’s minds will have changed about that.
Those who have seen the film find it difficult to discuss it without giving away the plot – so apologies if I’ve spoiled anything for anybody. It’s just that even now, having watched it many times over the past 30 years or so, I still find the finale utterly jaw-dropping and can’t help trying to tempt others to watch.
I’m not the only one who continues to be bowled over by The Wicker Man. It has a cult following around the world, which is in stark contrast to its reception on its original release in 1973 – production company British Lion didn’t know what to do with it. According to Lee, they literally wanted it buried – rumour has it that deleted scenes were thrown out, eventually becoming landfill used beneath the M3.
The original cut ran for just 87 minutes so it could be shown as the bottom half of a double-bill with Don’t Look Now (and what an amazing double-bill that must have been!). Some of the deletions have since been reinstated, and although it’s interesting to see them, they don’t really add that much to the story.
Thankfully, both the short and slightly longer versions of the film are available on StudioCanal Vintage Classics’ superlative Blu-ray release, which also includes various documentaries featuring testimony from the cast and crew, including Lee, Woodward, Ingrid Pitt and writer Anthony Shaffer, whose other major work of note is the play Sleuth.
Also discussing the production is Robin Hardy who, regrettably, only directed two more movies – 1986’s The Fantasist and The Wicker Tree, a sequel of sorts to his most famous work.
The third disc in the set contains Paul Giovanni’s stunning soundtrack and is worth the price alone.
If you’ve never seen the movie, then before watching it, it might be best to abide by more words from Lord Summerisle: “Do sit down… shocks are so much better absorbed with the knees bent.”
● New Worshipping the Wicker Man – Famous Fans featurette including interviews with Ben Wheatley, James Watkins and Eli Roth
● New Interview with Robin Hardy (new)
● New Featurette on the Cult of the Soundtrack
● New The Wicker Man: 40 years on Featurette
● New Restoration comparison
● The Final Cut
● UK Theatrical Cut
● The Director’s Cut (seamless branching on BD only)
● Audio Commentary
● Making of the Audio Commentary
● Burnt Offering: The Cult of The Wicker Man, written by Mark Kermode
● Interview with Christopher Lee & Robin Hardy (1979)
● Original Soundtrack
● New Trailer
● Original Trailer
● English SDH
The Wicker Man is released on Blu-ray by Vintage Classics by Studiocanal