The Wicker Man

The Wicker Man is a 1973 British film, combining thriller, existential horror and musical genres, directed by Robin Hardy and written by Anthony Shaffer. The film stars Edward Woodward, Christopher Lee, Diane Cilento, Ingrid Pitt, and Britt Ekland. Paul Giovanni composed the soundtrack. The film is now considered a cult classic.

Based very loosely on David Pinner’s 1967 novel The Ritual, the story centres on the visit of Police Sergeant Neil Howie to the isolated island of Summerisle, in search of a missing girl the locals claim never existed. Howie is a devout Christian, and is appalled by the reconstructed form of Celtic paganism practised by the inhabitants of the island.

The Wicker Man is generally well regarded by critics and film enthusiasts. Film magazine Cinefantastique described it as “The Citizen Kane of Horror Movies”, and during 2004 the magazine Total Film named The Wicker Man the sixth greatest British film of all time. It also won the 1978 Saturn Award for Best Horror Film. A scene from this film was #45 on Bravo’s 100 Scariest Movie Moments.

A badly-received 2006 Canadian/German/American remake was produced, from which Robin Hardy and others involved with the original have disassociated themselves.

The Wicker Tree, a “spiritual sequel” also directed by Hardy, is set for release in 2010.

Trivia:

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 Polish 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.


Until 2009 this film was never officially released in Germany. Only then it was released on DVD by Kinowelt (however, since it was not released before, without a German dub).


Information concerning the film’s checkered distribution history in the US: Opened 9/30/77 in Minneapolis MN with a PG rating; another run on 1/28/81. Variety reviewed it in their 5/15/74 issue. New Orleans run 10/28/78; San Francisco January 1979; Los Angeles with new ad campaign 3/9/79 and R rating; New York 3/26/80 with R rating and distributed by Dynamite Entertainment-Abraxas Releasing.


The letter kick-starting the investigation (seen in the Director’s Cut) is addressed to: Sgt Neil Howie, West Highland Police, Ullwater.