We'll get to the 'final cut' business later but let's begin by going back all the way to 1973, and the film's inception, to try and understand just what writer Anthony Shaffer and director Robin Hardy put onto celluloid, how they captured those strange, elemental forces that ensured The Wicker Man's triumph over farcical adversity.
As Allan Brown ascribes: 'The triumph of The Wicker Man is not that it is an often silly film resolutely rooted in the barren sod of the early 1970s, and therefore dismissable as a period piece or curate's egg; the point is that despite being occasionally unintentionally comic, intermittently gauche and often over ambitious, The Wicker Man is possessed of some force, some voodoo that has lifted it from its humble origins.' (1)
Director Robin Hardy and writer Anthony Shaffer were indeed not strangers to each other prior to the birth of The Wicker Man. In the 1960s they'd run Hardy, Shaffer and Associates, a film and television commercials agency where Shaffer wrote the scripts and Hardy directed them. In 1969 Shaffer decided to leave the company to go solo as a writer, penning the screenplay for Mr Forbush And The Penguins, a co-production between EMI, British Lion and the National Film Finance Corporation which was eventually released in 1971.
At the same time, he wrote the celebrated play Sleuth which made its debut at Brighton Theatre Royal in January 1970, opened in the West End a month later and by November had conquered Broadway. As Sleuth's success was consolidated with Tony Awards and the play was adapted as a film, Hitchcock commissioned him for the screenplay of Frenzy (1972). As Frenzy went before the cameras in the summer and autumn of 1971, Shaffer's collaboration with Hardy on The Wicker Man was also taking shape.
Before Winner could buy the treatment, Pinner's literary agent Jonathan Clowes advised his client to turn the idea into a novel. Reasonably successful, the novel of Ritual was optioned for a film, first by actor David Warner and then by his fellow thespian John Hurt but, apart from the development of draft screenplays, the film version didn't ever materialise.
How Shaffer, actor Christopher Lee and producer Peter Snell acquired the rights to Ritual remains a bit murky. Clowes, still believing there was life in the property, apparently arranged a dinner with Shaffer and Christopher Lee at which, presumably Ritual was discussed.
Lee, who was already a friend of Shaffer's after he had shown an interest in filming Shaffer's play Play With A Gypsy, had certainly alerted the writer to his desire to move away from his Hammer roots. He was, according to Shaffer, wanting to make films 'without women who look like Barbara Windsor running up and down papier mâché corridors screaming, without the contact lenses and the snappers.' (2) Shaffer was therefore on the look out for a suitable property for Lee.
Lee also recalled he was asked by Shaffer to back the production of Ritual and he, producer Snell and Shaffer all contributed £5,000 each to buy the rights from Clowes and Pinner. Shaffer attempted to adapt the novel but struggled to make anything of the fragmented structure and stereotypical characters.
However, he did see the germ of an idea in the novel's use of ritual sacrifice and acknowledged the book may have inspired one scene in The Wicker Man featuring the seduction of Howie, the policeman sent to Summerisle to investigate the disappearance of Rowan Morrison, by the landlord's daughter Willow. Yet, Pinner continues to claim that The Wicker Man was a direct adaptation of Ritual. Shaffer put it succinctly, 'David Pinner certainly got a good deal: £15,000 for the use of one scene. If he says the premise of The Wicker Man is borrowed from his book, then he is mad.' (3)
Snell and Lee remained committed to Shaffer, now a bankable writer due to the huge success of Sleuth, and he wrote The Wicker Man screenplay in ten weeks. Shaffer also reunited with director Robin Hardy, his old partner at Hardy, Shaffer and Associates. Between the two of them they set out to fashion a tale that deliberately avoided the now worn out cliches of the Hammer horror cycle and the rather lurid black magic and occultism of the still popular Dennis Wheatley books.
They concentrated instead on the rituals and beliefs of the old pagan 'religion' that Shaffer had picked up on from Ritual. They researched Sir James Frazer's The Golden Bough, a wide-ranging, twelve-volume comparative study of mythology and religion which examined ancient fertility rites, human sacrifice, the dying god, the scapegoat and many other pagan and Druidic concepts, symbols and practices.
