Fifty years later, it’s hard to deny the excellence of Robin Hardy‘s folk horror masterpiece, The Wicker Man. Sergeant Neil Howie (Edward Woodward) receives an anonymous letter informing him that a young girl, Rowan Morrison (Geraldine Cowper), has gone missing on the remote Scottish island of Summerisle. A devout Christian determined to help those in need, Howie decides to act on the letter and find the missing girl.
Shortly after arriving on the island, Howie suspects things are not as they seem. The locals play dumb and claim the missing girl is not one of their own. But Howie believes there is more to the story. With every bit of pushback, he digs in and demands answers. He attempts to use his authority as a police officer from the mainland, but the locals insist he must go through Lord Summerisle (Christopher Lee) and get his approval before doing anything.
Summerisle is a gorgeous, serene place. In many ways, it is a paradise, but it’s also unsettling. The people seem nice on the surface, but there is an oddness to them. Perhaps it’s the way they seem apprehensive towards strangers or the way they break out into catchy folk songs with lyrics laced with not-so-subtle sexual innuendos. Or maybe it’s that whole human sacrifice bit. Easy to be put off by that.
The Wicker Man is a film centered on conflicting ideologies. On one side, you have Howie, a conservative who lives by strict Christian values. Sure, he’s a bit prudish and judgemental, but he seems to have his heart in the right place. After all, he’s set out on his journey to find a missing girl. On the other side of the spectrum, you have the people of Summerisle who, like their leader, Lord Summerisle, are free spirits that embrace paganism. The islanders are one with nature and openly embrace their sexuality, no matter their age or gender.
The more Howie interacts with the locals, the angrier he becomes. He can’t understand why they are the way they are. He’s disgusted by their lack of a church and even more upset by food out of a can. At one point, he scolds a classroom or little girls, calling them liars. And Woodward nails the performance every step of the way.
In contrast, Lee’s Lord Summerisle is largely cool and relaxed. He’s unphased by Howie’s views, and his booming voice acts as a calming presence. His mostly nonchalant attitude in the first half of the film makes his decisions in the later half all the more disturbing.
Howie is appalled that Summerisle has no minister and fails to teach Christianity in school. Frankly, their beliefs are silly. A snarky Lord Summerisle reminds him that Jesus, “Himself the son of a virgin, impregnated, I believe, by a ghost,” isn’t all that reasonable either.
Ultimately, Howie’s proclivity to do what he thinks is right is what does him in. The people of Summerisle know Howie will stop at nothing to find the missing girl, and they use it against him to set him up.
The Wicker Man and its theme remain just as relevant today. People believe their religion and their way of life is the only way and will go to great lengths to enforce their ideologies on others, consequences be damned. For many of us, on at least some level, it is relatable.
Lionsgate’s new UltraHD SteelBook of The Wicker Man boasts that the film is “reborn in glorious 4K.” And it certainly shows. The film opens with a little blurb about the restoration details. The important thing to notice here is that this release includes only the “Final Cut” of the film. This version of the film includes elements that were originally believed to be lost. That means the majority of the film is a 4K restoration of the original camera elements, but a few select scenes were working with 35mm duplicates. The scenes are few and far between, but they jump out, looking a little rough in comparison to the rest of the film. Still, this is a minor squabble as the rest of the film looks breathtaking, highlighting the gorgeous Scottish landscape. And make those animal masks extra creepy. The finale of the wicker man burning with the sunset in the background is stunning.
This Region A release contains two discs – a 4k UHD and a Blu-ray. Both discs contain just the “Final Cut” version of the film. This is a slightly odd choice because three cuts of the film do exist. All three cuts were included in the Studio Canal Region B release from earlier this year. The other contents between the two releases are mostly identical, so why the Region A release was short-changed a bit is a mystery.
Despite the lack of additional cuts, the special features are plentiful with each disc having exclusive content plus several shared features between the two. The set is packaged in a gorgeous SteelBook with alluring artwork that represents the film well. Also included is a clear slip sleeve that actually adds something additional to the style and look, rather than just being a carbon copy of what is already on the case.
4K-Only Special Features
Revisiting the Locations of the Wicker Man: Robin Hardy’s son Dominic takes viewers back to the locales used in the film, including a stop at the Logan Botanic Gardens.
The Wicker Man at 50: Robin Hardy’s son Justin speaks with critics about what makes people go crazy over The Wicker Man.
Robin Hardy’s Script: The Lost Ending: Justin Hardy and actor Tim Plester look at Robin Hardy’s personal copy of the script and discuss the changes he made. Includes a long monologue that was to be performed by Lee but seemingly scrapped by Hardy.
Britt Ekland Interview: A new interview with Ekland where she discusses how she got involved with the film.
Behind-the-Scene Gallery: Black-and-white production stills.
Wicker Man Enigma: Archival documentary on the cult status of the film.
Burnt Offering: The Cult of the Wicker Man: Robin Hardy and Christopher Lee break down the cult following over the film and dig into the religious aspects.
Interview with Robin Hardy & Christopher Lee (1979): Archival television interview with Hardy and Lee.
4K & Blu-ray Special Features
Worshipping the Wicker Man: Filmmakers Eli Roth, Ben Wheatley, and James Watkins (as well as a handful of critics) talk about why they love The Wicker Man and what makes it such a beloved cult classic.
The Music of the Wicker Man: Excellent feature on the film’s iconic folk soundtrack and how it helped shape the film.
Interview with Robin Hardy (2013): Archival interview with Hardy.
Blu-ray Only Special Feature
The Wicker Man is superb. It floats between multiple genres, going from disturbing horror film to tense drama to humorous black comedy to whimsical musical and back again. Its use of beautiful, lush locations juxtaposed with horrific atrocities carried out by a tight-knit community gone mad makes it the quintessential example of folk horror. The lack of all versions of the film is a bit of a strange choice, but this is still a spectacular release that properly celebrates the 50th anniversary of one of the all-time great cult classics. Highly recommended.