Reading the Screen: The Wicker Man
Posted by: David Pitt
Before you ask: no, I’m not talking about the dreadful Nicholas Cage movie from a few years ago (shudder). I’m talking about the original, the classic, the tragically little-seen The Wicker Man from 1973, directed by first-timer Robin Hardy and written by Anthony Shaffer, author of the Alfred Hitchcock thriller Frenzy and Sleuth, the brilliant play that became an equally brilliant movie.
The Wicker Man stars Edward Woodward — you might know him from TV’s The Equalizer — as a police sergeant who comes to a remote island to determine the whereabouts of a missing girl…a girl who, according to the island’s residents, never existed.
Weird, unsettling, and just plain creepy things happen, and, well, let’s just say the ending of the movie will stick in your head long after you’ve seen it. How long? I’ve seen the movie once, on television, more than twenty years ago. And the final scenes still make me sweat.
I now know, thanks to Allan Brown’s excellent book Inside the Wicker Man: How Not to Make a Cult Classic (Polygon, 2010), that what I saw on television was not the movie Hardy and Shaffer made. Sadly, the original 102-minute version of the movie no longer exists, thanks to what was either an act of stunning incompetence or, if you believe some people (such as co-star Christopher Lee), a deliberate act of sabotage to keep the movie from being released.
Inside the Wicker Man is one of the best making-of books I’ve ever read (and I’ve read a lot of making-of books). The author explores the film’s roots in ancient pagan rituals, its hurried (and entirely on-location) filming, its subsequent butchering, the antipathy between its writer and director, and the evolution of the movie from low-budget thriller to cult classic. With rare photographs, interviews with key participants, and a heaping helping of insightful analysis, the book is exactly what Wicker fans deserve: a celebration of the movie.
Brown’s book was originally published in 2000, and that edition is dreadfully hard to find. This new edition, revised and updated, should be pretty easy to come by. If you can’t find it where you live, ask your local library to stock it.