Hardy discussed this with Cinefantastique magazine in 1977: 'As to the pagan culture, everything you see in the film is absolutely authentic. The whole series of ceremonies and details that we show have happened at different times and places in Britain and Western Europe. The wicker man itself is quite real. The Druids used the structure to burn their sacrificial victims. Historically, the first mention of it is in Julius Caesar's Diaries, in 55 BC, when he noted that Roman prisoners of war were taken by the British tribes and burned as sacrifices. As far as that practice goes, sacrifice is common to every pagan religion in Europe.' (4)
'I read it and just adored it'(5)
Hardy maintains that his researches were used to decorate the plot, he then wrote this up in the form of a novel (later published in 1978) and then Shaffer fashioned the final screenplay from this draft. This differing view about the writing of the screenplay initiated the eventual estrangement between the two men.
By July 1972, Snell had become Head of Production at British Lion. British Lion, established in 1927, was a major producer and distributor of British films. During the period when it was managed by Alexander Korda it also acquired, with the benefit of a sizeable loan from National Film Finance Corporation, Shepperton Studios. Unable to pay the loan back, the company went into receivership and was rescued in 1958 by a cartel of leading British film makers including the Boulting brothers, Frank Launder and Sidney Gilliat, who joined its board as directors.
It remained independent of the other British producers and distributors Rank and ABC but the collapse of the British film industry in the late 1960s saw the company sold to Barclay Securities. Its chairman John Bentley saw financial worth in Shepperton and the land it was built on rather than in the immense back catalogue of classic films British Lion owned. He came under increasing pressure from the unions who feared that Bentley was simply going to asset strip the company and then force it to close down. They demanded he ensure production would continue on films at Shepperton to safeguard their jobs.
Bentley quickly promoted Snell to managing director. He secured a number of distribution deals, including one for Nicolas Roeg's Don't Look Now which would be the main feature on a double bill with The Wicker Man when it was eventually released 16 October 1973. Snell received Shaffer's script and he was immediately enthusiastic ('I read it and just adored it') and he proposed The Wicker Man when Bentley, under pressure to get a film into production as soon as possible to appease the unions, approached him to discuss British Lion's future slate.
Meanwhile, Shaffer and Hardy hedged their bets and set out to create a show reel using specially commissioned aerial footage of South Africa, used to supplement spectacular views of the Isle of Skye and the pinnacles of The Old Man of Storr and the Quiraing in the film's opening titles, and material shot at actor David Hemmings' home in Kent. This included sequences of pregnant women wandering through orchards of apple blossom and shots of the phallic topiary in Hemmings' garden. Many of these shots would also eventually be inserted into the finished film. Hemmings, like Michael York, turned down the part of Sergeant Howie, the devoutly Christian policeman sent to investigate a girl's disappearance from the remote Hebridean community of Summerisle.
Despite the hostility of the British Lion board to Snell's production of The Wicker Man, their chairman Bentley requested the film go into immediate production and committed to the proposed budget of £420,000. This created some rather interesting production challenges. Set on May Day, the beginning of summer, Snell and his cast, crew and director found themselves filming in Autumn in freezing, wet and windy locations in Dumfries and Galloway.
Summerisle's gardens were the Logan Botanical Gardens near Port Logan; Lochinch Castle and Castle Kennedy Gardens were used for Summerisle's estate and the interiors of Summerisle's home were shot at the Castle while the exteriors were filmed at Culzean Castle in Ayrshire. The climax of the film, Howie's capture and the burning of the titular edifice, was completed with two versions of the prop, put together by a six-man construction crew, in three separate locations at Burrowhead, a holiday farm caravan site.
Overseeing the transformation of an autumnal Dumfries and Galloway was production designer Seamus Flannery whose relationship with Robin Hardy was rather fractious. Flannery scouted the locations with Hardy and production manager Ted Morley and then carried out pre-production before an eight-week filming schedule that ran from the 5 October to 24 November 1972. As well as the construction of the wicker man itself, he and his team built the circle of standing stones seen in Summerisle's estate and provided forty-two plastic apple blossom trees and fake blossoms which were recycled around various wintry locations, including Howie's arrival via pony and trap at Castle Summerisle.
