It’s May Day and there’s only one film that takes that pagan festival and turns it into something freaky, dark and shocking… Robin Hardy’s 1973 British horror classic The Wicker Man! (Note: definitely not the Nicolas Cage remake with the bees…) In today’s Lockdown Rewatch Edward Woodward’s police sergeant is sent to a remote Scottish Island to investigate the disappearance of a young girl but encounters an odd insular community obsessed with cult pagan rituals, bad Scottish accents and horror legend Christopher Lee with mad hair and a nice checked jacket. Anthony Shaffer penned the screenplay which Variety applauded “for sheer imagination”, however It was released as a double feature with Don’t Look Now due to fears that it would not perform well and was “undistributable”…
But did you know…
1) Perhaps the biggest fan of The Wicker Man was Christopher Lee who remarked, “The Wicker Man was the best film I’ve ever been in, the best part I’ve ever had. And – not that I’m a judge at all – the best performance I’ve ever given. What a part, what a wonderful, wonderful part.” Shaffer had written the role of Lord Summerisle specifically for Lee.
2) Despite being set on a Scottish Island in spring, filming took place across 25 different locations during winter. The crew would glue blossom onto the trees to achieve the look required for the film.
3) The studio, British Lion, did not think much of the film. Producer Michael Deeley called it, “one of the ten worst films I have ever seen” and sliced out 20 minutes of the original 99 minute cut. Hardy tried to make his version again in 1976, but was informed that the film reel canisters had been disposed of – allegedly used in the construction of the M3. It wasn’t until 2001 when he got hold of an early cut he had gifted Roger Corman that he could make a version closer to his original. In 2013 the final cut was released with footage found in Harvard’s film archives which is the closest to Hardy’s original vision.
4) The first time Woodward saw the enormous wicker man is in the final film – the stunned look on his character’s face as he is led toward the behemoth is his real reaction, prior to that point he had only ever seen sketches.
This clip of Christopher Lee is from a press conference from the 2002 Brussels Fantasy Film Festival,