The Wicker Man (1973)

UK, 1973
87m, 102m
35mm, Eastmancolor
mono, English

A British horror film directed by Robin Hardy.

Plot Summary

When a young girl disappears from the remote Scottish island of Summerisle, the deeply Christian Sergeant Howie is sent to investigate. He’s appalled by the community’s pagan ways and their open displays of sexuality. He comes to suspect that the missing girl has been sacrificed by the locals – but there’s much worse horror waiting for the devout and virginal Sergeant Howie…

Credits

Crew
Directed by: Robin Hardy
© MCMLXXIII [1973] British Lion Film Productions Limited
British Lion presents a Peter Snell production
Produced by: Peter Snell
Screenplay: Anthony Shaffer
Story: The Ritual by: David Pinner *
Director of Photography: Harry Waxman
Film Editor: Eric Boyd-Perkins
Music Composed by: Paul Giovanni
Sound: Robin Gregory, Bob Jones
Costume Designer: Sue Yelland
Make-up: Billy Partleton
Hairdresser: Ian Dorman
Art Director: Seamus Flannery

Cast
Edward Woodward (Sergeant Neil Howie)
Britt Ekland (Willow Macgregor)
Diane Cilento (Miss Rose)
Ingrid Pitt (librarian)
Christopher Lee as Lord Summerisle
Roy Boyd (Broome)
Lesley Mackie (Daisy)
Walter Carr (schoolmaster)
Irene Sunter (Mrs May Morrison)
Lindsay Kemp (Alder MacGregor)
Ian Campbell (Oak)
Kevin Collins (old fisherman)
Aubrey Morris (old gardener/gravedigger)
Russell Waters (harbour master)

Alternative Titles

Le Dieu d’osier – France (Belgium)
Le Gevlochten god
– France (Belgium)
O Homem de Palha
– Brazil
Uhrijuhla – Finland

Remake
The Wicker Man (2006)

Sequel
The Wicker Tree (2011)

See also
Darklands (1997)

Extracts included in
Burnt Offerings: The Cult of the Wicker Man (2001)
Ex-S: The Wicker Man (1998)
The Wicker Man Enigma (2001)

Press

1974
Monthly Film Bulletin vol.41 no.480 (January 1974) p.16
Absolute nonsense, of course. And yet it is so persuasively written by the remarkably agile-minded Anthony Shaffer, that few will be able to suppress a shudder as the awful truth finally dawns. Relentlessly building an atmosphere of unease that is more akin to that of his brother Peter’s electrifying play Equus than anything he himself has hitherto written for the screen, the writer manipulates the mechanics of the mystery thriller with a sly delight. […] [A]n immensely enjoyable piece of hokum, thoroughly well researched, performed and directed. An encouraging achievement for those who had begun to despair of the British cinema. – from a review by David McGillivray

Variety 15 May 1974 p.24
The Wicker Man,” winner of the grand Prize at Third International Festival of Fantasy and Science Fiction Films in Paris, rightfully came by its prize. British Lion import, lensed entirely on location in Scotland and possessed of a weird and paganistic story, is one of the most unusual films to come out of Britain in years and despite lack of names for American audiences could be exploited for better-than-average returns in general market. Anthony Shaffer, whose “Sleuth” was one of the events of the London and Broadway stages for several seasons, penned the screenplay which, for sheer imagination and near-terror, has seldom been equalled. […] The Peter Snell production is offbeat even for thrillers, and the producer has assembled a group of intriguing occurrences which, by their very nature, sets story high in the fiction ranks. Robin Hardy’s direction makes shrewd use of the narrative offered him, inserting old customs and strange rituals, the whole unfolding against a fascinating Scottish landscape which few Americans probably have ever witnessed. […] Woodward straight forward performance is strongly motivated by the convictions of the sergeant in coming face-to-face with un-believable practices. Lee’s portrayal is that of a character who, while living in the present, belongs to the past. Both score in their roles. Britt Ekland, Diane Cilento and Ingrid Pitt provide distaff interest and an atmospheric supporting cast lends further persuasion to the overall story. Technical credits are particularly notable, especially Harry Waxman’s color photography and art direction by Seamus Flannery. Spectator is led to feel that something unusual will happen through the spectacular pictorial opening as the sergeant’s hydroplane approaches the island through a maze of beautiful scenes. Flannery’s work is extravagantly wrought. Of particular interest are the settings, both natural and the various glimpses of town buildings and the castle. Paul Giovanni’s music score catches the mood of the piece and Eric Boyd-Perkins’ tight editing dramatic. – from a review by Whit

1976
Cinefantastique vol.5 no.2 (October 1976) p.35
Superb, unclassifiable thriller […] Outstanding script by Anthony Shaffer of Sleuth fame. A stunning dance sequence by Britt Ekland – one of the most beautifully erotic things I’ve seen. For reasons unknown, Warner Bros will probably never release this. – from a review by BW [Bill Warren]