Casting for the film was, suffice to say when it came to The Wicker Man's production, not exactly a run-of-the mill endeavour. Christopher Lee was clearly a shoe-in for Lord Summerisle but there was some difficulty finding a suitable leading man for the role of Sergeant Howie. When David Hemmings and Michael York proved unavailable, Hardy and Snell offered the role to Edward Woodward, then a household name on the back of his superb work in Callan (ABC, 1967-69 / Thames, 1970-72). Woodward was delighted to accept, particularly because he was impressed with Shaffer's remarkable script.
The casting of Britt Ekland as Willow the landlord's daughter and Ingrid Pitt as the librarian certainly raised Shaffer's eyebrows. He felt Ekland, although very photogenic, didn't have the acting chops, and that Pitt was too associated with the Hammer horror films of the period which he was intentionally veering away from with his script. It later transpired that Pitt's casting was a possible attempt to curry favour with the Rank Organisation, which owned the Odeon cinema chain, as she was in a relationship with its head of exhibition George Pinches. There was speculation that Pitt's brief affair with producer Peter Snell during the making of the film may have soured Rank's attitude toward The Wicker Man. Hence their eventual refusal to book it for the Odeon chain. (6)
'the most dismal place in creation'
However, Ekland did not endear herself to the locals of Newton Stewart after declaring it to be, in a Sunday Express interview, 'the most dismal place in creation... one of the bleakest places I've been to in my life.' (7) She was unhappy, convinced she wasn't the first choice for the film and claimed Pitt, who was now getting rather cosy with producer Peter Snell, was originally chosen to play Willow. Hardy, in the disc's commentary, doesn't believe her entire performance was dubbed by Ross.
Supplementing their casting was the presence of Diane Cilento as the school mistress Miss Rose. Cilento, the former Mrs Sean Connery, had semi-retired from acting to pursue a 'spiritual education' but Shaffer was keen to cast her, recalling her performance on the London stage in Big Night, and visited her farm in Malmesbury to persuade her to accept the role.
After quaffing damson wine with her in an empty farmhouse, he was informed she was interested in the part and promised to discuss the role and the script when filming began in Scotland. Shaffer eventually married her after their relationship developed on the set of the film and he moved with her to Queensland.
Joining Woodward, Lee, Cilento, Ekland and Pitt was legendary mime and performer Lindsay Kemp, then reknowned for his work with the young David Bowie, as the rather strange landlord MacGregor. Apparently the audition was the only part of the film he remembered doing as he spent most of the shoot in a state of inebriation. As a 'gay English ballet dancer' he found the challenge of playing 'an obese Scottish heterosexual landlord' rather exciting. (8)
The stories about the filming of The Wicker Man have become folklore in their own right. Director Hardy didn't particularly hit it off with cinematographer Harry Waxman, who was hired because of certain conditions imposed by the National Film Finance Corporation where they felt there was a need for a first time director like Hardy to have expert technical support. Hardy and Waxman never really agreed over the script and the shoot and Hardy recalled that he attempted to fire his cinematographer on at least two occasions.
Actors struggled to keep warm and then had to suck ice cubes before a take to prevent their breath from being seen in the film's supposedly warm setting of May; Woodward warmed his bare feet on Ingrid Pitt's thighs before each take of the film's climactic sacrifice; he also broke a toe during the filming of Howie's demise and, frozen nearly to death, welcomed the warmth of goat's pee from the nervous animal incarcerated above him in Flannery's wicker man prop. Ekland discovered she was two months pregnant and refused to allow her 'ski slope' of an arse to be seen on camera during the erotic dance sequence featuring Willow. Depending on who you believe, either a night club stripper, a go-go dancer or an extra working in a local hotel provided the bum coverage and Ekland either knew about it or didn't.
