Rejoice, fans of cult British horror films, twist endings, and big-screen nudity! On Friday, The Wicker Man will return to the big screen in a newly restored and recut version largely scanned from a 35mm print recently discovered at the Harvard Film Archive.
The work of British director Robin Hardy, the 1973 horror classic stars the late Edward Woodward as a devoutly Christian policeman named Howie hunting for a missing girl on a remote Scottish island. Our hero soon discovers the burg’s inhabitants – including Christopher Lee’s sinisterly welcoming Lord Summerisle and Britt Ekland’s frisky barmaid – practice a form of lubricious paganism very much at odds with the moral code of the virginal investigator.
The film was originally released in a savagely truncated form, and over the years, the number of versions of varying lengths has almost overtaken the number of copulating couples Woodward’s appalled copper discovers outside the island’s pub (which is saying a lot). This latest version, The Wicker Man – The Final Cut, comes after a Facebook-based quest by the European company StudioCanal to locate original film materials and, according to Hardy, is vastly superior to a previous restoration which played cinemas in the late ’70s. “What we can do, and have done now, in restoring it is 100 times better than what we were able to do then,” says the director. “The whole technology is miles ahead of what we could do then.”
Indeed, Hardy describes this latest cut as “definitive” and says he is particularly pleased that, after it debuts at New York’s IFC Center this Friday, the movie will screen at San Francisco’s Castro Theatre, where the film played way back in 1979. “We had protesters outside, which one should always have,” he laughs. “[They were] pagans, with piercings through every orifice, complaining that we were giving paganism a bad name.” (In addition to New York and and San Francisco, the new Wicker Man will also play Santa Fe, Nashville, Duluth, Chicago, Dallas, and San Diego, among other cities.)
Of course, many people will only be familiar with the infamous Neil LaBute-directed, Nicolas Cage-starring 2006 Wicker Man remake, which since its release has gained a reputation as one of the truly awful movies of our time – and deservedly so, according to Hardy. “I’ve been to some of LaBute’s theater stuff, very good indeed, and I admire Nicolas Cage too,” says the director. “So how they could have possibly thought what they were getting into was good, I cannot imagine. Absolute disaster.”
Hardy himself directed a companion piece-cum-spiritual sequel to his original, 2011’s The Wicker Tree, and has plans to wrap up the Scotland-set trilogy with another film, Wrath of the Gods. “It’s got a certain amount of sex, it’s got some lovely music, and it’s got a very Wicker Man-ish ending,” he promises. Given Nicolas Cage has a house in the U.K., maybe the director should pop along and ask if the seemingly always working Ghost Rider star is interested in taking a role. “Yes, I should. Except for he’s pretty un-Scottish.”