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Director: Robin Hardy
Cast: Edward Woodward, Christopher Lee, Britt Ekland, Diane Cilento, Ingrid Pitt
Length: Final Cut 93 min; UK Theatrical Cut: 88 min; Director’s Cut: 100 min
Rating: BBFC: 15
Release Date: Oct 14th, 2013
Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Audio: English: LPCM Mono 2.0
Subtitles: English SDH
Blu-ray Disc 1
- The Final Cut
- Burnt Offering: The Cult of The Wicker Man documentary by Mark Kermode
- Worshiping The Wicker Man – Famous fans featurette
- The Music of The Wicker Man featurette
- Interview with Robin Hardy
- Interview with Christopher Lee & Robin Hardy on the New Orleans TV show “Critic’s Choice” (1979)
- Restoration comparison
Blu-ray Disc 2
- UK Theatrical Cut
- Directors Cut (with 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.
- Making of Audio Commentary short film – A brief look behind the scenes in the studio as moderator Mark 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.
Blu-ray Disc 3
Forty years have passed since The Wicker Man was released in North America as the second feature of a drive-in double-bill. I saw The Wicker Man years later on television and didn’t “get it”. The constant dancing and folk music grated on my nerves. Why couldn’t I appreciate “the best British horror film ever made” (according to Empire Magazine)? With the presence of Christopher Lee and Ingrid Pitt, I was no doubt expecting more of a Hammer-type production and the familiar horror tropes. I wasn’t getting that in the sun-dappled, slow-moving and intellectually challenging The Wicker Man. And yet this 1973 film lingered in my mind (unlike the disappointing 2006 remake with Nicolas Cage, which is already a faded memory).
Having just screened the first-ever full restoration of director Robin Hardy’s pagan mystery tale, scripted by Anthony Shaffer (Sleuth, Frenzy), I feel somewhat sheepish, for this restored version of The Wicker Man is so obviously a masterpiece of the cinema, how could I have failed to recognize its greatness all those years ago? Perhaps because the film was truncated, with too many scenes of expository dialogue and character development ending up on the cutting room floor.
The Wicker Man is not just a great horror film, but a great film… with a career-best performance by Edward Woodward, best known in America for his starring role on television as The Equalizer. Woodward plays Sergeant Neil Howie of the West Highland Constabulary, a straitlaced and devoutly Christian policeman who arrives by seaplane on the remote Scottish island of Summerisle, to investigate the disappearance of a young girl. The island is run by the mysterious Lord Summerisle (Christopher Lee), an affable dandy whose pagan beliefs are very much at odds with Howie’s bedrock Puritanism—including the belief that one should maintain one’s virginity until marriage. Howie gradually realizes that the entire island is populated by pagans, worshipers of the old, pre-Christian gods. Howie is appalled by the rampant nudity, sexuality and vulgarity of the islanders, but also tempted by the gorgeous women who throw themselves at him. Howie begins to fear that the fate of the missing girl could be linked to the islanders’ failing crops and their belief that only a human sacrifice will lead to a bountiful harvest. He learns too late that he has been lured into a trap. (Woodward—who couldn’t be more ideally cast—was the third choice for the role of Howie, which had been turned down by Michael York and David Hemmings). The supporting players—among them Britt Ekland, Diane Cilento and Aubrey Morris—are all in top form.The distribution history of The Wicker Man is a checkered and tortuous one. The Wicker Man was produced by British Lion Films, which badly needed a hit movie. The financially troubled studio was taken over by EMI, which cut Hardy’s original edit from 102 minutes to 88 minutes for release in Britain as the bottom half of a double feature. (The top half of the double bill was Don’t Look Now). Meanwhile, The Wicker Man was looked upon favorably by cult movie distributor Roger Corman, who expressed interest in buying (and trimming) the film for the American drive-in market. As would prove to be most fortuitous, a copy of the long version of The Wicker Man was sent to Corman by British Lion. After much wheeling and dealing, the rights to distribute The Wicker Man in America then passed to Warner Bros., which marketed it unsuccessfully to drive-in audiences. Warner Bros. sold the rights to The Wicker Man to a small outfit called Abraxas, run by film buff and TV chat show host Stirling Smith and newspaper film critic John Simon. With Hardy’s input, Abraxas restored The Wicker Man back to a near-complete 94-minute cut. Finally re-released to critical acclaim in 1979, it was dubbed “the Citizen Kane of horror movies” by Cinefantastique Magazine’s editor Frederick S. Clarke. Decades passed as the legend of The Wicker Man grew. What happened to all the missing footage? The current rights-holder StudioCanal (the French-based production and distribution company that owns the third-largest film library in the world) located the print of The Wicker Man that once belonged to Roger Corman in the Harvard Film Archive! This print became the source of several long-missing scenes that have now been reinserted into the shorter U.K. theatrical cut, expanding it to 94 minutes—essentially the same cut Hardy had assembled with Abraxas in 1979 for the US release. So this first-ever full digital restoration of The Wicker Man was done entirely under Hardy’s guidance.