1978
Boxoffice 9 January 1978 p.4999
Considered to be a lost horror classic, this British Lion production has had a history as bizarre as its plot. Made in Scotland in 1973, from a screenplay by Anthony “Sleuth” Shaffer, the film acquired a reputation abroad after an initially sparse release. It was considered for distribution here by National General and New World before being released briefly by Warner Bros. Its original 102 minutes have been cut to 87 minutes, although its current handler hopes to make the fuller version available. Co-star Christopher Lee considers his part the best he’s ever had. The film has a fascinating air of pagan ritualism and heavy sexual symbolism and there is a good amount of nudity (Britt Ekland does an extremely erotic nude dance) while little in the way of gore is shown. The horror element works from the standpoint of ordinary people, adults as well as children, participating in terrifying events. Edward Woodward is the virtuous and uncompromising police sergeant, a representative of Christianity, and the three heroines, Diane Cilento, Ingrid Pitt and Ekland, are in for more than decoration. Director Robin Hardy, from TV and commercials, makes an impressive debut with this cult feature. – from an uncredited review

2002
Sight & Sound vol.12 no.7 (July 2002) p.62
Anthony Schaffer’s brilliant script helps to make this infinitely more provocative and original than almost any other horror film of its era. – from a review by GM [Geoffrey Macnab]

2003
Total Film no.83 (December 2003) p.52
While The Wicker Man was left to cobweb ITV’s late-night schedules, director Hardy’s push for a US release finally paid off in 1979 when a recut version became an unlikely sleeper hit. Swallow your pride: it took America to remind us of one of our own classics. And classic it is: the tale of a naive copper’s investigation into a child’s disappearance on a pagan-populated island, it’s a bleak, peculiar chiller – erotic, eccentric and still shocking. – from an illustrated article (The flops that rocked) by Jonathan Crocker and Simon Crook

References

Periodicals

  • American Cinematographer vol.83 no.2 (February 2002) pp.16, 18 – DVD review (DVD playback by Chris Pizzello)
  • Boxoffice 9 January 1978 p.4999 – review (uncredited)
  • Castle of Frankenstein no.23 pp.48, 51
  • Cinefantastique vol.5 no.2 (October 1976) p.35 – review (by BW [Bill Warren])
  • Cinefantastique vol.6 no.3 (December 1977) pp.4-18, 32-46 – illustrated article (by David Bartholomew)
  • Cinefantastique vol.6/7 no.4/1 (April 1978) p.60 – letter
  • CinemaTV Today no.10002 (14 October 1972) p.1 – note (First film from ‘new’ British Lion)
  • CinemaTV Today no.10003 (21 October 1972) p.11 – note (Three new films); credits
  • CinemaTV Today no.10062 (15 December 1973) p.20 – review
  • Classic Television no.5 (June 1998) pp.10-25 – illustrated article (British Film: The Classic Television top 100)
  • Empire no.109 (July 1998) p.132 – illustrated soundtrack review (Music sountracks etc.)
  • Empire no.209 (November 2006) pp.30 – illustrated review (In cinemas: The Wicker Man by Kim Newman)
  • Empire no.228 (June 2008) pp.94-101 – illustrated article (True originals by Simon Crook)
  • Film Comment vol.13 no.6 (November 1977) pp.29-31 – article (The industry: something wicker this way comes by Stuart Byron)
  • Film Comment vol.14 no.2 (March 1978) p.78 – note
  • Film Review no.675 (October 2006) pp.68; 123 – illustrated article (Burning issue by Alan Jones); illustrated review (The Wicker Man by Nikki Baughan)
  • Film Review Special (August 1996) pp.19-24 – credits, article (by Stephen Applebaum)
  • Film Score Monthly vol.7 no.8 (October 2002) pp.45-46 – illustrated soundtrack review (Score: reviews of current releases on CD by Nick Joy)
  • Films and Filming vol.20 no.7 (April 1974) p.47 – review
  • Films and Filming no.409 (October 1988) p.47 – article
  • Films in Review 31 May 1980 pp.312-313 – review (by Tom Rogers)
  • Flesh and Blood no.2 pp.5-6 – credits, review
  • Flesh and Blood no.3 (September 1994) p.43 – credits, review
  • Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television vol.34 no.1 (March 2014) pp.85-102 – illustrated article (Calculated risks: Film Finances and British independents in the 1970s by Justin Smith)
  • The Hollywood Reporter vol.231 no.18 (9 May 1974) p.3 – credits, review
  • The Hollywood Reporter vol.255 no.22 (15 February 1979) pp.3, 27 – note
  • The Hollywood Reporter vol.255 no.24 (20 February 1979) pp.3, 8 – review
  • The Hollywood Reporter vol.261 no.9 (3 April 1980) pp.1, 4 – note
  • Is It Uncut? no.3 pp.25-26 – illustrated review
  • Journal of British Cinema and Television vol.2 no.2 (December 2005) pp.377-379 – illustrated soundtrack review (CD reviews by David Huckvale)
  • Journal of Popular British Cinema no.5 (April 2002) pp.166-170 – illustrated book review of The Wicker Man: The Morbid Ingenuities (by Julian Petley)
  • The Listener vol.119 no.3061 (5 May 1988) p.34 – review
  • Monthly Film Bulletin vol.41 no.480 (January 1974) p.16 – credits, synopsis, review (by David McGillivray)
  • Music from the Movies no.35/36 (December 2002) pp.69-70 – illustrated soundtrack review (Film music review: archival by Steve Woolston)
  • The Nation no.230 (19 April 1980) p.476 – review (by Robert Hatch)
  • Radio Times vol.257 no.3362 (7 May 1988) p.16 – illustrated article (In the picture by Derek Winnert)
  • Radio Times vol.257 no.3365 (28 May 1988) p.96 – letter
  • Shivers no.56 p.39 – review
  • Sight and Sound vol.4 no.3 (March 1994) p.63 – video review
  • Sight and Sound vol.5 no.8 (August 1995) pp.28-29 – illustrated article (The Wicker Man and others by Anthony Shaffer)
  • Sight and Sound vol.20 no.8 (August 2010) pp.16-20 – illustrated article (The pattern under the plough by Rob Young)
  • Sight & Sound vol.12 no.7 (July 2002) p.62 – DVD review (Home movies: reviews by Geoffrey Macnab)
  • Stage Screen and Radio May 2005 pp.12-13, 26 – illustrated article (The Wicker Man – mystery solved by Janice Turner)
  • Time Out no.862 (25 February 1987) p.32 – illustrated interview with Robin Hardy
  • Total Film no.83 (December 2003) p.52 – illustrated article (The flops that rocked by Jonathan Crocker and Simon Crook)
  • Variety 15 May 1974 p.24 – credits, review (by Whit)