The stories of its production pale into insignificance compared to the post-production hell the film descended into. British Lion was sold to EMI just as Hardy and his editor Eric Boyd-Perkins were starting their three months of editing and the sale saw two new executives joining the board, Michael Deeley and Barry Spikings. Snell was told in March 1973 he was surplus to requirement and would eventually be replaced. Deeley, now head of production, took over the films currently nearing completion under Snell's brief tenure, including Don't Look Now and The Wicker Man. The latter, even after it was edited and completed, proved a difficult sell for Deeley and it languished, unreleased and unloved by the new executives.
Christopher Lee claims Deeley told him, after he'd been to a screening at British Lion, it 'was one of the ten worst films' he had ever seen. Lee also attests that many scenes they had filmed were not present in the edit he had seen and this seems to correlate to Hardy's original cut of the film, where the mainland scenes, some of the songs and longer scenes featuring Lee were reduced or cut entirely. Snell, still working out his contract with EMI, generated some much-needed publicity for the film at Cannes, using the smaller wicker man prop to promote it, and was rewarded with interest from Roger Corman who believed he could sell and distribute the film in the US.
Lee rang critics and reviewers and begged them to see the film...
Under instructions from Deeley, Boyd-Perkins compressed the story's time span, with various events shifted around and scenes cut. Out went Ash Buchanan's induction, an entire song 'Gently Johnny', Howie and Willow's morning meeting, and various bits and pieces of Howie's investigation and final sacrifice. In this state it was then paired with Don't Look Now for the UK market. Lee, always a champion of the film, rang critics and reviewers and begged them to see the film when it finally was granted a release in October 1973.
The Corman deal didn't materialise as British Lion were eager to recoup more of their £448,000 investment and they felt his offer of $50,000 could be bettered. A tax sheltering business Beachhead Properties was then sold the rights on the proviso they would find a US distributor for the film after investing $150,000 of their own money.
National General, said distribution company, signed a deal with Beachhead and British Lion worth six times the offer from Corman. Four days later National General went bankrupt and The Wicker Man's US distribution was picked up by Warner Brothers. After a disastrous run in drive-ins, the film was quickly and quietly shelved.
It was TV presenter and film fan Stirling Smith and critic John Simon of Louisiana's Abraxas Films who spearheaded the revival of The Wicker Man in 1976. Coincidentally, director Robin Hardy was also looking into the film's tortured distribution in the US and had tried to track down the company which now owned it with a view to reinstating the material excised from his original cut. Unknown to him, Warner had sold the distribution rights to Abraxas for $20,000. After Hardy contacted and discussed the film with Abraxas and explained how it had been edited down from its original cut, the search began for the longer 102 minute version of the film in order to fully restore it for Abraxas' planned re-release.
With the film in a reduced form and unlike what he and Anthony Shaffer had originally planned, Hardy contacted Peter Snell, Lee and Shaffer in London and all four began an attempt to find a copy of the original cut in order to restore the film in collaboration with Abraxas. After much searching, Stirling Smith tracked a print of the 102 minute version back to Corman's New World Pictures, held in their vault after it was provided by British Lion during their negotiations over distribution.
Working from this print, Hardy and Abraxas wanted to complete a full restoration of his longer cut from the original footage held in 368 cans of unedited negative held by EMI. The problem was neither EMI nor Peter Snell could find those cans. According to Spikings the negative was burnt during a regular spell of housekeeping in the vaults when old film trims were disposed of. When Abraxas considered suing British Lion for access to the negative, Spikings' story changed again to accommodate the now infamous tale of The Wicker Man's negative providing the landfill for the foundations of the M3 motorway. (9)
Hardy and Abraxas had no option but to dupe a negative from the 102 minute positive print held by Corman. From this they fashioned what is now known as the 94 minute middle version or 'the final cut', reinstating some of the scenes from the longer version and this is presented on StudioCanal's new Blu-Ray and DVD release. The US re-release in 1977 was then controlled through a partnership between Abraxas and a company formed by Ron Weinberg, called Summerisle. Essentially, Weinberg complicated matters by selling the film rights and Abraxas's control of it to other companies. A chain of sub-leasing agreements now existed between him, Abraxas, Beachhead and British Lion as the film started its re-release schedule.
