The Wicker Man (1973) The Final Cut
The Wicker Man (1973) The Final Cut is a new edition of the classic British horror movie, which is currently being screened at select cinemas, as well as receiving an extensive DVD and Blu-ray release on October 14th.
After receiving reports pertaining to the disappearance of a young girl named Rowan Morrison (Geraldine Cowper), Police Sergeant Howie (Edward Woodward) travels to the isolated and closely knit community of Summerisle, off the coast of Scotland. He is met with initial suspicion, and it soon transpires that the citizens of the town are subjects to the enigmatic Lord Summerisle (Christopher Lee). Howie begins to suspect foul play with regard to the missing girl, especially when faced with a collective denial of her very existence. A devout and wholly religious individual, he is tested in terms of his chastity by a barman’s daughter named Willow (Britt Ekland), and has his very belief structure challenged by the manner in which the locals live and worship.
The puritanical and perpetually affronted Howie becomes ever more frantic as he attempts to unravel the mysteries of Summerisle. As he uncovers more information about the events which are unfolding, he begins to piece together a terrifying picture of a society which he deems not only immoral, but against the God which he holds so dear.
The Wicker Man was a breakaway British horror film which utilised its pagan source material to create a cat and mouse thriller which builds towards one of the most startling and unbelievable climaxes in film history; genre or otherwise. Lee and Woodward deliver the defining performances of their careers (Lee has gone on record several times to state that this is one of his favourite roles), and the overall atmosphere of the feature is greatly enhanced by an intricate pattern of folk songs and original music by Paul Giovanni. It is an intelligent, challenging and provocative film which suffered from initial distribution problems, as well as unauthorised re-cuts and poor publicity.
British Lion originally released The Wicker Man as a double bill with Nicholas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now in 1973. Trouble with acquiring distributors led to the film being drastically shortened, with many of the lengthy scenes of contextualisation, character development and story arcs. This enraged Lee, who personally invited critics to come and see the film, for it was not even given its own press screening. There had been a managerial shift within British Lion at the time, and this was a factor which has been attested to the mistreatment of the film upon its release.
Hardy was working with the playwright and screenwriter Anthony Shaffer, who was best known for creating suspenseful, intellectual puzzles such as his play, Sleuth (later turned into a movie starring Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine in 1972), and they wanted to make the ‘ultimate game’, which is what The Wicker Man became. Peppering the story with a succession of elaborate clues, they teased and enticed the audience into making judgements and assumptions of what was going on beneath the surface of the missing persons case. Hardy was a fan and an advocate of British horror, recognising the religious and societal metaphors which permeated the genre offerings from English shores. This was something which he wanted to expand upon within his feature, and which he certainly managed in achieving with great success.
Christopher Lee came into the equation by means of Anthony Shaffer, for the pair knew each other well. Hardy was familiar with Woodward (a prominent television and theatre actor), but had originally considered Michael York (Logan’s Run) for the role. Ekland was brought in by the producer Peter Snell, and in addition to this, Hammer stalwart Ingrid Pitt was cast as the Librarian of Summerisle. Filming took place on location in November and December, despite the film being set in May. This meant that the scenes of girls frolicking naked amongst the gardens of Lord Summerisle’s house were a gruelling and challenging affair for all involved (except maybe those behind the cameras). Blossoms had to be attached to trees, and ice placed in the mouths of the extras to avoid clouds of icy breath making it on screen.
All logistical difficulties aside, the shoot went well. Hardy made use of the original musicians who played on the soundtrack, placing them within the film to add a further degree of authenticity. Woodward wore a police uniform which was a size too small for him, creating a physical rigidity which complimented his stifled, upstanding persona. His repulsion at the way in which the locals are educated, how they fornicate and exist in such a godless manner is as captivating as the central mystery of the story. Like a good detective novel, it creates exposition where necessary and balances this alongside surreal and magical scenes, such as when Willow attempts to seduce Howie from her bedroom, gyrating and thrashing against the wall.
The most recent release of The Wicker Man is the StudioCanal edition of ‘The Final Cut’, which is also being given a limited theatrical release. This recut follows an extensive international search for a lost print of the film, which would have allowed Hardy to construct his original vision of the movie. What was discovered was an Abraxas cut of the movie, which was discovered in the Harvard Film Archives. This has been scanned and restored, and a new version of the film made, with Hardy wryly commenting that; ‘It (the Abraxas cut) crucially restores the story order which I had originally intended. This version of The Wicker Man will (optimistically) be known as The Final Cut’
Fans of The Director’s Cut will not be disappointed, for it is also included on the 3 disc Blu-ray or 4 disc DVD set, as is the UK theatrical cut (the former coming with full commentary from Mark Kermode, Robin Hardy, Christopher Lee and Edward Woodward). Kermode’s 2001 documentary; Burnt Offering: The Cult of the Wicker Man is also included. There are new and exclusive interviews with Hardy, as well as extensive featurettes on the music of the film, as well as testimonials from the likes of Ben Wheatley (A Field In England), James Watkins (The Woman In Black) and Eli Roth (Hostel). A full copy of the soundtrack is also included.
All of this serves as a completists’ dream, with a definitive collection of versions allowing for subsequent comparison, analysis and interpretation. The release also provides cinemagoers with the unmissable opportunity of experiencing the glory of The Wicker Man on the big screen. A fine release which contains a veritable treasure trove of delights, just be careful you don’t get too sucked in, for once you visit Summerisle, you may never leave.
The Wicker Man: The Final Cut is available on DVD and Blu-ray from October 14th
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