One of the great British horror films, The Wicker Man, is finally being shown in its entirety today after Hollywood butchered it prior to release in 1973. According to Studio Briefing, a complete print of director Robin Hardy’s final version was discovered in the Harvard Film Archive.
I’ve seen The Wicker Man in incomplete versions a couple of times. It never fails to simultaneously evoke pity for Howie and huge exhilaration. Partly because life on Summerisle is an idyllic vision of people just getting along and enjoying life to the full. Unless, of course, your crops begin to fail and you have to turn to human sacrifice. Opposing their worldview is Constable Howie, a dour puritan, who would have burned pagans in another age. He achieves something his peculiar mindset might hold in high esteem – the chance to die as a martyr. I think that tension is what gives the film such resonance.
Unbelievably, or perhaps believably, the studio wanted a happy ending for Howie, with rain putting out the fire in the wicker man. A simplistic, Biblical Deus ex machina calculated to destroy the complex duality of the film. We must be thankful that Hardy refused to compromise its integrity.
There’s no doubt Howie is entrapped into investigating the disappearance of a young girl who never actually went missing, but the fool gets every chance to save himself. He only has to give in to Willow’s enchantment and lose his virginity. Here’s her song and it’s well-nigh irresistible.
As is Britt Ekland in the role of Willow, though she thought she had “an arse like a ski slope,” so they had to get her a bottom double for the nude scenes. This according to an illuminating article in the Guardian where Hardy and Gary Carpenter, musical director, talk about the making of the film.
I’m hoping our wee Picture House gets a copy for the First Monday program – good films that aren’t the usual Hollywood dreck, shown on the first Monday of every month. In the meantime, here’s the trailer. I’d take the 4 hour bus to journey to Glasgow, and 4 hours back, just to see this film again.