... a musical, a comedy, a mystery and a game
The film's reputation, after the short-lived success of its Stateside re-release, began to grow and the producers of the first season of BBC's Moviedrome attempted to track down the 102 minute version for a television screening in 1988. The version they eventually transmitted was an NTSC copy of the middle version, the longest version seen in the UK at that point.
A 99 minute version, complete with the opening mainland scenes, did surface on home video in the US as part of Abraxas' deal with Media Home Entertainment and later, in 2001, a joint effort between Anchor Bay and StudioCanal was able to restore a one-inch NTSC video tape of this version and it was used to create a 'director's cut' for their DVD releases.
In July 2013, during their much publicised search for the missing materials for the film's 40th Anniversary, StudioCanal announced they had recovered a print, donated by a private collector to the Harvard film archive, of the middle version which had played during Abraxas' US re-release at the end of the 1970s.
Despite the struggles during production, despite the deterioration of the relationship between Hardy and his crew, particularly with Shaffer, Flannery and Waxman, and despite British Lion's antipathy towards the finished product, The Wicker Man endured. It received very mixed reviews on original release and only a slightly more positive reception during its brief US re-release. Yet, there was something about the film that cast a spell over those that saw it and which has since helped seal its reputation.
Hardy's direction is workmanlike but Waxman's cinematography is quietly triumphant, climaxing in that one chance in a million shot of the wicker man's burning head crumbling before the setting sun. It's a peculiar cast. Lee is clearly relieved to have thrown off the shackles of Hammer and Woodward is totally committed, extremely convincing as Howie. Yet, we have Lindsay Kemp offering a camp, eye-rolling performance as the landlord MacGregor and Aubrey Morris simply being the eccentric Aubrey Morris of nearly every film he's ever appeared in.
Somehow the clashing thematic elements, the brilliant and disjointed performances, the unintentional humour, the lascivious delight in eschewing the fantastical, supernatural elements of the worn out Hammer horror cliches and, most importantly of all, the resonant score by Paul Giovanni, combine to present the oddest of viewing experiences. It's a musical, a comedy, a mystery and a game but the ending, as Howie discovers he is the hunted one and must die a martyr's death, is devastatingly powerful. It significantly alters the mood of the film and Shaffer's intellectual consideration of religion, authority and power sears through the critical mass of surrealism and symbolism the film has achieved as it heads towards the fiery conclusion.
Justin Smith sums up the film's attraction: 'There are many self-conscious elements in the narrative that seem at first to jar, but (particularly on repeated viewing) have a resonance that propels them into cult appeal. These manifest themselves in several ways: symbolic reference, acting styles and body language, the use of music and the juxtaposition of certain camera shots. But together they conjure a sort of dissonance which might be termed the spirit of play.' (10)
While it isn't really a horror film at all, The Wicker Man does develop the folk-horror tropes of previous British genre films Witchfinder General (1968) and Blood on Satan's Claw (1971) both of which relied heavily on landscape for their primal power. The Wicker Man's depiction of the pagan ritual sacrifice of 'the king for a day' to propitiate crops and orchards can be traced back to other film and television texts, such as the contemporary unease of both J. Lee Thompson's Eye of the Devil (1966) and 'Robin Redbreast', the disturbing Play for Today by John Bowen transmitted in 1970.
Peter Hutchings sees this connection between the land and its people as central to the creation of national identity. Landscape in the folk-horror cinema of the 1970s 'might best be thought of as the British anti-landscape, the landscape that provocatively throws into question the very idea of the human/national subject as the owner of landscape, as a figure in that landscape, or as an observer of it.' (11)
The Wicker Man begins with a modernist setting (the arrival of the sea plane opens the original theatrical version and the 'final cut' and scenes on the mainland feature in the 'director's cut') and then has the central character of the policeman Howie, a contemporary representative of democracy, gradually fall victim to the Summerisle landscape. His subjectivity and authority is eroded by the almost dreamlike environs inhabited by the island's anarchist-Celtic-Druidic traditionalists.
