Sergeant Neil Howie arrives on a Scottish island looking for a missing teenager girl, Rowan Morrison. The place belongs to Lord Summerisle and is famous because of their plantation of apples and other fruits and their harvest. Sgt. Howie realizes that the locals are pagans, practicing old rituals, and Rowan is probably alive and being prepared to be sacrificed. The end of the story is a tragic surprise.
Edward Woodward ... Sergeant Howie
Christopher Lee ... Lord Summerisle
Diane Cilento ... Miss Rose
Britt Ekland ... Willow
Ingrid Pitt ... Librarian
Lindsay Kemp ... Alder MacGreagor
Russell Waters ... Harbour Master
Aubrey Morris ... Old Gardener / Gravedigger
Irene Sunters ... May Morrison (also as Irene Sunter)
Walter Carr ... School Master
Ian Campbell ... Oak
Leslie Blackater ... Hairdresser
Roy Boyd ... Broome
Director: Robin Hardy
Runtime: 100 mins
Codecs: DivX 5 / MP3
‘The Wicker Man' follows the story of Sgt. Howie (Edward Woodward) who travels to the Scottish island of Summerisle to investigate the disappearance of a young girl. However, the entire population of the island, including the girl's own mother (Irene Summers), denies that such a girl ever existed and as the righteous Howie investigates further he learns the terrifying truth of Summerisle.
Famed for an exceptional yet short performance from the legendary Christopher Lee as Lord Summerisle, ‘The Wicker Man' is a textbook example of how to create a virtually seamless horror/thriller. Director Robin Hardy at one point thought this low-budget movie would never be made as he was forced to work with a very small budget, a short shooting schedule and a studio on the verge of bankruptcy that was in fact declared bankrupt just a few short months after filming was completed. However, ‘The Wicker Man' was made and nowadays is accepted as one of the finest horror/thrillers of all-time despite not receiving the praise it so deserved back in the Seventies. ‘The Wicker Man' was brilliantly written by Anthony Shaffer who chose to add very subtle clues as to what would happen that are made more apparent on further viewings. With the added advantage of obvious research into the pagan rituals ‘The Wicker Man' sought to portray the movie is left with a chilling feel of realism.
An enchanting soundtrack is blended marvellously into ‘The Wicker Man' which seems to lull the viewer into a false sense of security. Despite the constant foreboding feeling created by the intricate plot and top notch acting, there is a certain playful feeling that is brought about by the elegant soundtrack making it difficult to actually envisage any evil events occuring. One could be forgiven for wondering on a first viewing just where this bizarre little movie is going but the story has a quality about it that can grab the viewer and keep their interest all the way to the bitter and awfully haunting ending. The final scene as the credits roll is an image that is now engrained on my mind with all its emptiness and despair. As the curtain falls on this performance (so to speak) it becomes hard not to question the events leading up to the end and the humanity of these islanders. In some ways ‘The Wicker Man' is an unsettling history lesson that makes itself seem all too real.
Edward Woodward gives a tremendous performance as the increasingly baffled Sgt. Howie. He played his character convincingly and Howie's eventual realisation of what is going on around him is portrayed so well that it adds more realism to the movie. Woodward was able to take a character that may be a figure of loathing in another type of horror movie and make the audience feel empathy towards him. The strong religious beliefs within Howie thoroughly clash with the free-loving pagan society which adds humour and distress at the same time. However, as mentioned before, Christopher Lee somehow stole the show playing the relatively small part of Lord Summerisle. His magnificent onscreen presence seems so powerful that one forgets that he is only in the movie for a short amount of time. Added to this great mix was Britt Ekland as Willow, the beautiful landlord's daughter. Her seductive, nude dance (though a double was apparently used in parts) was one of the most erotic moments in horror and helped to contribute further realism to the movie. The scenes featuring the clashing characters of Howie and Willow are both amusing and tense making for some interesting character interaction.
‘The Wicker Man' is undoubtedly a cult classic of the horror genre which I recommend to all fans of horror/thrillers. Visually pleasing with some superb acting and direction as well as a fine screenplay.
The bizarre and chilling tale of a fool chosen to be king for a day.
The shocking denouement of this film has stayed with me for many years, far longer than scenes or images from more famous films. A classic of its kind, it deserves the re-release it will probably never get.
