Wednesday, March 23, 2011

AFI/BFI #210: The Wicker Man (1973)

Director: Robin Hardy
Writer: Anthony Shaffer, Christopher Lee, David Pinner
Composer: Gary Carpenter. Paul Giovanni, Magnet
AFI Rank:  -
BFI Rank: 96


      89%
     

By the early seventies Christopher Lee had made a name for himself as a horror actor and a Hammer regular. Looking to expand beyond this Lee worked with Anthony Shaffer (Frenzy, Sleuth, Death On The Nile) on an adaptation of David Pinner's novel Ritual, very little of which made it into the final screenplay. The result is one of the greatest british films ever made and Christopher Lee's personal favorite. He even worked without pay to help get it made. I hesitate to call it a horror movie as at times it is more thriller than traditional horror. However you classify it there are moments of real terror even today. As with many great films it was not recognized as such till much later. At the time it was cut to shreds and played as the B movie for Nicolas Roeg's Don't Look Know. I won't go into all the details of the various versions of this film, there is plenty of that out there. They key thing is that you need to get your hands on the Extended or Director's editions which are 96 minutes long versus the originally butchered 88 minutes. That may seem like a small difference, and it is in terms of time, but the shorter version is also reordered and the combination has a dramatic effect on the films narrative and impact.

The film was directed by Robin Hardy who had previously made US and Canadian television dramas for such companies as the Esso World Theatre and had returned to London in the sixties to make commercials and informational films for the Hardy Shaffer Ferguson Avery company. It was this partnership with Anthony Shaffer that brought him onto The Wicker Man along with Lee. It was his first and best feature film and he made only a handful afterwards, focusing mostly on his writing. He has long planned to make a sequel/prequel/related film with Lee based on his novel Cowboys For Christ and it may see the light of day in the coming year. He even makes a brief cameo in The Wicker Man as the minister.

Stranger in a strange land, Sergeant Howie (Woodward)
Edward Woodward is pitch perfect as Sergeant Howie and we can be thankful that both Michael York and David Hemmings were not cast. Apparently Woodward was always the producer's and writer's first choice.

In terms of awards there is very little to talk about as you would expect. Just four nominations and one win from the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films in 1979. It's critical acclaim would come later as it started to show up regularly on best picture and top 100 film lists. It sits at 96 on the BFI list.

I was lucky enough to catch the longer version in HD on cable. There is no Blu ray as of yet. It looked superb and if you can catch it this way I highly recommend it until the Blu ray is out. The shorter version is by no means awful if that is all you can track down.

I won't go into the plot. As you should know by now I think the only way to see a film is when you know nothing about it. The point of reviews and trailers are to convince you it is worth seeing and won't be a waste of your precious time. Let me save you that. The Wicker Man is unquestionably Crucial Cinema.


        

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