Specifically, in Summerisle modernism and Christian belief is challenged by 'the old religion' and its investment in the birth-death-regeneration cycles of the natural world. However, these old beliefs are actually embedded in a vision of Scotland as a 'potentially treacherous location where a more primitive attitude to life and death persists and duplicity and double-cross are deadly commonplaces against which the unwitting outsider must guard.' (12) In The Wicker Man the outsider is the prejudiced mainland traveller having their first encounter with the supernaturally charged landscape of the Highlands and the local rituals attached to it.
Tanya Kryswinska notes of The Wicker Man and other folk-horror films that the 'sacred landscapes of ancient Britain have become entrenched in the popular imagination under the seductive sign of 'transgression' - the landscapes and spaces of Summerisle are cluttered with fertility symbols such as the maypole, are danced upon by hobby horses, fools and transvestite king figures - and 'Prehistory, with its connection to the primitive, acts as literal and metaphoric terrain for conjuring up buried histories, identities and narratives that have been, or are imagined to be, suppressed by 'civilisation' or the dominant order.' (13)
Overlapping onto the Christian/pagan and English/Scottish binaries is an even older expression of Celtic and Druidic identities. Nuada, Summerisle's god of the sun, is one of many Celtic deities. The veneration of trees and animals and the importance of the hunt in the film (Howie's search for the missing Rowan and the use of her as scapegoat so the islanders can trap him) underline the importance they had in Celtic culture and ritual.
Hardy's film is clearly contemporary and yet otherworldly. It is a twentieth century copper alighting from his sea plane in the harbour of Summerisle and not Matthew Hopkins terrorising the village of Lavenham. May Morrison's shop stocks recognisable stationery goods from the period as well as symbolic chocolate hares and John Barleycorn cakes and bread. Each of the folk-horror films in this cycle emerged during a period of great social upheaval and transformation, roughly a decade spanning 1968 to 1978. Not only were the films reflective of political and social changes but they also questioned religious dogma, providing a reaction to the alternative philosophies and the mainstreaming of occultism being favoured over the decline of traditional church-going.
'songs encourage the listener to view sex in the film as both a pleasurable and almost mystical act'
Benjamin Franks sees this as a dichotomy 'between legal-rational legitimacy associated with modern capitalism, as represented by Sergeant Howie, and authoritarian traditional authority infused with charismatic leadership as represented by Lord Summerisle.' (14) An intriguing aspect of Summerisle's leadership, as Franks has pointed out, is that it is based on a capitalist solution to cultivation on the island, using a reconstitution of the Celtic belief system in order to propagate the fields.
To substantiate these interpretations, the film is bursting at the seams with visual symbolism. The 'final cut' restores a number of scenes that underline Summerisle's veneration of the animal kingdom and the pagan rituals of procreation. A key scene is the sexual induction of a young teenage boy, Ash Buchanan, offered up to the landlord's daughter, Willow, by the Lord as a god-fearing, sexually repressed Howie looks on. It is also one instance of the transgressive sexual play in the film where both male and female power is expressed in specific scenes, camera shots and musical themes.
As Justin Smith observes, this early scene, also teased with Howie's outright disgust at the fornicating couples that litter his walk back to the The Green Man pub (a shimmering, sensual sequence shot in slow motion), contrasts very directly with the end of the film as Howie's 'final "sacrifice" in the cage of the Wicker Man's abdomen should symbolise a return to the womb for this man who has, on religious principle, thwarted his own entry into the phallic community.' (15) Smith makes an interesting observation that Howie dies in the womb of a male figure and this resonates with the film's themes about sexuality and repression and whether these matters would indeed be of any concern in Howie's concept of the afterlife.
Finally, Paul Giovanni's music is integral to the articulation of these themes. Folk songs litter the soundtrack, some specially written for the film and some renditions of old popular tunes, including 'Sumer Is Icumen In', an English round that dates back to approximately 1240, and the soundtrack appropriately reflects the folk revival of the 1970s. American theatre director and playwright Giovanni's compositions also trace Scottish folk and the influence of Burns is clear on the opening song 'Corn Rigs and Barley Rigs' which is full of the sexual innuendo that permeates the film.
