The Wicker Man (1973 film)

Infobox Film
name = The Wicker Man

writer = Anthony Shaffer
starring = Edward Woodward
Christopher Lee
Diane Cilento
Ingrid Pitt
Britt Ekland
director = Robin Hardy
producer = Peter Snell
cinematography = Harry Waxman
music = Paul Giovanni
distributor = British Lion Films (UK Original)
Optimum Releasing (UK 2006)
Warner Bros. (USA)
released = December, 1973
runtime = 88 Min
(theatrical release)
100 Min
Director's Cut
language = English | amg_id = 1:54493
imdb_id = 0070917
budget =

"The Wicker Man" is a classic cult 1973 British film filmed in Scotland, 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 story synopsis follows a Scottish police officer, Sargeant Neil Howie, visiting the isolated island of Summerisle, in the search for a missing girl. The inhabitants of Summerisle all follow a reconstucted form of Celtic paganism, which shocks and appalls the devoutly Christian Sargeant.

"The Wicker Man" is generally very highly regarded by critics. Film magazine "Cinefantastique" described it as "The "Citizen Kane" of Horror Movies", and in 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".

The work was later allocated as first of "The Wicker Man Trilogy", with a sequel, entitled "Cowboys for Christ", is currently in production based on a book by Robin Hardy, 35 years after the film's original release. A third film, "The Twilight of the Gods", is set for a later release.

A 2006 American remake has also been produced, with which Robin Hardy and other members of the British original dissasociated themselves with.


Sergeant Neil Howie is sent an anonymous letter recommending that he investigate the disappearance of a young girl, Rowan Morrison, on the remote Hebridean island of Summerisle. [There is a real section of the Hebrides called the Summer Isles] He flies to the island and during his investigations discovers that the entire population follows a neo-pagan cult, believing in re-incarnation, worshipping the sun and engaging in fertility rituals and sexual magic in order to appease immanent natural forces.

Howie, a devout Christian, is increasingly shocked by the islanders' behaviour. He angrily threatens to involve authorities in ending their pagan schooling and medical practices. Amulets such as the hag stone, toad stone, and snail stone, and the supposed cure of the whooping cough by placing a toad in a child's mouth, closely resemble descriptions found in "Animal Simples". [cite web|url=|title=Animal Simples: Approved for Modern Uses of Cure|author=William Thomas Fernie|year=1899] He is attracted by Willow, the daughter of the landlord of the inn where he is staying, who is seen to dance naked in a most alluring manner, but insists that he does not believe in sex before marriage to his fiancee on the mainland. He receives no assistance in his search from the islanders, who initially deny Morrison exists and then say that she recently died. At her grave, however, he finds only a hare interred. Howie persists and uncovers evidence suggesting the girl was a victim, or perhaps is soon to be a victim, of human sacrifice.

Howie arranges a meeting with the island's owner Lord Summerisle (Christopher Lee), confronting him with what he has discovered about the island. Howie hopes that as an English aristocrat, Lord Summerisle will put a stop to the cult practices. Instead, Summerisle cooly informs him that he has designed the culture of the island to be run in just this way, that the pagan belief structure suits his purposes.

Delving deeper into the island's culture, he disguises himself as Punch, a principal character of the May Day festival, to uncover the details of the ceremony as it is acted out. As he comes across Rowan during the rituals, he reveals himself to her. The two flee through caves but end up at a precipice, where Lord Summerisle awaits them. Now it is revealed that Rowan led Howie intentionally to this place, so that the islanders can use "him" as sacrifice, which they believe will restore the fertility of their orchards.

