The Wicker Man: The Final Cut

The Wicker Man (1973)


Director: Robin Hardy

Starring: Edward Woodward, Britt Ekland, Diane Cilanto, Christopher Lee, Ingrid Pitt

Genre: Horror

Running Time: 93 min

Fri, Sep 27, 2013, 00:00


Once more with feeling: Police sergeant Neil Howie (Edward Woodward) travels to Summerisle, a distant Hebridean island to investigate the case of a missing girl. A buttoned-up Christian who rejects the idea (and offer) of premarital sex, Howie is shocked to discover that this remote Scottish community worships ancient Celtic gods and favours free love. Could it be that these fruit-producing pagans are preparing to sacrifice the missing girl as a class of “May Queen”? And will our prissy hero ever succumb to Britt Ekland’s topless, wall-slapping barmaid?

Nowadays, Robin Hardy’s 1973 masterpiece pops up in Olympics opening ceremonies, perches on top of critical polls, forms the subject of documentaries and is consistently referenced by such young British tyros as Ben Wheatley and Edgar Wright.

It wasn’t always thus. Before the age of cult reclamation, before midnight screenings and before VHS, The Wicker Man was released with little fanfare. The junior partner on a discombobulating double bill headed by Don’t Look Now, the film had been butchered in the editing suite. That condition has subsequently been treated twice. First there was an expanded 30th anniversary version sutured in poor quality footage.This new 40th birthday bash is cleaner and eight minutes longer than the canonical cut.

This still doesn’t quite tally with Hardy’s original vision (the master tapes were lost long ago), but it hardly matters. Even at its shortest and most molested, The Wicker Man is a beautiful, unique artefact. It’s not just a folk horror, it’s the folk horror.

The film’s gallows-humour gestures toward murderous post- hippie mayhem and pre-Christian custom and manners dovetails neatly with post-contraceptive sexual etiquette; in a reversal of genre rules, The Wicker Man commands us to fuck or be fucked.

Stylistically, the presentation is as distorted and twisted as its content, a transfixing mess of animal head ceremonies, naked dancers, screwy camera angles, disturbing bits culled from the footnotes of The Golden Bough and scary-ass Middle English songs. This gallimaufry would mark a career high for Hardy, co-stars Christopher Lee and Ingrid Pitt, composer Paul Giovanni, and cinematographer Harry Waxman, who also climbed into our heads for the Bette Davis vehicle The Nanny.

Four decades after its initial botched theatrical run, this textured, learned, literate, erotically charged fever dream is a gift that keeps on giving. Legend.