Other songs, 'The Landlord's Daughter' and 'Gently Johnny', redolent with sexual imagery, 'encourage the listener to view sex in the film as both a pleasurable and almost mystical act in contrast to Howie's belief that it should be saved for after marriage and according to the dictates of the church.' (16) Rob Young sees this rural music inextricably fused into the film, colouring its moral centre and highlighting the very nature of the island and its occupants by 'couching flagrant eroticism and nature worship in cotton-lined, hypnotic acoustic folk.' (17)
This reaches its apotheosis in the final sacrifice as music symbolises the conflict between the two beliefs in the film as Howie attempts to drown out the islanders cheery 'Sumer Is Icumen In' with his rendition of 'The Lord is My Shepherd' as he burns to death. It is a fitting end to a film which, through its music and visual symbolism, weaves a path between the sacred and the profane, innocence and experience, the archaic and the modern. Ambiguous to the last, The Wicker Man continues to ask questions about our beliefs in an increasingly secular age.
(1) Allan Brown, Inside The Wicker Man: How Not To Make A Cult Classic
(4) Interview with David Bartholomew, 'The Wicker Man' in Cinefantastique Vol 6 No 3, 1977.
(5) Allan Brown, Inside The Wicker Man: How Not To Make A Cult Classic
(6) Steve Phillips, The Various Versions of The Wicker Man, 1995-2013
(8) Allan Brown, Inside The Wicker Man: How Not To Make A Cult Classic
(10) Justin Smith 'The Wicker Man' in Fifty Key British Films edited by John White
(11) Peter Hutchings, Uncanny Landscapes in British Film and Television in Visual Culture in Britain, 5:2, Winter 2004
(12) David Martin-Jones, Scotland: Global Cinema: Genre, Modes and Identities
(13) Tanya Krzywinska 'British pagan landscapes in popular cinema' in Cinematic Countrysides, edited by Robert Fish.
(14) Benjamin Franks 'Demotic Possession: The hierarchic and anarchic in The Wicker Man' in Constructing "The Wicker Man": Film and Cultural studies perspectives
(15) Justin Smith 'The Wicker Man' in Fifty Key British Films edited by John White
(16) Melvyn J. Willin, Music, Witchcraft and the Paranormal
(17) Rob Young, Electric Eden: Unearthing Britain's Visionary Music
A 35mm release print was found at Harvard Film Archives which director Robin Hardy confirmed is the cut he had put together with distributors Abraxas in 1979 for the US release. This was scanned at 4k and used to create the first ever full digital restoration of the film, with Robin Hardy's guidance.
The 'final cut' is clearly a mixture of this scanned 35mm positive and a fully restored theatrical version as the picture quality certainly degrades when the scenes from the 1979 print appear. They appear as contrast boosted, grainier and with slightly washed out colour compared to the richness of the rest of the film. A good comparison is the opening scene on the mainland as Howie attends church which Hardy later flashes back to in the film where the flashback is from the UK theatrical version.
Fortunately the majority of the running time boasts good colour, particularly vibrant reds and greens, beautiful blue skies, well rendered flesh tones, appropriate grain and good detail in faces, costumes and landscapes. Contrast and grain fluctuate now and then, with a lack of deep blacks often evident, but overall this is a warm looking, well detailed, rich image. The UK theatrical cut is similarly very eye catching but the 'director's cut' is not presented in HD and would appear to be SD on the evidence of a much softer, slightly smeary picture presentation. The mono sound stage is free of hiss and other anomalies and presents dialogue clearly and is especially good reproducing Giovanni's exuberant and dreamy score.
Disc 1: The Final Cut
Burnt Offering: The Cult of The Wicker Man (48:19)
Mark Kermode's December 2001 Channel 4 documentary about the making and post-production history of the film which covers the origins of Shaffer's screenplay in Pinner's novel Ritual, the locations, the casting and filming of The Wicker Man. It also unearths the film's fate at the hands of British Lion's Michael Deeley and Barry Spikings and reflects upon its enduring cult reputation.