Books

  • 500 Essential Cult Movies: The Ultimate Guide by Jennifer Eiss with J.P. Rutter and Steve White p.227 – illustrated credits, synopsis, review
  • The Aurum Film Encyclopedia: Horror (2nd edition) p.287 – credits, review
  • The Christopher Lee Filmography by Tom Johnson and Mark A. Miller pp.249-253
  • The Cult Films of Christopher Lee by Jonathan Sothcott pp.234-243
  • English Gothic: A Century of Horror Cinema by Jonathan Rigby pp.10, 166, 230, 239-41, 240, 244, 281, 282, 287, 289, 296, 325, 332, 335, 351
  • Film Review 1974-75 by F. Maurice Speed (ed) p.212
  • The Films of Christopher Lee by Robert W. Pohle and Douglas C. Hart pp.162-163
  • Fright Night on Channel 9 by James Arena pp.175
  • Good Versus Evil in the Films of Christopher Lee by Paul Leggett pp.94-105; 169
  • The Highway Horror Film by Bernice M. Murphy p.24
  • Horrorshows: The A-Z of Horror in Film, TV, Radio and Theatre by Gene Wright p.166 – credits, review
  • Ingrid Pitt, Queen of Horror: The Complete Career by Robert Michael “Bobb” Cotter pp.65-71 – credits, synopsis, review
  • Lord of Misrule (new edition) by Christopher Lee pp.306-308, 331
  • Psychedelic Celluloid: British Pop Music in Film and TV 1965-1974 by Simon Matthews pp.153-154 – illustrated article (Hammer: The Pop Years); pp.179-178 – illustrated review
  • Reference Guide to Fantastic Films by Walt Lee p.541 – credits
  • The Routledge Companion to Folk Horror by Robert Edgar and Wayne Johnson (eds.) pp.9, 11-12, 32, 45, 51, 66-73, 75, 85, 123, 125, 127-128, 149-150, 176, 185, 190-191, 205, 208, 211, 227, 249-250, 255-256, 264, 278, 282, 284, 286-287, 296, 299, 308, 311, 313, 334, 337, 344-345, 356-361, 373-374, 377, 391, 409, 421, 431, 443
  • Ten Years of Terror pp.6, 8, 18, 102, 118, 143, 204-205, 223, 288, 289 – credits, review
  • Terror Tracks: Music, Sound and Horror Cinema by Philip Hayward (ed) pp.101, 11, 134
  • Top 100 Horror Movies by Gary Gerani p.45 – illustrated credits, synopsis, review
  • Uneasy Dreams: The Golden Age of British Horror Films, 1956-1976 by Gary A. Smith pp.237-238
  • The World of Fantasy Films by Richard Myers pp.40-42
  • The X-Rated Videotape Guide I by Robert H. Rimmer (third edition) p.154 – credits, review