The recent trend of remaking classic horror flicks for modern audiences hit a bit of a snag recently when Neil LaBute’s critically lambasted attempt at an update of The Wicker Man fizzled both commercially and critically. Let that be a lesson to Hollywood; some films simply cannot be duplicated in any sense of the word, and Robin Hardy’s eccentric masterpiece is a wonderfully twisted example of that.
When a young girl is reported missing on a remote island off the Scottish coast, the repressed and fiercely religious Sergeant Howie (Woodward) is sent to investigate the disappearance. When he arrives, he finds the locals of Summerisle uncooperative, claiming to have never seen the girl even though evidence suggests otherwise. As Howie digs deeper, he discovers that the islander’s have eschewed the conventions of his beloved Christianity, instead worshipping the ancient gods of their ancestors. As a result, the people of Summerisle have been rewarded with abundant harvests, seemingly carefree lives, and (apparently) very healthy attitudes about public sex and nudity. Of course, all of this can’t be had without some sort of sacrifice, and Howie is convinced that the community leader, Lord Summerisle (Lee) plans to do just that with the missing girl.
The Wicker Man is like taking acid at a Celtic folk concert for nudists. It’s part thriller, part musical, part erotica, and all sorts of crazy, and, for those and a dozen other reasons, I love this film. Edward Woodward’s performance as the pious and proud Sergeant is a revelation (no pun intended), especially as his stone-faced demeanor crumbles under the weight of what is going on around him. Lee’s relaxed turn as Summerisle is the perfect foil for Woodward’s uptight Howie, pushing the Sergeant’s buttons with the cool detachment of a beat poet snapping his fingers to a bongo beat. And while I am by no means a fan of folk music, I have to say I really dig this film’s ultra-kooky soundtrack. I mean, how can anyone resist a song in which a mellow voice croons about the virtues of “corn rigs and barley”? Oh, sweet epiphany.
Oh, and it also features Ingrid Pitt, as well as a naked dance by Britt Ekland (and her body double). I mean, seriously, how can you beat that?
Anchor Bay have released this film in several incarnations, including the original U.S. Theatrical Cut and the little scene Extended Cut. Now fans get them both together in this 2-Disc Special Edition, which also features an all-new commentary (featuring Robin Hardy, Christopher Lee, and Edward Woodward, who I actually thought died a long time ago, thus explaining my tormented stare when the Universal Network airs its Hi Def reruns of The Equalizer), as well as a featurette, deleted scenes, and much more.
One of my personal favorites gets a facelift just in time for the DVD release of its mutant 2006 offspring (what a coinkydink!). Here’s to hoping folks put off by the “new” approach give this classic a spin for comparison’s sake. Something tells me that, once they do, they’ll see that there’s no comparison at all.
C’mon! Sing with me, children!! Corn rigs and barley…ohhh….corn rigs and barley….oooooo….