Interviewees include actors Christopher Lee, Edward Woodward, Britt Ekland and Ingrid Pitt, writer Anthony Shaffer, director Robin Hardy, producer Peter Snell, Ritual author David Pinner, production designer Seamus Flannery, production assistant Jake Wright, editor Eric Boyd-Perkins and ex-manager of British Lion, Michael Deeley. Roger Corman offers his views on the film's potential market at the time and his suggestions for cuts and John Simon, of Abraxas, provides some background to the film's US revival.
Worshipping The Wicker Man (22:37)
A new featurette that looks at the unique impact of the film today with a number of directors and academics. Here we have the director of The Woman in Black, James Watkins, director Ben Wheatley (Kill List, Sightseers and A Field in England), producer Eli Roth, critics Frances Morgan and Larushka Ivan-Zadeh, and editor of IGN Chris Tilly discussing the film's themes, characters, gender politics and music.
The Music of The Wicker Man (15:22)
Another new featurette. Associate musical director Gary Carpenter talks about his involvement with the creation of Paul Giovanni's highly-regarded score and how the songs and music were composed and recorded. He and Jonny Trunk also relate the history of the score's restoration and the releases onto CD and vinyl.
Interview with Robin Hardy (16:18)
In this new interview the director talks about the genesis of the film with Anthony Shaffer and the various elements of the story, including its pagan symbolism and the game of the hunter and hunted. He recalls their own predilection for games and practical jokes over their 12 year relationship. He also discusses the casting of Lee, Woodward, Ekland and Pitt.
Interview with Christopher Lee and Robin Hardy (24:50)
Critic's Choice interview from 1979 with Lee and Hardy. Critic Stirling Smith, who would be instrumental in supporting the Abraxas US re-release of the film in the late 1970s, chats to them about the film, its conception and production. Previously released on the 2002 DVD.
Restoration comparison (01:53)
Brief 'before' and 'after' split screen comparison of the repair and grading applied to the material from the Abraxas cut of the film and its original theatrical print.
The 2013 'Final Cut' re-release trailer and the British Lion 1973 theatrical trailer.
Disc 2: UK Theatrical Cut and Director's Cut
Director's Cut Audio Commentary
Featuring Christopher Lee, Edward Woodward and director Robin Hardy, this was recorded in December 2001 for the 2002 StudioCanal DVD release and was moderated by Mark Kermode. It's an excellent chat with the principals of the film, offering much anecdotal information about the production and the film's chequered history.
Making of the Audio Commentary (15:52)
A brief look behind the scenes in the studio as Kermode, Lee, Woodward and Hardy recorded the commentary in 2001. Essentially a video recording of several sections of their commentary, it's great to see the late Edward Woodward chatting with Lee and Hardy.
Disc 3: Original Soundtrack
Silva Screen's 2002 release of the Giovanni score restored from the masters held by Paul Carpenter. From Silva Screen's website: "Believed for years to be lost, destroyed or even buried deep beneath a motorway, this disc contains Paul Giovanni’s original music to The Wicker Man. These historic recordings had, up until then, only been heard by a select few.
The first 8 tracks are the stereo masters which would have been the soundtrack to The Wicker Man that Paul Giovanni originally intended for album release, which ultimately never happened because of the film’s troubled history. The following three tracks were recorded for the film and used for playback purposes on set but only exist in mono versions. These have been digitally restored and enhanced for CD release. The balance of the tracks have been compiled from various sources (with occasional sound effects) and present elements of the background score to the film to give a more complete representation of this unique score."
The Wicker Man
StudioCanal / Catalogue Number: OPTBD1575 / Released 14 October 2013 / Region B Blu-ray / Region 2 DVD / Feature aspect ratio: 1.85:1 / Colour / Audio 2.0 Mono LPCM / Optional English SDH subtitles / Feature Running Time: The Final Cut - 94mins, UK Theatrical Cut - 88mins and Director's Cut - 99mins