One of THE great cult movies, I first encountered this film in January 1992 when a slightly longer than the release version was shown on BBC-1, but more of this later.
Back in 1988, Merseybeat journalist, Bill Harry started a new magazine “Idols”. I missed the first issue, but as there was an article about “The murder of Marilyn Monroe” in issue 2 I was straight in, from then on I was hooked. A mix of films, TV, music and pop culture, it lasted less than three years and the quality died off before the end, but it had more of an impact on me than any publication before or since.
In those pre-internet days it gave me valuable insights into various “Midnight Movies” including “Peeping Tom”, “Orphee”, “A Clockwork Orange” and “The Wicker Man”, being 15 at the time I hadn’t seen any of the movies involved. A few months later my dad purchased a VCR and my world was changed forever.
The Wicker Man was made by British Lion in the Autumn of 1972, on the coast of Scotland. Anthony Shaffer had been intrigued by the idea of a making a different kind of horror film after the success of Roman Polanski’s “Rosemary’s Baby” and bought the rights to David Pinner’s book “Ritual”. Which concerned the disappearance of a missing girl in Cornwall, Shaffer changed the setting to Scotland to a remote island called Summerisle where Sgt Neil Howie (Edward Woodward) has come to investigate the disappearance of Rowan Morrison. He finds there are no licensing laws, people having sex in public places but no sign of the missing girl. As his investigation continues he looks into the Pagen rites of May day and finds that the previous year’s crops failed, to regain the crops, human sacrifice is the only option.
Howie believes that the sacrifice will be of Rowan Morrison, the missing girl. He could not be more wrong. Lord Summerisle’s (Christopher Lee) extensive research has discovered that Sgt Howie is a virgin and will make the right type of sacrifice.
Filming completed, the film was set to editing and a 99 minute print was prepared, however the new owners of British Lion weren’t impressed by it (“It is one of the ten worst films I have ever seen”) and it was decided to go out as the support film, the B movie, so to speak to Nicholas Roeg’s “Don’t Look Now”, 12 minutes were edited out of the film, making Sgt Howie’s visit to Summerisle one night, not two and editing out all the footage of Howie at the mainland receiving the letter.
In the late 70’s when the film became a Cult favourite an effort was made to track down the full version, it turned out Roger Corman had the only known print of it (the full print had been sent to the US for distribution before the cuts were made). This version was distributed on home video in the 80s in the US, but then disappeared for over ten years.
In 1988 Alex Cox tracked down a 92 minute print which added some of the missing footage and this version also contained an animated sun at the end, this sequence only appears on this version, it was this version I first saw on BBC-1 in January 1992, but the many times I watched the film on the big screen it was only ever the 87 minute version (these included the original double bill,(alas the wrong way round with “Don’t Look Now” first) introduced by The League Of Gentlemen at The Cornerhouse in Manchester at Halloween). I heard rumours of the full version existing in the USA and screenings at various festivals, but I think it was 2000 before it was shown on Film4 and then Channel4 and finally released on DVD.
Scripted as a drama, filmed as a musical, awarded various Science Fiction awards and called by “Cinefantastique” magazine “The Citizen Kane of Horror Films”, it is a filmed that is difficult to put into a category and the music is a big part.
I cannot think of another horror film that treats it’s subject seriously and has songs in it. The songs were composed mostly by Paul Giovanni and performed by himself and the folk group Magnet. The soundtrack was eventually released in 1999 by Trunk records and in a slightly different form by Silva Screen in 2002.
I remember taking a trip to Liverpool to see The Wicker Man, it was going to be the first time that two people in the car had seen the film (one of them being Roof-Dirk), I put the soundtrack CD on to get them in the mood, they both looked at each other and wondered if it to get out of the car at that moment!
Imagine seeing this film on first release and wondering if to watch the B movie, because you didn’t know anything about it and it was more than likely to be a documentary about Alan Whicker, but you see it ending with Christopher Lee, Britt Ekland, Ingrid Pitt etc chanting “Summer Is A Comin’” whilst Edward Woodward is burnt alive whilst singing “The Lord Is My Shepherd”, but he’ll escape, it won’t end like this, will it? And you still have the problems of Donald Sutherland in Venice to look forward to!
I recently went on a road trip to Dumfries & Galloway to go on the trail of The Wicker Man and experienced the inside and outside of The Green Man, The school house, the abandoned church and May Morrison’s shop, maybe next time we’ll make it down to Burrowhead and see the remains of the wicker man, maybe I’m not that brave.
- The Wicker Man (1973) (reelaffinity.wordpress.com)
- Never-Before-Seen Cut of THE WICKER MAN Headed You Way this Fall!!! (aintitcool.com)
- Robin Hardy Announces Original Wicker Man Print Discovered. (thehorrificallyhorrifyinghorrorblog.com)
- Lost Wicker Man Footage Found! UK Getting The Wicker Man: Final Cut Blu-ray Release (dreadcentral.com)
- Edward Woodward, 1930-2009 (somecamerunning.typepad.com)
- Original Print of “The Wicker Man” Found (sliceofscifi.com)