‘Don’t you see that killing me is not going to bring back your apples!?’ It’s hard to believe that a line so ridiculous on paper could be delivered with such convincing dread, even in a film as off-kilter as The Wicker Man. But as most seasoned film buffs will attest, this is no ordinary scary movie. Hailed by Empire magazine as ‘the best British horror film ever made’ and the ‘Citizen Kane of horror films’ by Cinefantastique, there are few films that possess the power to unnerve, beguile and shock viewers quite like The Wicker Man. Even after multiple viewings, this British cult classic directed by Robin Hardy remains just as horrifying and downright weird as when it was first released in 1973.
Following an extensive worldwide search conducted by STUDIOCANAL for the long-lost original cut of the film, a 35mm release print assembled for the film’s 1979 American release was unearthed at Harvard Film Archives. It is this release print which will be shown in UK cinemas as The Wicker Man: Final Cut from 27 September. This revised version of the film is also due to be released on DVD and Blu-ray on 14 October in plenty of time for Halloween!
Much imitated but never bettered, it tells the disturbing tale of religiously devout, tenacious police sergeant Neil Howie, who arrives in the remote island community of Summerisle to investigate this disappearance of a local girl, Rowan Morrison, who the inhabitants mysteriously deny all knowledge of. As Howie probes deeper into the seemingly quaint society of Summerisle with its bizarre customs and beliefs, he is aghast to discover that the islanders practice an ancient Celtic paganism which has a terrible fate in store for the young Rowan unless Howie can rescue her in time before the May Day festivities.
Hardy’s brilliant use of the film’s bucolic Scottish locations, startlingly odd imagery and haunting soundtrack come together to produce a suspenseful atmosphere which grows increasingly menacing and frenetic before erupting in one of cinema’s most terrifying and unforgettable climaxes.
Scripted by Anthony Shaffer and showcasing iconic performances by the late Edward Woodward and Christopher Lee as Lord Summerisle, the convivial patriarch of this close-knit and strange community, longtime fans and newcomers to the film now have the chance to watch the first ever full restoration of the film in cinemas to mark its 40th anniversary.
While Hardy concedes that the print of the fabled Long Version or Director’s Cut of the movie is probably lost forever, he is satisfied that this cut of the film measures up to his original creative vision:
‘The film as I saw it in the editing suite the other day fulfills my vision of what it was intended to convey to the audience.’
Today the cultural legacy of The Wicker Man extends far beyond the world of film. It has inspired The Wickerman Festival, one of Scotland’s best loved independent music festivals which is held on a working farm in Dumfries & Galloway. Now in its 13th year, The Wickerman Festival features diverse line-ups alongside family-friendly events and entertainment including a spectacular finale in which a towering 40 ft Wickerman is set alight.
Shooting of the film took place in the Highlands, Ayrshire and Dumfries & Galloway and you can pay a visit to the small towns and villages of Plockton, Gatehouse of Fleet, Newton Stewart, Kirkcudbright, Creetown where some scenes were shot. Some of the film’s opening aerial shots also feature the Isle of Skye, including the imposing rock formations of the Quiraing and the Old Man of Storr, while attractions including Culzean Castle, Castle Kennedy, Logan Botanic Garden and St Ninian’s Cave also appear in the film.
Far from a stranger to the silver screen, find more places in Scotland which have served as filming locations in other great movies and how our gorgeous scenery, captivating history and unique culture continues to inspire filmmakers.