Entertainment

Cult movie: The Wicker Man At 50

Sergeant Howie (Edward Woodward) arrives on the remote island of Summerisle to investigate the disappearance of a young girl
Sergeant Howie (Edward Woodward) arrives on the remote island of Summerisle to investigate the disappearance of a young girl Sergeant Howie (Edward Woodward) arrives on the remote island of Summerisle to investigate the disappearance of a young girl

IT’S 50 years since Edward Woodward kept his sacrificial appointment with The Wicker Man on that barren Scottish cliff top but the flames are showing no signs of going out just yet.

Robin Hardy’s oft-released cult classic has just been given an anniversary make over by Studiocanal and it is, it must be said, a thing of real beauty. Alongside an impressive 4K print of the film’s final cut and restorations of both the director’s cut and the shorter but equally powerful original theatrical version, this boxset offers up all manner of delights for fans of the creepy 1973 folk horror masterpiece.

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While many of the extras have simply been transferred over from the 40th anniversary edition there are some neat new treats to enjoy here like a short documentary tracing the Scottish locations of the shoot and a fascinating film from the director’s son Justin Hardy that digs into its troubled production history and the complicated critical reactions it has provoked down the decades. There’s even a selection of film posters, Summerisle postcards and a new EP of reinterpretations of songs from the legendary soundtrack from artist Katy J Pearson to lure in those collectors who like a little physical product with their expensive purchases.

Christopher Lee in The Wicker Man
Christopher Lee in The Wicker Man Christopher Lee in The Wicker Man

However, as always with these things, it’s the quality of the film itself that really matters and The Wicker Man remains an audacious and often unsettling piece of art in every way. A weird mish-mash of movie styles – as much a musical as a straight horror film in many ways – it offers little in the way of actual shocks, bar the infamous final scenes atop that Scottish cliff of course, and relies instead on a slow burning sense of oddness that leaves you feeling increasingly uneasy as the story unfolds.

Woodward is terrific as the puritan policeman Sergeant Howie who arrives on the remote island of Summerisle to investigate the disappearance of a young girl only to find the pagan inhabitants a very odd bunch indeed. In terms of tone Hardy’s film is all over the shop lurching wildly from bawdy bar ballads and whimsical folk tunes to small scenes of social strangeness and religious zeal with alarming speed but that is, oddly enough, a big part of its appeal. There’s nothing else in cinema history quite like The Wicker Man which is probably why it keeps on popping it’s head up for reappraisal. While the story seeps under your skin it’s the characters that remain in your mind.

Christopher Lee gives a full blooded performance as the avuncular and bizarrely be-wigged Lord of the manor who oversees this strangely devoted community and Britt Ekland delivers a turn so overtly sexy rumour has it her partner at the time Rod Stewart tried to get every print of the film destroyed.

The film was a box office bomb upon release, playing as the bottom half of a spectacularly morbid double bill with Don’t Look Now in many British cinemas, but time has been kind to it. As strange folk horror musicals with an unsettling psychological edge go, The Wicker Man still delivers the goods. Isn’t it about time you kept that appointment one more time?