Superficially a mystery thriller, this intelligent and well researched story delves into the beliefs and rituals of Ancient Britain, its folk mythologies and music, and reveals some of the un-settling fears that lie at their root. Set on a remote Scottish Island and giving the appearance of being a Whisky Galore, Local Hero type community, there is yet something off-centre about the townspeople that Edward Woodward, as Sergeant Howie, has come to investigate. The presence of Christopher Lee as the eloquent, commanding Lord of the Isle, gives the film an insidiously creepy edge suggesting a Hammer Horror lurks around the next wee wall. He is perfect in the role.
The story un-folds like a cross between Chinatown and Rosemary's Baby, as the dogged Howie gets led all over town, up one blind alley and down another. Clues are dropped all the way about what is really going on, but we don't heed them. Until it's too late. Too late to walk away.
The standard video version runs for 85 minutes, cuts many important scenes and shows others out of sequence. A BBC version shown in 1998 ran around 95 minutes. The full version ran 102 minutes but I have never found it.
However, whilst uneven in parts and certainly flawed this is one of the most intelligent and interesting stories I have ever seen on film. See it yourself and you too will have many meetings with 'The Wicker Man', in your dreams, in the dark, where you cannot escape.
The best British horror film ever made? Probably, yes. The best horror film ever made? No. The best occult thriller ever? Quite possibly.
The film was in part conceived as a vehicle for Christopher Lee to get away from his Hammer roles and give him a chance to demonstrate that, yes, he could actually act. Perversely, however, the film is in many ways homage to the films produced by the Hammer studio and is at the same time their antithesis.
Although Lee's Lord Summerisle was certainly a stronger character than his Hammer caricatures, and was suitably sincere and sinister, it was left to Edward Woodward's bumbling, pious Highland Police Sergeant to carry the film.
The rest of the cast are not as strong as the two central characters. Famously, it was always suggested that Britt Ekland's voice was overdubbed for the entire film. Robin Hardy has now denied that, stating that only her singing was dubbed. Even if the other actors' performances fail to match those of Woodward and Lee, somehow, it doesn't detract from the film.
Almost as famous as The Wicker Man itself are the stories surrounding the film. The version first released was almost completely butchered from an original, almost grandiose cut of 102 minutes to a more concise 87. Christopher Lee has always maintained that this was a crime against the greatest piece of art with which he had ever been involved. The original negatives were then accidentally thrown out!
When a fuller version finally surfaced in 2001, Lee's contentions were (at least in part) proved. The film was overall improved, and save for a couple of points of rather clumsy editing (the flashbacks Edward Woodward has as the penny drops spring to mind) and the pointless scenes before the flight to the island, it ran more smoothly and made more sense.
The film's greatest asset comes through in whichever version you actually see. The eerie sinister atmosphere never fails to be conveyed. Somehow, the fictitious Scottish island setting of Summerisle, which could so easily turn twee at any moment steers clear of the territory occupied by Brigadoon or the now happily deceased BBC TV drama 'Monarch of the Glen'.
The setting's remoteness, which could have been its worst enemy, is actually its greatest ally.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about the film, however, is the way that it steadfastly refuses to fit precisely into any genre. It is all at once a horror, a thriller and even a musical! Unbelievably, these things come together and fit into the film.
The music in The Wicker Man is unique, always adding just the right tone of eeriness or bawdiness to proceedings. A strange mix of elements including traditional folk music, it's as innovative and interesting as the soundtracks to Blade Runner, or The Virgin Suicides. The opening title sequence to the tune of Corn Rigs succeeds in transporting you with the plane over the remote coastal peninsulas and out into the Irish Sea towards Summerisle.
My only criticism of the film (and I really am nitpicking here) is the way it goes about establishing Sergeant Howie's Christianity. I can't conceive of the Howie character adhering to any religion other than one of the obscure forms of Presbyterian Protestantism practised in parts of the Highlands of Scotland. These scenes contain an apparent reverence for the sacraments that appears more Catholic in nature. This distinction in religious backgrounds is important to understanding Howie's attitudes. Nevertheless, I am truly nitpicking when I make this criticism!
But what ultimately makes this film is its ending. Without giving the game away for those who have not yet seen the film, it is inevitable, and yet wholly unexpected when it finally comes.
The Wicker Man would be a classic of its genre - if it had a genre. Instead, it has to be ranked as a classic film.
* Although the film is set in May it was filmed in October and November 1972.