As the islanders seize Howie, they explain to him that the sacrifice will be especially effective since Howie comes to the place of sacrifice of his own free will, with the power of a king (by representing the law), as a fool (since he is dressed as Punch), and a virgin (since he is a devout Christian, who--as he states earlier in the film--does not believe in sex before marriage). Howie in turn admonishes them, that killing him would not restore their fertility, that they would have to sacrifice Lord Summerisle next year, that they all would be guilty of murder and that his disappearance would not go unnoticed. Lord Summerisle however expresses his certainty that the sacrifice will work and that no traces of his presence would be left. Howie is forced into the belly of a large hollow wicker statue of a man, which is set on fire. In the final shot of the film, the islanders surround the burning wicker man and sing the Middle English folk-song "Sumer Is Icumen In" while the terrified Howie shouts out Psalm 23 and predicts divine vengeance on the island and its inhabitants. The dying prayer of Sergeant Howie is taken from the words of Sir Walter Raleigh on the scaffold. The consequences of the event remain ambiguous.

Background & production

Christopher Lee was well known as a Hammer Films regular, in particular playing Dracula in a series of successful films. At the time, Lee was looking to expand his acting horizons, and collaborated with British Lion head Peter Snell and playwright Anthony Shaffer (already well known for "Sleuth") to develop a film based on the novel "Ritual" by David Pinner. Though the book was all but completely abandoned (all that survived from Pinner's book into the finished film is the scene in which Howie presses himself against his bedroom wall as a means of communing with the siren-like calls of Willow next door), the idea of an idealistic confrontation between a modern Christian and a remote, pagan community continued to intrigue Shaffer, who performed painstaking research on the topic. Brainstorming with director Robin Hardy, the film was conceived as presenting the pagan elements objectively and accurately, accompanied by authentic music and a believable, contemporary setting.

After Michael York and David Hemmings turned down the role of the policeman, television actor Edward Woodward was cast. In Britain he was already familiar as the TV spy "Callan", a role he played from 1967 to 1972. He later gained international attention portraying the title character in the 1980 Australian film "Breaker Morant". (American audiences probably know Woodward best for his role in the 1980s CBS TV series "The Equalizer".)

Diane Cilento was lured out of semi-retirement after Shaffer saw her on the stage to play the town's schoolmistress, and Ingrid Pitt (another British horror film veteran) was cast as the town librarian and registrar. The Swedish actress Britt Ekland was cast as the innkeeper's lascivious daughter (perhaps for box office appeal), though her singing and possibly all her dialogue was redubbed by Annie Ross, and some of her nude dancing was performed by a double called Jane Jackson who lived in Castle Douglas at the time.

The film was produced at a time of crisis in the British film industry. The studio in charge of production, British Lion Films, was in financial trouble and was bought out by millionaire businessman John Bentley. To convince the unions that he was not about to asset-strip the company, Bentley needed to get a film into production quickly. This meant that "The Wicker Man", a film set during early summer, was actually filmed in October: artificial leaves and blossoms had to be glued to trees in many scenes. The production was kept on a tight budget. Christopher Lee was extremely keen to get the film made; he and others worked on the production without pay. [imdb title|id=0070917|title=The Wicker Man|description=(Trivia)] While filming took place, British Lion was taken over by EMI Films.

The film was almost entirely filmed in the small Scottish towns of Gatehouse of Fleet, Newton Stewart, Kirkcudbright and a few scenes in the village of Creetown in Dumfries and Galloway. Culzean Castle in Ayrshire and its grounds were also used for much of the shooting. The end burning of the Wicker Man took place at Burrow Head (on a caravan site).

Cast and crew

*Edward Woodward as Sergeant Howie
*Christopher Lee as Lord Summerisle
*Diane Cilento as Miss Rose
*Britt Ekland as Willow
*Ingrid Pitt as Librarian
*Lindsay Kemp as Alder MacGregor
*Russell Waters as Harbour Master
*Aubrey Morris as Old Gardener / Gravedigger
*Irene Sunters as May Morrison (also as Irene Sunter)
*Walter Carr as School Master
*Ian Campbell as Oak


By the time of the film's completion the studio had been bought out by EMI, and British Lion was now run by Michael Deeley. The DVD commentary track states that studio executives suggested a more "upbeat" ending to the film, in which a sudden rain puts the flames of the wicker man out and spares Howie's life, but this suggestion was refused. Hardy subsequently had to remove approximately 20 minutes of scenes on the mainland, early investigations, and (to Lee's disappointment) some of Lord Summerisle's initial meeting with Howie.

