BBFC Classification: 15
Director: Robin Hardy
Starring: Edward Woodward, Christopher Lee, Britt Ekland, Diane Cilento, Ingrid Pitt, Aubrey Morris
To say that this one has been a long time coming would be something of an understatement. For those that don’t know, director Robin Hardy’s 1973 classic The Wicker Man was originally butchered by studio execs when it was first made and the version that hit cinemas back in the ’70s was not the version that Hardy intended audiences to see. In 1979 Hardy managed to piece together his preferred cut for distribution in the US but the print got lost, and thanks to StudioCanal and their extensive search the missing film was found at Harvard Film Archives and has now gone through a full digital restoration process so we can finally see The Wicker Man as Robin Hardy wanted us to see it, although this version is still considerably shorter than the Director’s Cut version that appeared on DVD a few years back and fans still waiting for the fabled ‘Long Version’ will have to keep on waiting as it is very unlikely that those missing reels of film will ever be found.
Policeman and devout Christian Sergeant Howie (Edward Woodward – Hot Fuzz/The Equalizer) is called to a remote Scottish island named Summerisle to investigate the disappearance of a young girl. However, upon his arrival he is greeted with indifference from the insular community and his enquiries about the missing child all come to nothing, the locals openly mocking his beliefs and refusing to cooperate.
Howie’s line of questioning does, however, lead him to discuss the matter with the island’s ruler Lord Summerisle (Christopher Lee – The Devil Rides Out/Dracula) and it soon dawns on the puritanical police officer that the islanders are practitioners of Pagan rituals and are preparing a May Day celebration to try and improve their harvest by offering a sacrifice to their gods, but where does the missing girl, and Sergeant Howie, fit in?
The Wicker Man is one of those films that has been written about and dissected by scholars, critics and writers for the last four decades and will no doubt continue to be so, so if you want in-depth analysis, metaphoric meanings and religious study then there are plenty of sources available where you can look it all up. But it goes without saying that the film still stands alone as a truly terrifying account of what man is capable of towards his fellow man. Coming out the same year as The Exorcist, that other seemingly enduring work of terror often cited as the greatest horror film ever made, The Wicker Man offers a deeper feeling of unease by filming in real locations, having an authentic folk music soundtrack and building its terrors slowly as the secrets of Summerisle are revealed to Sergeant Howie and by extension, us.
It also helps that the cast are all on top form. Edward Woodward is brilliantly effective as the stoic Sergeant Howie, his motivations seemingly noble enough but the manner in which he goes about his business not making him a very sympathetic character, until the film’s infamous climax, of course. It is Christopher Lee as Lord Summerisle, however, that gives the film the personality and edge of danger that it has, his gallows humour and overly-friendly manner as much a mask as the ones used in the May Day parade. Lee has often stated that this was his favourite film role and, coming at a time when he was being typecast as Count Dracula in a series of Hammer sequels that were decreasing in quality, it’s obvious that he was relishing the chance to do something a little different and not just lurk in the shadows. Hammer regular Ingrid Pitt (Countess Dracula/The Vampire Lovers) and Britt Ekland (The Man with the Golden Gun) offer up some titillation to keep Howie on his toes and the rest of the cast are all convincing enough to keep the atmosphere suitably strange and off-kilter.
So is The Final Cut worth investing in if you already own any of the previous releases? Of course it is. The restored print looks fantastic, and although the new inserts don’t look quite as polished it isn’t as distracting as you would think. Some of the scenes have been shifted around slightly – most notably Britt Ekland’s naked dance, which now appears later in the film – but also the scenes of Howie on the mainland from the Director’s Cut have been trimmed to a brief character-establishing scene of Howie in church before he takes off for Summerisle. Lord Summerisle’s introductory scene is also reinstated and although it doesn’t add a great deal to the film it does help to have him appear a little earlier. Although there are a few other miniscule changes here and there those are the main differences, but overall it must be said that despite all the changes The Wicker Man still remains the quintessential British horror film, with a brooding power and bizarre menace that has never been captured on film before or since, and now we have a version that we can say is as close to definitive as we’re likely to get, making Summerisle a tempting place to visit more often.
Special Features: As well as including all three cuts of the film (The Final Cut, Director’s Cut & Theatrical Cut) the 3-disc Blu-ray set includes a new interview with Robin Hardy, archive interviews with Hardy and Christopher Lee, audio commentaries, featurettes on the soundtrack, the film’s influence and the restoration, a documentary about the film hosted by film critic Mark Kermode and featuring interviews with all the major cast and crew, trailer plus the original soundtrack CD.
UK Release Date: 14th October 2013