The Wicker Man is a 1973 British mystery 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 story was inspired by David Pinner's 1967 novel Ritual and centres on the visit of Police Sergeant Neil Howie to the isolated island of Summerisle, in search of a missing girl. Howie, a devout Christian, is appalled to find that the inhabitants of the island have abandoned Christianity and now practise a form of Celtic paganism.
The Wicker Man is generally well-regarded by critics and has achieved cult status among fans. Film magazine Cinefantastique described it as "The Citizen Kane of horror movies", and in 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. The burning Wicker Man scene was No.Â 45 on Bravo's 100 Scariest Movie Moments. During the 2012 Summer Olympics opening ceremony, the film was included as part of a sequence that celebrated British cinema. In 2013, a copy of the original U.S. theatrical version was digitally restored and released.
In 1989, Shaffer wrote a script treatment for The Loathsome Lambton Worm, a direct sequel with fantasy elements. 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 dissociated themselves. In 2011, a spiritual sequel entitled The Wicker Tree was released to mixed reviews. This film was also directed by Hardy, and featured 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 Howie journeys to the remote Hebridean island, Summerisle, to investigate the disappearance of a young girl, Rowan Morrison. Howie, a devout Christian, is disturbed to find the islanders paying homage to the pagan Celtic gods of their ancestors. They practice open copulation in the fields, include children as part of the May Day celebrations, teach children of the phallic association of the maypole, and place frogs in their mouths to cure sore throats. The Islanders, including Rowan's mother, attempt to thwart his investigation by claiming that Rowan never existed.
While staying at the Green Man Inn, Howie notices a series of photographs celebrating the annual harvest, each image featuring a young girl as the May Queen. The photograph of the latest celebration is suspiciously missing; the landlord tells him it was broken. The landlord's daughter, Willow, attempts to seduce Howie, but he refuses to have premarital sex.
After seeing Rowan's burial plot, Howie meets the island leader, Lord Summerisle, grandson of a Victorian agronomist. Lord Summerisle explains that his grandfather developed strains that would prosper in Scotland's climate, and encouraged the belief that old gods would use the new strains to deliver the islanders from a meager livelihood.
Howie finds the missing harvest photograph, showing Rowan standing amidst empty boxes. His research reveals that when there's a poor harvest, the islanders make a sacrifice to ensure that the next will be bountiful. He comes to the conclusion that Rowan is alive and has been chosen for sacrifice. During the May Day celebration, Howie knocks out and ties up the innkeeper so he can steal his costume (that of Punch, the fool) and infiltrate the parade. When it seems the villagers are about to sacrifice Rowan, he cuts her free and flees with her. They're intercepted by the islanders, to whom Rowan happily returns.
They reveal Rowan is not the sacrifice - Howie is. He fits their criteria: he came of his own free will, by representing The Law has "the power of a king", is a virgin, and is a fool. The villagers force him inside a giant wicker man statue, set it ablaze and surround it, singing the Middle English folk song "Sumer Is Icumen In." Inside the wicker man, a terrified Howie recites Psalm 23, and prays to God. He damns the islanders as the wicker man collapses in flames, revealing the setting sun.
In the early 1970s, the actor Christopher Lee was a Hammer Horror regular, best known for his roles in a series of successful films, beginning with The Curse of Frankenstein (as the monster, 1957). 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 centering on "old religion", in sharp contrast to the Hammer films they had both seen as horror film fans.
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 Â£15,000 for the rights to the novel, and Shaffer 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, and specifically wanted a story that did not use huge amounts of graphic violence and gore because he was tired of seeing horror films that relied almost entirely on viscera to be scary. 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. For Shaffer, this was "the most alarming and imposing image that I 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 Hardy, they conceived the film 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.
After Shaffer saw her on the stage, he lured Diane Cilento out of semi-retirement to play the town's schoolmistress. (They lived together in Queensland from 1975, and married in 1985.) 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 a body double was used for her naked scenes and her dialogue was later dubbed. She mimed Willow's Song which was sung by Scottish singer Annie Ross.
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, actually began filming in October 1972: artificial leaves and blossoms had to be glued to trees in many scenes. 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 amphibious aircraft that takes Sergeant Howie from the religious certainties of the mainland to the ancient beliefs of the island was a Thurston Teal, owned and flown in the aerial sequences by Christopher Murphy. 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.
The film's soundtrack often forms a major component of the narrative, just as with other important arthouse films of the era such as Donald Cammell and Nicolas Roeg's Performance. 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, according to Seamus Flannery in a subsequent documentary, director Robin Hardy surprised the cast by suddenly announcing midway through filming that they were making a "musical".
