Sergeant Howie (Edward Woodward), a Scotland police officer, travels to the island of Summerisle in an attempt to find a missing girl. He received an anonymous letter detailing her disappearance and it is his job to find her. But once he arrives on the island the locals claim no such girl exists, even her own mother disputing the fact. As the film unfurls Sgt. Howie reveals more and more clues as to her real whereabouts and discovers the secrets of the island could turn out to be deadly. I will divulge no more here, but the film’s climax is stark and shocking when you finally discover who “The Wicker Man” really is.
“The Wicker Man” is known as a thinking man’s horror film. It doesn’t feature jump scares, masked villains, or opening dream sequences. The film is a classic that upon completion was immediately dropped by the studio that financed it. Efforts in getting the movie distributed were nigh impossible at best considering the subject matter of paganism and sacrifice. After a short stint on British shores it dropped out of sight, only to return for a few midnight showings at horror festivals over the years. Nevertheless, the legacy “The Wicker Man” carries almost twenty years later is astounding. Christopher Lee’s role, Lord Summerisle, was so on-target and breathtaking that even though the movie was seen by very few, those who did raved about it. Across the board critics and filmgoers alike praised the film for its audacity, storytelling, and shocker ending. Despite all of this the film fell into obscurity and 1973 left with “The Wicker Man” in its wake. Leave it to Anchor Bay, one of the leading DVD producers of obscure films, to produce a disc that not only serves the film but the fans as well.
“The Wicker Man” is unique in more ways than one: it explores paganism, goes from erotic thriller to a musical effortlessly, and returns to its horror roots before the film reaches completion. I found the theatrical cut detached and almost bland, with plot points a bit too obvious and twists, apart from the climax, simply mundane by today’s standards. Most of these issues are remedied in the extended cut, with the other-worldly aspect of the film built upon and the exotic Summerisle finally getting a chance to live up to that reputation. I suggest viewing the theatrical cut and then the longer version for the best effect, getting a good handle on the story before delving into the dreamlike extended take.
The limited edition includes two DVDs housed in a real pine box (the regular version holds only the theatrical cut in a standard keep-case), two lobby cards displaying the original poster art and chapter stops for both versions, and features the film logo and title burnt into the wood-a nice touch. The first disc holds the brisk 88-minute theatrical cut; the second contains the extended edit with 11 more minutes of footage. Christopher Lee is fabulous in the longer cut, with the theatrical rendition cutting him down to mere shreds of what this character really offers. The depth to which the Lord of the isle reaches in his beliefs, his ideals, and ultimately his convictions proves why this role has followed the actor around ever since the films release. The rest of cast is authentic and fare admirably, but it is Edward Woodward’s superb portrayal of Sgt. Howie and Christopher Lee’s knockout performance as Lord Summerisle that is worth noting-and watching-time and time again.
VIDEO ^ Both the theatrical and extended cuts feature solid 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen presentations. The print defects on both discs-including dirt, grain, and picture softness-cannot be prevented since the original negative is buried under a freeway (don’t ask) and the only print available was miraculously found by B-movie producer Roger Corman. The theatrical rendition is breathtaking in its clarity and the extended version suffers because of little disc space and sources involved. The new footage was culled from blurry videotape with the rest of the picture extracted from the theatrical transfer. The results are mixed with edge enhancement halos and digital artifacts abound, though at times the transfer creeps toward the robust clarity of the theatrical cut.
AUDIO ^ The theatrical version features a new Dolby Digital 5.1 remix and sounds superb. Dialogue and sound effects are clear, free from distortion, and fidelity holds up during the entire presentation. Though the surrounds are silent the age of the film is to blame for this and I wished for more activity. The extended cut is presented in mono, clear but muffled.
EXTRAS ^ The Wicker Man Enigma (34:10) ^ This fascinating documentary details casting, filming, distribution problems and the legacy of the film. From the difficulties incurred getting the picture produced, weather problems during the shoot (the film is set in spring but shot in November/December), to how the author created a truly original work, this is a real treat. “Wicker” fanatics will eat this up and get some screen time to boot. Christopher Lee is the focal point of this piece, and some of his exploits include how he offered to pay for tickets of critic friends to get them to see the movie that the studio wouldn’t distribute. Congrats to Anchor Bay for producing this fine documentary worthy of multiple viewings.
Radio Spots (four 60 second and ten 30 second spots) ^ These radio spots feature a baritone announcer who really likes to the bite off the word “wicker.” Even hardcore fans might find this lackluster, boring feature of note though its value is mainly historic.
TV Spot (0:30) ^ I don’t know where Anchor Bay found this footage but it is simply grotesque. Culled from old videotape, the footage includes every kind of flaw imaginable and fades in and out like a bad photograph. A segment best experienced with your eyes closed, this limp overview of the film is thankfully short.
Theatrical Trailer (2:21) ^ For a film that received no publicity or fanfare, this lame trailer proves why. The story is set up badly, the jump-cuts are just plain annoying, and the climax is anything but interesting. I can’t see anyone enticed to see this film after watching this.
Cast and Crew Bios are also included in this package, and are quite extensive. I was impressed.
Anchor Bay’s DVD set is excellent and the pine box packaging is a stroke of genius. This gem has been overlooked for far too long and this film remains as daring today as it was almost twenty years ago. From naked children dancing around a bonfire to Christopher Lee’s baritone voice singing the praises of pagan gods, this unforgettable movie deserves a spot in your DVD library.
OVERALL (DVD, homepage rating): ***½ – 3.5 Stars ^ MOVIE: ***½ – 3.5 Stars ^ VIDEO: *** – 3 Stars ^ AUDIO: *** – 3 Stars ^ EXTRAS: **½ – 2.5 Stars