When a young girl mysteriously disappears, police sergeant Howie travels to a remote Scottish island to investigate. But this pastoral community, led by the strange Lord Summerisle, is not at all what it seems.
The legendary & brilliant 1973 British thriller "The Wicker Man" has unfortunately had one of the most storied release histories of almost any other film in existance. The initial director's cut of the film was 102 minutes. When the studio felt that the movie was too slow and hard to grasp at times, they cut the film down to 88 minutes for its theatrical release. Some scenes especially in the North American version got shuffeled around and the plot became kind of tough to follow in the early going. For a long time, this was the only version that was available on video until Anchor Bay about a decade ago released a 2 disc DVD special edition that contained both the heavily truncated 88 minute theatrical release as well as an almost 100 minute version that to date is the closest any release has come to the heavily sought after 102 minute director's cut. Since the original negative was lost quite some time ago for the long version, Studio Canal (who Anchor Bay licensed the rights from for the North American DVD release) had to splice in the missing scenes from a lesser quality version but the audio stayed the same. It was highly watchable and most importantly restored all of the missing prologue sequences showing police seargent Howie on the mainland prior to flying to a remote island to investigate a missing little girl.
Earlier in 2013, it was announced that a print of a 94 minute version of the film was found and that this version had actually been prepared by the director for release in North American in the late 70's. While this version only keeps the bit of Howie going to church prior to his flight to the island in question, all of the events of the movie are in their proper order though there are bits here and there still missing out of this version. A full HD restoration of the 94 minute cut was prepared and released in a limited theatrical run as well as in a 3 disc deluxe British edition containing the 94 minute and 88 minute cuts in full HD as well as the 100 minute version in standard definition only. A huge documentary was included in addition to some nice interview extras on the main disc as well as a restoration comparison.
Lionsgate though for some reason decided in their infinite wisdom for the North American release to leave out the 2nd and 3rd discs from the Britsh set and only include the 1st "Final Cut" disc of the film containing the restored in HD 94 minute cut. So, if you were one of the lucky ones like me to get the Anchor Bay 2 disc set as it was limited to a run of only 50,000, make sure to hold onto that version due to Lionsgate deciding to not port the full UK edition to American shores.
How does the 94 minute cut work? Since I'm so familiar with the almost 100 minute extended version, I do sorely miss those extra scenes. However, the information contained in the mainland prologue section concerning Sgt. Howie is given throughout the main plot of the film but it does help set up his character a lot better. The other bits missing throughout the film don't really detract from the plot but once again, being so used to the long version, I realized when every little trim was not there. The movie though still works like gangbusters even in the 94 minute cut and since the scenes are in their proper order unlike the 88 minute original theatrical release, it's easy to follow what is going on with Sgt. Howie's strange interactions with the island's inhabitants during his search for the missing girl.
The picture quality overall is stupendous though some of the extra scenes included are of a rougher quality than the rest of the film (The "Gently, Johnny" sequence comes to mind). But this is the best that the film has ever looked and fans will be pleased with how much of a huge upgrade in picture quality the film has received for its HD debut. The audio is presented in the film's original 1 track mono in lossless audio. Extras contain interviews with various people talking about how much they love the film as well as the film's writer, a focus on the film's famous musical score and also a restoration comparison too.
If you have a region free blu-ray player, go ahead and import in the 3 disc British set as it's the truly definitive set for this amazing film that seems to keep getting better with age over 40 years since its original release. If you don't have access to a region free blu-ray player, then go ahead and get this set but also see if you can get one of the limited edition 2 disc Anchor Bay DVD sets so you can have both the 88 minute theatrical cut and almost 100 minute extended cut too. I have no idea why Lionsgate decided to do this with the North American blu-ray release and it's also a shame that the complete 102 minute version has still not been found and possibly at this point is unlikely that it will ever be. At least the film has been preserved in some digital fashion in both its DVD and new blu-ray releases so that future generations will be able to discover this film and get to see one of the greatest and most original films ever released.
Even though this film has some moments of eye-rolling cheesiness, overall very well done. I really enjoy horror films with a story of pagan revenge and this is a classic. Find out what happens when a xtian oppressor arrives on an island populated by fundamentalist pagans; it's heartwarming, with the ultimate Happily Ever After ending.
My favorite scene is in the sweet shop, when the detective is questioning Mrs Morrison about her "missing" daughter and she gives him a sad smile and says, "You don't understand the true nature of sacrifice."
Very true. He was a big enough dolt to think that virgin girls were sacrificed. How ridiculous! Everyone knows that an adult male virgin who represents authority and can't mind his own business is much more acceptable to the gods.......
Unfortunately, I still don't own a copy of this movie. Even though I purchased the Robin Hardy classic from 1974, they sent me the 2006 remake starring Nicolas Cage.....I returned that dvd. Avoid the 2006 remake at all costs......unless someone is willing to pay YOU to watch it.
There are a few hundred reviews of the film already here, but I wanted to comment on the new Blu-Ray release that's been a long time coming.
While this is missing the commentary track that director Robin Hardy and Christopher Lee gave for the initial DVD release (for reasons unknown to me), this is still an outstanding high-def transfer. The audio is excellent, and the picture, with the exception of the added scenes for the "Final Cut" (which have more of a workprint look than a high-def transfer) is brilliant. Never has Summerisle looked more clear.
The added glimpses into the film given through the long interview with Hardy, as well as some talking-head snippets of current filmmakers that were inspired by THE WICKER MAN, such as Ben Wheatley and Eli Roth (not strangely, Neil LaBute, the director of the god-awful remake is absent), are incisive and incredibly interesting.
Needless to say, the film deserves a five-star merit on its own, with an astounding lead performance by Edward Woodward, and healthy assists by the gorgeous Britt Ekland as one of film history's seminal temptresses as well as the delightfully malevolent yet strangely beneficent Christopher Lee; an amazing screenplay by Anthony Shaffer, and Hardy's amazing direction make THE WICKER MAN a must-own for fans of psychological horror everywhere.
Hmm.. Someone gave this one star for being "to(o) creepy". Perhaps he thought this was about a furniture salesman? Anyway, I disliked this movie the first time I viewed it. It seemed a bit campy and overwrought. A second viewing made me adore it. What the film does so effectively is superimpose lightheartedness on wickedness - one can guess very early on what the conclusion will be (hint: look at the movie poster) but how it arrives there, through the seemingly eccentric behavior of the cast, is what makes it memorable. A clash of faiths has seldom been so vicious but, in some way, so heartwarming...