The Wicker Man: The Final Cut Movie Review
Written by Hamzah Sarwar
Released by Studiocanal
Directed by Robin Hardy
Written by Anthony Schaffer
1973, 94 minutes, Rated 15 (UK)
UK Cinema release on 27th September 2013. Blu-ray/DVD release on 14th October 2013
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 MacGreagor
Russell Waters as Harbour Master
Dubbed the 'Citizen Kane of horror films' by leading genre magazine Cinefantastique in 1977, The Wicker Man has become an icon of genre cinema and is widely revered as of the great British films of our time. Hardy's towering vision has endured a tumultuous voyage to discovery. With the original 102 minute director's cut mysteriously lost forever, a shortened 88 minute theatrical cut was released in the UK in 1973, a version Hardy maintains does not make narrative sense due to key scenes being omitted. Folk in the USA were fortunate enough to enjoy the Holy Grail, the 94 minute Abraxus cut, which was tracked down thanks to an arduous and concerted effort by Hardy. This version has never been screened theatrically in the UK nor has it been released for the home entertainment market anywhere in the world.
Fuelled by cinematic passion, StudioCanal began an extensive worldwide search to locate the original US release. In 2013, the studio has successfully unearthed the elusive Abraxus cut, quite brilliantly undertook a lengthy 2K restoration process and are poised to celebrate The Wicker Man's 40th anniversary by releasing the sensational final cut in UK cinemas and DVD/Blu ray in November this year.
The final cut represents a lavish renaissance of an undoubted cult classic; the grand restoration beautifully remasters, revitalises and adorns the timeless craft of Hardy and Shaffer. The Wicker Man has aged impeccably and its deep rooted religious messages are still relevant in the 21st century. The notion of sacrifice in Paganism and Christianity frame Sergeant Howie's (Ed Woodward) doomed investigation to find a missing girl on Lord Summerisle's (Christopher Lee) remote Scottish island. Crucially, the final cut inaugurates Lord Summerisle's character far earlier than the UK theatrical version. Lee's earlier inclusion allows for a far more balanced, coherent narrative structure. His introduction plants the seed as he progressively morphs into an archaic, occult figure of pernicious intentions. The addition of folk song 'Gently Johnny' has an almost hypnotic quality, its mere presence makes for quite possibly the most abstract yet haunting scene of the film. Its inclusion adds weight to the unsettling atmosphere created by Hardy and raises doubts around the legitimacy of the oblique community which Sergeant Howie has entered into.
The very fact that Howie arrives by plane is symbolic of him crossing into a parallel universe. Here, Pagan ideology is openly embraced as free flowing naturalism, an intrinsically open belief system which is ingrained in every sinew of the community's existence. Reincarnation is preferred to death while sacrificial offering to the 'old gods' is deemed necessary for a fruitful existence. Sergeant Howie's Christianity is rejected out of hand with Lord Summerisle deeming it a seemingly repressive regime. We are bombarded by images of the local community engaging in cult practices from a bygone era. Naked girls perform fertility dances over campfires, frogs are swallowed to alleviate sickness and there is even a Goddess like sexual being (Britt Ekland) who harvests energy of the local men. Each strange practice builds towards the heart wrenching climax which contains a sinister rendition of folk song 'Summer Is Icumen In'. It's a daunting task to identify a more disturbing, impactful finale to a horror picture.
The natural beauty of the authentic Scottish landscape is breathtaking as a result of the renovation process, it forms a stark comparison to the actions of man which unfold upon it. Backed by a superb soundtrack and arguably Christopher Lee's finest performance, The Final Cut's release will allow for a new generation of horror aficionado to marvel at the grace of an everlasting legend.
Video, Audio and Special Features:
Video, audio and special features will not be graded as this was a screening.