Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Wicker Man - 1973

   Director Robin Hardy has posted some information over on the Studio Canal Facebook page concerning the upcoming Oct. blu ray release of his 1973 horror classic The Wicker Man. One of the truly great British horror films and featuring one of Christopher Lee's best performances, this is something to be very excited about.
   Edward Woodard plays a deeply religious police Sgt who travels to an island off the coast of Scotland to investigate the report of a missing child and finds himself face to face with the ancient pagan practices of the islanders (and a naked Britt Ekland). Lee plays the Lord of the island, plus there's also Ingrid Pitt who in her words at the time plays a "nymphomaniac librarian" (how 'bout that !) and a wonderful performance by Diane Cilento as the island's school teacher. Ekland plays Willow "the landlords daughter" and her then boyfriend Rod Stewart was reportedly (and as it turned out, most likely falsely) upset at her nudity in the film and this was played up in the films promotion.
   Although on the surface a simple plot, an extremely well written screenplay by Anthony Shaffer encourages multiple viewings as there's lots of strangle little things (and dialogue) going on here, which give hints to the film's powerful climax. Hardy and Shaffer did deep research into ancient pagan practices of the British Isles (in particular Sir James Frazer's The Golden Bough). Also with an excellent score by Paul Giovanni (preformed by Magnet) consisting mainly of ancient British Isle folk music and period instruments.

     Sadly, The Wicker Man has had one of the more tragic distribution stories ever afforded a film. Hardy's original (and still somewhat compromised) cut ran 99 min and Lee claims that several important scenes were still missing. Roger Corman had expressed interest in distributing the film in America and a print was shipped off to him. In the the meantime the British distributor British Lion was being sold and the new owners were not happy with the finished product as they wanted a "happy ending" (which luckily did not come to pass). After viewing the print Corman suggested another 13 min be cut (Roger was always looking at a double feature for his films - hence everything had to come in below 90 min).
    He evidently passed on it but the new heads of the British studio took his suggestions and cut the film to 87 min with sequences re-arranged (which totally ruined the film's flow) and most of the nudity & sexual content gone. Afterward it was dumped on the lower half of a double bill with Don't Look Now for British audiences. Christopher Lee was ardent supporter of the film and called up several critics begging them to view the film and it recd. enthusiastic reviews but unfortunately faded into viewing obscurity.

     Over in America the film ended up at Warners, who did a small test market showing of it, then passed on it on to a small distributor named Abraxas in 1976. To their credit Abraxas was going to allow Hardy to try and re-assemble his cut, but all the footage had since been destroyed by the studio (allegedly dumped in a land fill and buried under the M3 Motorway). Since Corman's print was the only copy left of the "longish" cut a dupe was made and Hardy assembled a 95 min version. At the suggestion of Abraxas, Hardy left out the introductory footage on the mainland (which he was never too fond of anyways) and this version played in the U.S., with Cinefantastique magazine devoting an entire issue to it.
   StudioCanal of France (which now owned it) again attempted a full restoration in 2001, but by this time even Corman's print was nowhere to be found. Joe Dante recently said he had shipped the print off to Abraxas after they requested another copy and after their bankruptcy the print disappeared. ANOTHER new cut was assembled from a 1" tape master for the missing scenes, this time with the introductory footage put back in and this was released on DVD back in 2002.
   The big announcement from StudioCanal this week was that 35mm print of the 99 minute version had been found & Hardy was working on a restoration (yet again !) for a DVD/Blu release in Oct. (preceded by some U.K. theatrical showings in Sept). This will be Hardy's cut he did for Abraxas in '76, so more then likely some of the footage from the 2002 DVD will be missing (so hang on to those).
  Unfortunately Edward Woodard passed away in 2009 and Shaffer in 2001, but as Chris Lee and Robin Hardy are still with us, its always a good thing when a film can get a proper release with some of its principals around to enjoy it. A very unsettling film and perfect for Halloween viewing. Avoid at all costs the truly horrible 2006 remake - the less said about that the better.

1 comment:

  1. Really interesting backstory here. I wasn't aware of any of that.