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 (2005). The song is also included on 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 Mock Turtles released a version of the song on their album Turtle Soup.
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 20Â 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 13Â 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 87Â 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 Alan 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 fiancÃ©e). 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 two-disc sets were made, of which 20 were signed by actors Lee and Woodward, writer Shaffer, producer Snell, and director Hardy.
In June 2007, 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."
European distributors of the film StudioCanal began a Facebook campaign in 2013 to find missing material, which culminated in the discovery of a 92-minute 35mm print at the Harvard Film Archive. This print had previously been known as the "Middle Version" and was itself assembled from a 35mm print of the original edit Robin Hardy had made in the United Kingdom in 1973, but which was never released. Robin Hardy believes that the original edit will probably never be found, saying, "Sadly, it seems as though this has been lost forever. However, I am delighted that a 1979 Abraxas print has been found as I also put together this cut myself, and it crucially restores the story order to that which I had originally intended."
Hardy reported in July 2013 that Studiocanal intended to restore and release the most complete version possible of the film. Rialto Pictures announced that they were to release the new digital restoration in North American cinemas on 27 September 2013. This new version was also released on DVD on 13 October 2013. It is 91 minutes long, shorter than the director's cut but longer than the theatrical cut, and is known as The Wicker Man: The Final Cut.
The Final Cut (UK) Blu-ray features Burnt Offering: The Cult of the Wicker Man, Worshipping The Wicker Man, The Music of The Wicker Man, interviews with director Robin Hardy and actor Christopher Lee, a restoration comparison, and the theatrical trailer. The second disc features both the UK theatrical cut and the director's cut, along with an audio commentary on the director's cut and a making-of for the commentary. The third disc is the film's soundtrack:
- Track listing
- Corn Rigs (2:37)
- The Landlord's Daughter (2:40)
- Gently Johnny (3:33)
- Maypole (2:46)
- Fire Leap (1:29)
- The Tinker of Rye (1:52)
- Willow's Song (4:43)
- Procession (2:17)
- Chop Chop (1:44)
- Lullaby (0:58)
- Festival / Mirie It Is / Summer is A-comen In (4:30)
- Opening Music / Loving Couples / The Ruined Church (4:17)
- Masks / Hobby Horse (1:25)
- Searching for Rowan (2:23)
- Appointment with the Wicker Man (1:18)
- Sunset (1:05)
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" â" an oft-quoted phrase attributed to this issue.
In 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.
In 2006, The Wicker Man ranked 45th on Bravo's 100 Scariest Movie Moments.
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 an 90% "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. Christopher Lee considers The Wicker Man his best film. Edward Woodward meanwhile has said that The Wicker Man is one of his favourite films and that the character of Howie was the best part he ever played. In addition to Lee's admiration of the final shot of the film (of the collapsing Wicker man), Woodward said that it is the best final shot of any film ever made.
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 subgenre he called "folk horror", grouping it with 1968's Witchfinder General and 1971's The Blood on Satan's Claw.
A novel based on and expanding upon the 1973 film, also titled The Wicker Man, was released in 1978. It was written by Hardy and Shaffer.
- Possible sequel
In 1989, 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 â" the titular Lambton Worm â" 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.
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."
An American remake of the same name, starring Nicolas Cage and Ellen Burstyn, and directed by Neil LaBute, was released on 1 September 2006. 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 brutalising various women throughout and terrorising children, a fan-made comedy trailer of the film, and more.
- Stage production
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.
- Spiritual sequel
In 2011, a spiritual sequel entitled The Wicker Tree was released. It was directed by Hardy and featured an appearance by Lee. Hardy first published the story as a novel, under the name Cowboys for Christ. First announced in April 2000, filming on the project began on 19Â 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. Writerâ"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 installment of The Wicker Man Trilogy. He intended the graphic novel and the new film to be released at the same time in autumn 2013; however as of autumn 2014 neither has been released.
- Brown, Allan (2000). Inside the Wicker Man: The Morbid Ingenuities. Sidgwick & Jackson. ISBNÂ 978-0-283-06355-8.Â
- Catterall, Ali; Simon Wells (2002). Your Face Here: British Cult Movies Since the Sixties. Fourth Estate. ISBNÂ 978-0-00-714554-6.Â
- The Wicker Man at the Internet Movie Database
- The Wicker Man at Rotten Tomatoes
- Information on the 2009 stage adaptation of the film
- Information about the Various Versions of The Wicker Man
- Trunk Records release information