* A body double was secretly used for the naked rear shots of Willow dancing. The scenes were filmed after Britt Ekland had left the set. The body double was used because Ekland would only agree to topless shots of her body. After shooting was over, not only was Ekland furious to learn she had been doubled in some shots but that she was also a few weeks pregnant in that scene. Director Robin Hardy says it was Ekland herself who did not want her bottom to be filmed, as she did not like it.
* The negative and the outtakes of the film were stored at the vault in Shepperton studios. When it was bought, the new owner gave the order to clear the vault to get rid of all the old stuff. Foolishly, the vault manager put the negatives, which just arrived from the lab, with the ones which were to be destroyed..
* Director Robin Hardy originally wanted Michael York for the role of Sgt. Howie. When it turned out he was unavailable, David Hemmings was considered before writer Anthony Shaffer and producer Peter Snell recommended Edward Woodward who had always been Snell's first choice to play the part.
* Edward Woodward was always the producers first choice for the role of Howie (despite the director favouring Michael York).
* Christopher Lee agreed to appear in this film for free.
* Although the film is set in Scottish territory and all the characters are meant to be of Scottish nationality, all five of of the leading cast are not Scottish: Christopher Lee and Edward Woodward are English, Diane Cilento is Australian, Ingrid Pitt is Eastern European and Britt Ekland is Swedish.
* This film was intended as a vehicle for Christopher Lee. Lee himself has said that he considers this to be one of his greatest ever roles.
* Was filmed in 1972 in Dumfries and Galloway in South West Scotland, and there was some controversy when Britt Ekland labeled it as the "bleakest place on Earth". The producers were forced to apologize to the locals.
* John Sharp was second choice to play the island's doctor. The role was originally intended for Patrick Newell.
* It is rumored that the original negative of the full length version was used as landfill in the M3 motorway in England. Actor Christopher Lee has said that this was apparently done on purpose, because of Michael Deeley's dislike of the film.
* The current version available in the USA and UK is still incomplete, despite its 'director's cut' status. Still missing is a lengthy speech made by Lord Summerisle on apples.
* Britt Ekland was dubbed by Annie Ross.
* The last film of Ian Wilson.
* The film gives it's name to a music and arts festival (The Wickerman Festival) which has been held annually in the area where the film was shot (Dumfries & Galloway, Scotland) since 2004. At the end of the festival a giant Wicker Man sculpture is burned as a 'sacrifice to the festival gods'.
* The stumps of the wicker-man used in the final burning scene remained at the location of the shoot for decades and became a landmark for fanatics. There was outrage by fans as the stumps were cut down and stolen in late 2006.
* Although Rowan was played by 'Geraldine Cowper' it is her twin sister Jackie whose photograph is handed around by Howie, and in fact during the chase through the caves Jackie appeared in a couple of shots instead of Gerry.
* The 'evil eye' rowing boat, which takes Howie to and from his plane, was not constructed for the film. It belonged to a resident of Plockton. Upon seeing it, the producers decided it would suit the film. The boat survived until 2004 when it was destroyed in a storm.
* Rowan Morrison was born on the 13th November 1960.
* In The Directors Cut, there is a scene in which we see Howie and McTaggart in their police car, that was filmed in a garage. The illusion of passing cars was created by two crew members waving torches past their windscreen.
* During Filming, Britt Ekland said Dumfries And Galloway were the most dismal place in creation. The producers had to apologize to the local press for her comments.
* During filming, Anthony Shaffer's brother Peter stood in for Howie's Mr Punch during one shoot.
* According to director 'Robin Hardy' , Howie's final speech is based upon Walter Raleigh's dying words.
* Robin Hardy makes a cameo appearance in the film as the preacher in the mainland church scene. Screenwriter Anthony Shaffer was present during the filming of the final scenes and is said to be among the villagers.
# SPOILER: According to Britt Ekland, some animals may have actually perished inside the Wicker Man.
# SPOILER: The actual Wicker Man was constructed and later burnt at Burrowhead, on the South West Coast of Scotland. The remaining leg struts survived several years until stolen by vandals.
# SPOILER: Prior to shooting the final scene, Edward Woodward was in the Wicker Man and a goat was penned in above him. Because the goat was scared at being shut up, it urinated on Woodward.
# SPOILER: During his final scenes inside the wicker man, Edward Woodward was reading his lines from giant cue cards placed around the surrounding cliffs.