A copy of the finished, 99 minute filmMark Kermode, " [ Some Wicker This Way Comes] ", Channel4.] was sent to American film producer Roger Corman in Hollywood to make a judgment of how to market the film in the USA. Corman recommended an additional 13 minutes be cut from the film. (Corman did not acquire US release rights, and eventually Warner Bros. test-marketed the film in drive-ins.) In Britain, the film was ordered cut to roughly 87 minutes, with some narrative restructuring, and released as the "B" picture on a double bill with "Don't Look Now." Despite Lee's claims that the cuts had butchered the film's continuity, he urged local critics to see the film.


In the mid-Seventies, Hardy made inquiries about the film, hoping to restore it to his original vision. Along with Lee and Shaffer, Hardy searched for his original cut or raw footage. Both of these appeared to have been lost. He remembered that a copy of the film, prior to Deeley's cuts, was sent to Roger Corman; it turned out that Corman still had a copy, possibly the only existing print of Hardy's version. The US rights had been sold by Warner Bros. to a small firm called Abraxas, run by film buff Stirling Smith and critic John Simon. Stirling agreed to an American re-release of Hardy's reconstructed version. Hardy restored the narrative structure, some of the erotic elements which had been excised, and a very brief pre-title segment of Howie on the mainland (appearing at a church with his fiancée). The 96 minute restored version was released January, 1979cite web | title=The various versions of "The wicker Man" | publisher=Steve Philips | url= | accessdate=2006-12-11 ] , again to critical acclaim. Strangely, the original full-length film was available in the US on VHS home video from Media Home Entertainment (and later, Magnum) during the 1980s and 1990s. This video included additional, early scenes in Howie's police station that Hardy had left out of the 1979 version.

In 2001 the film's new worldwide rights owners, Canal+, began an effort to release the full-length film. Corman's full-length film copy had been lost, but a 1-inch telecine transfer existed. With this copy, missing elements were combined with film elements from the previous versions. (In particular, additional scenes of Howie on the mainland were restored, showing the chaste bachelor to be the object of gossip at his police station, and establishing his rigidly devout posture.) The DVD "Extended version" released by Canal+ (with Anchor Bay Entertainment handling US DVD distribution) is this hybrid cut, considered the longest and closest version to Hardy's original, 99 minute cut of the film. A two-disc limited edition set was sold with both the shortened, theatrical release version and the newly restored extended version, and a retrospective documentary, "The Wicker Man Enigma."imdb title|id=0307667|title=The Wicker Man Enigma|description=2001 documentary on the film's production and various releases.] In 2005, Inside The Wicker Man author Allan Brown revealed he had discovered a series of stills taken on-set during the film's production showing the shooting of a number of sequences from the script that had never been seen before; indeed, it had never been certain that these scenes had actually been filmed. They include a scene in which Howie closes a mainland pub that is open after-hours, has an encounter with a prostitute, receives a massage from Willow McGregor and spectates as Oak and a villager enact a brutal confrontation in The Green Man pub. It is hoped that these images will be featured in a revised edition of the book Inside The Wicker Man.

Anchor Bay Entertainment released a limited edition wooden box of The Wicker Man. 50,000 2-disk sets were made, and 20 of them were signed by stars Christopher Lee and Edward Woodward, writer Anthony Shaffer, Producer Peter Snell and Director Robin Hardy.


"The Wicker Man" met with moderate success and won first prize in the 1974 Festival of Fantastic Films in Paris, but largely slipped into obscurity. (However, the American film magazine, "Cinefantastique" devoted a commemorative issue to the film in 1977 - the praise that the film is "the "Citizen Kane" of horror movies" has been attributed to this issue.) []

In 2003 the Crichton Campus of the University of Glasgow in Dumfries and Galloway hosted a three day conference on "The Wicker Man". The conference spawned two collections of articles about the film.