One of the most important restored scenes is Howie’s first sighting of Lord Summerisle, reciting poetry by Walt Whitman under Ekland’s bedroom window. Of the brief early sequences set on the Scottish mainland, Howie’s thematically important church scene (where we catch a glimpse of his bride-to-be) remains, while the rather routine scenes in the police station are dropped. (In the heavily cut version, the story begins with Howie landing the seaplane in the harbour of Summerisle.)
StudioCanal’s new restoration of The Wicker Man and the assemblage of the The Final Cut version make for one of the most important genre home video releases of the year. The film looks dramatically better than it ever had on DVD. It has been nicely cleaned up, yet there is no sign of artificial sharpening or DNR filtering. Color, contrast and grain all look very organic. Overall clarity is also much improved, as befits the new media. The newly inserted footage from the Harvard Film Archive print is visibly poorer quality than the main film—grainier, with faded color and noticeably not as sharp (see first screencap)—but this is to be expected, and the results overall are still very impressive. On technical grounds, this is certainly one of the best StudioCanal releases of a British horror film to date.
The “UK Theatrical Cut” of the film is basically the same as the “Final Cut,” minus the newly restored footage. The “Director’s Cut,” however, is in standard definition only.
No complaints whatsoever in regards to the sound quality. Tape hiss, distortion and extraneous noises have been beautifully cleaned up. The dialog is crystal clear and the quasi-medieval and modern folk music (written for the film) is wonderfully clear and full across the entire spectrum.
Among the extra features on this impressive three-disc set are a new interview with Robin Hardy; Recording the Music (an interview with Gary Carpenter, associate musical director of The Wicker Man) and Releasing the Soundtrack (an interview with Jonny Trunk of Trunk Records);Worshiping The Wicker Man (interviews with filmmaker Eli Roth, James Watkins, director of The Woman in Black, Ben Wheatley, director, Chris Tilly, film editor, IGN, and film critic Larushka Ivan-Zadeh); Burnt Offering: The Cult of the Wicker Man – a 48-minute documentary made in 2001, hosted by film journalist Mark Kermode (among the interviewees are Ingrid Pitt, Britt Ekland, Roger Corman and Anthony Shaffer… shortly before his death); audio commentary of the Director’s Cut with moderator Mark Kermode, Christopher Lee, Edward Woodward and Robin Hardy, recorded in December 2001 for the 2002 StudioCanal DVD release; audio commentary short film – a brief video recording of several sections of the 2001 commentary; a 1979 interview with Christopher Lee and Robin Hardy on the New Orleans talk show Critic’s Choice, hosted by Stirling Smith; and a two-minute trailer.
The Wicker Man is now considered one of the greatest British shockers ever made. There is no film quite like it, with its high concept of a Christian copper set loose in a pagan world in which he is the unwitting pawn in a sinister game. Art director Seamus Flannery’s faceless wooden giant is recognized worldwide. Sergeant Howie’s dreadful encounter with the Wicker Man is as awe-inspiring as it is unexpected. (Incredibly, the first time Woodward saw the enormous human shape was during the actual filming of the scene in which Oak [Ian Campbell] drags him up the hill to meet his fate). It seems the pagan gods smiled upon The Wicker Man‘s production. Director of photography Harry Waxman was able to film in close-up the collapse of the enormous burning head at the precise moment the sun set on the sea’s distant horizon, saving the production company a fortune in process shots. Unfortunately, The Wicker Man was at least 30 years ahead of its time and its slow recognition and reassembly stymied director Robin Hardy’s career. It is sad that this inspired filmmaker has only directed two other films in 40 years: The Fantasist (1986)—a thriller about a serial killer in Dublin—and The Wicker Tree, an ill-fated sequel to The Wicker Man released in 2011 (and in which the now elderly Christopher Lee has a cameo). However, once seen, The Wicker Man—for good or ill—is never forgotten.