Posted at 11:24 AM on July 25, 2006
by Euan Kerr
I stumbled across a poster for a remake of "The Wicker Man" outside one of the local picture palaces recently. It's a Neil LaBute ("In the Company of Men," "Nurse Betty," "Possession") adaptation of the cult 70's horror melodrama. It's due out in early September.
Having never seen the original flick, this week I got hold of the DVD to take a look.
The movie really isn't very good, and time's passage has been unkind too. Yet there is an intriguing story behind the making of the film which is very interesting.
Set in the islands off Scotland's west coast, "The Wicker Man" stars Edward Woodward as a combative police sergeant who flies into a remote island to investigate the disappearance of a young girl.
He find a community which has adopted a nature-based religion which it sees as one of the reasons behind its uncanny ability to grow delicious fruit despite the somewhat harsh Scots climate. He quickly suspects there may be a dark side to the fertility cult, and ties to find links to the girl's disappearance.
The story has innate appeal as a horror flick. Pagan rites of human sacrifice just seem to touch on deep fears within us.
The film just messes it all up.
The story line is preposterous house of cards. Screenwriter Anthony Shaffer's hodge-podge of ancient ritual in an isolated setting just doesn't make sense. The island is filled with Scandinavian vixens with badly dubbed Scots accents, and even the poor sergeant seems to drift geographically during the different scenes.
What makes the film a lot more interesting is to learn that, while it is supposedly culminates around Mayday rites, it was actually shot in October and November. There is a fair bit of naked frolicking in the film (one of the things which excited the early interest in the film.) It turns out it was very uncomfortable, and resulted in many of actors wearing body gloves to ward off exposure.
The film later fell afoul of studio politics after British Lion changed management, and the new guys cut almost a quarter hour out of the picture thinking it would work better in the US that way.
To add insult to injury, someone screwed up badly and pitched the negatives which due to another quirk of fate supposedly ended up as roadfill in the construction of the new freeway being built near Shepperton studios.
Christopher Lee says he doesn't believe that story, and that someone knows where the negative is really hidden, which makes the whole thing all the more delicious.
Initially the film was released as an ill-conceived double bill with Nic Roeg's "Don't Look Now" and it didn't do well. Then a re-release on the college circuit combined with some energetic promotion on local TV in the US by Lee started the cult snowball rolling downhill. It's created a small cottage industry in Scotland.
Here we are some 30 years later and Nicholas Cage is about to step into Woodward's police boots. The story is now set in the US, which has upset some purists and it's rated PG-13 as opposed to the stark R on the original. The trailer shows there much of the new movie is faithful to the original. But it does seem to be a whole lot less cheesy.
Oh man! The cheese made it the hit it sorta was.
It's a well-known movie, so what does that mean for the "twist" ending?
Well, the original "Wicker Man" screenwriter Anthony Shaffer was told the surprise twist at the end of his play "Sleuth" would mean it would quickly die at the box office as word got out. It went on to great success on stage and then on screen with Olivier and Caine in the lead roles.
Yes, people might know the ending, but I bet they will be interested at how LaBute gets there....