Wicker Man starlet Britt Ekland appeared (recorded live) on the British TV show 'Friday Night with Jonathan Ross' on BBC1 on Feb 1, 2008. Ross described the movie as one of his 'all time favourites' and the BBC show also screened the infamous 'wall-slapping' clip from The Wicker Man. Britt explained that the reason she had refused to dance fully naked in the scene (though she did appear topless) was due to a recently discovered pregnancy, and said she later found out the body double used for scene was a 'Glasgow stripper'.


Composed, arranged and recorded by Paul Giovanni and Magnet, the soundtrack contains folk songs performed by characters in the film. The songs vary between traditional songs, original Giovanni compositions and even nursery rhyme in "Baa, Baa, Black Sheep".

Willow's Song has been covered or sampled by various rock bands.

It should be noted that the songs on the soundtrack were not, as some have said, actual cult songs used by pagans. All the songs were composed by Paul Giovanni, except in instances where he used well-known lyrics such as the words from the rhyme "Baa, Baa, Black Sheep". The song sung by the cultists of Summer Isle at the end of the film, "Sumer Is Icumen In" is a real song from the mid 13th century, but is not about Pagan rites as such. It is instead a song about Spring, or the Crucifixion if using the Latin words.

"Willow's Song" was covered by the Sneaker Pimps, as "How Do", and can be heard in the movie Hostel (2006). The song is also included in their 1996 release "Becoming X". Additionally, the band has also covered "Gently Johnny" as "Johnny" and is featured as a B-Side on their "Roll On" (1996) single.


An American remake, starring Nicolas Cage and Ellen Burstyn and directed by Neil LaBute was released on 1 September, 2006. Robin Hardy expressed concern about the remake. [ [ News ] ] Subsequent to its release, Hardy simply described it as a different film rather than a remake. [ [ IMDb :: Boards :: Cowboys for Christ (2008) :: Original Wickerman Screening + Q+A with ] ] The remake was panned both critically and commercially. Today it has a significant cult following as an unintentional comedy, with several scenes on YouTube boasting Cage brutalizing various women throughout and terrorizing children, a fan-made comedy trailer of the film, and more. [ [ Best Scenes From "The Wicker Man"] ]

Hardy is working on a re-imagining of "The Wicker Man", which has previously gone under the working titles "May Day" and "Riding the Laddie" and is now referred to as "Cowboys for Christ". First announced in April 2000, filming on the project was commenced, but postponed on 21 April 2008 according to iMDb. Hardy has already published this story as a novel. It follows two young American Christian evangelists who travel to Scotland; like Woodward's character in "The Wicker Man", the two Americans are virgins who encounter a pagan laird and his followers.

ee also

*Burning Man
*Wickerman Festival
*Willow's Song



*Brown, Allan, " [ Inside The Wicker Man: The Morbid Ingenuities] ", London: Macmillan, 2000. ISBN 0-283-06355-6.
*Catterall, Ali & Wells, Simon, "Your Face Here: British Cult Movies Since The Sixties", Fourth Estate, 2001. ISBN 0-00-714554-3

External links


* [ Interview: Director Robin Hardy talks about the film to Fortean Times]
* [ Interview with director Robin Hardy about The Wicker Man and Cowboys For Christ in MungBeing]


* [ Silva Screen release information]
* [ Trunk Records release information]
* [ Associate Musical Director Gary Carpenter's recollections of the film]
* [ Paul Giovanni on MySpace] music site for Wicker Man soundtrack on MySpace
* [ Ian Cutler] Fiddler from the Wicker Man
* [ Ian Cutler on MySpace] music site on MySpace
* [ 'How Do' by the Sneaker Pimps] based on Paul Giovanni's "Willow's Song", 1973

Related films

*" [ The Wicker Man Enigma] " directed by [ David Gregory] , 2001.
*" [ Burnt Offering: The Cult of the Wicker Man] " directed by [ Andrew Abbott] and [ Russell Leven] , 2001. Cast members gather to reminisce about their experience making "The Wicker Man".
*" [ The Wicker Man II: Fowlpurgisnacht] " Unauthorized sequel to "The Wicker Man".

Other sites

* [ The Wickerman Festival - Scotland's Alternative Music Event] — the July celebration of cult, off the wall music that climaxes in the burning of a giant willow and straw effigy.


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