Christopher Lee, Edward Woodward, Britt Ekland
visits a remote island community to investigates a missing girl.
Hardy's wonderfully atmospheric 1973 thriller has long been regarded by horror
film fans as a genre masterpiece, and is widely regarded as one of the
finest British films ever made, but it's not been seen as its director
originally edited it for thirty years!
is not the place to vent that particular tale of woe (interested parties
should seek out Allan Brown's excellent book Inside The Wicker Man -
The Morbid Ingenuities, published by Sidgwick and Jackson). Suffice to
say that the film was severely truncated by a disinterested distributor
for its original theatrical release (losing about fifteen minutes from its
original 105 minute running time in the process). To cap it all, the original
film elements and the negative have been lost, and it's unlikely that
they'll ever be rediscovered.
has gained a strong cult
following over the following decades (its reputation in the US was aided considerably by a landmark
article in a 1977 issue of Cinefantastique magazine), but during
that time it's usually only the shortened version of the film (which we'll call "the 84m version")
that has been seen in
public. Luckily not all of the footage removed from the original edit has
been lost: an almost-complete version miraculously survived in the US,
(and was made available on VHS there, courtesy
Magnum Video). Another longer copy (running 96 minutes, about five minutes
shorter than the complete version) surfaced in 1988, and
was transmitted by the BBC. There are some minor discrepancies between
these two versions: the BBC version was significantly shorter than the
Magnum Video version (which featured early scenes set on the mainland
before Edward Woodward's stoic Sergeant Howie leaves for Summerisle), but
it did feature some relatively insignificant footage that was missing from
the Magnum version!
To the annoyance of many fans, even though these longer
variants were known to exist, only the 84-minute
theatrical cut was released commercially in the UK: the Magnum Video
version was out of print, and was commanding respectable sums on auction
websites. The attempts by British TV station Film Four to locate the
source of the Magnum version proved fruitless, and they eventually
resorted to buying a VHS copy on Ebay and, after a bit of rudimentary
cleanup work, premiered this version to eager subscribers!
it took an American DVD label, Anchor
Bay, to finally release a home video version that did the film, and it's
legion of fans, justice. In August 2001, Anchor Bay issued the film in two
different versions: a single-disc version (containing the film and a
documentary), which is easily dismissed, and a much more attractive,
special edition two-disc set packaged in a brick-sized wooden box, with the
iconic image of the Wicker Man itself burnt into it. However, Anchor Bay's
two-disc version has been superceded by a Region 2 (PAL) version that offers everything that’s
in the American set, and a couple of exclusive features, too! The
only thing that's missing from the UK release is the snazzy wooden box.
of the film from both sides of the Atlantic who bought the limited edition
Anchor Bay disc should certainly consider
upgrading to Studio Canal's Region 2 version (distributed by Warner Home
with the Anchor Bay version, there
are two versions of the film in the two-disc UK set: the abbreviated
(84’02”) theatrical version of the movie, featuring a new 5.1 remix
(at 448kbps), and the extended (but still incomplete, 99’40”)
“Director’s Cut”, in original mono. Both are presented in anamorphic
widescreen at 1.78:1. Material in the Directors Cut that’s not also in
the theatrical version has been sourced from the only known source: a ropey 1” NTSC
analogue videotape (there are awkward shifts in picture quality whenever there’s a
switch, but it’s a small price to pay to see the film - more-or-less - the way it was
meant to be seen.
on the UK and US versions include a theatrical trailer, a handful of TV and radio spots, a
contemporary American TV interview with Christopher Lee and director Robin
Hardy and The Wicker
Man Enigma (35 minutes), a very solid documentary featuring all the key
participants and some alluring footage showing the locations as they look
now. The UK disc has an exclusive commentary track, with Robin Hardy and stars Edward Woodward and Christopher Lee,
moderated by film buff Mark Kermode, which contains a lot of interesting anecdotes.
For fans of the film, this alone makes it worth upgrading from the
Anchor Bay version. The
second disc also includes a hidden "Easter Egg" feature (16 minutes), which is also exclusive to
the UK disc.
The film is packaged in a triptych fold-out digipack,
housed in a relatively sturdy cardboard slipcase. Since it's now been out
for a while, it's often available for peanuts (it's not
unusual to see it for less than £10) - what a bargain!
took Studio Canal and Warner Home Video many, many years to get
around to releasing the longest available version of this remarkable film
in the UK, but they’ve more than made up for lost time with a practically definitive presentation.
The set seems to have sold well on both sides of the Atlantic, so it
wouldn't surprise me to see Anchor Bay, who might be eager to reclaim lost
ground, issue yet another version, with even more extras (perhaps another
commentary track, or the 1998 BBC Scotland documentary).
there's an even more lavish box set available for about £40, containing
the two-disc Region 2 release, together with a copy of the soundtrack CD,
an illustrated 16-page colour booklet, a Senitype® (framed 35mm film
frame) and a rolled 40" x 27" one-sheet cinema poster.
WICKER MAN SOUNDTRACKS REVIEWED
of The Wicker Man should also seek out Silva Screen's soundtrack CD
The disc presents breaks Paul Giovanni's music down into two
sections: Songs From Summerisle (Ballads of Seduction, Fertility an Ritual
Slaughter) and Incidental Music. The former is comprised of eleven tracks.
The first eight of these were sequenced by Giovanni with the intention of
releasing a soundtrack album, when the film had its original theatrical
run, and come from the original stereo masters prepared at the time.
Tracks 9,10 and 11 were recorded for playback on set, and only exist in
mono (although they've been tweaked for the CD release). The incidental
music tracks have been sourced from what Silva Screen euphemistically call
"various sources". The quality of these tracks is generally very
good, but Silva has, quite rightly, chosen not to integrate them into the
rest of the score simply to present the music in chronological order.
1998 the Trunk label released a CD of the film's music (BARKED 4CD), which
was sourced from a music and effects track (a recording of the soundtrack
without dialogue, used for dubbing into foreign languages).
At the time Giovanni's master tape couldn't be located (it was eventually
discovered to be in the possession of the film's Associate Music Director,
Gary Carpenter). The fidelity isn't too shabby, but the source was mono.
Trunk disc also omits the Gently Johnny track, since it was taken
from the 86 minute version of the film, and this scene is missing from the
so-called "one day" print.
discs are marred by sound effects. On the Silva album they're restricted
to the incidental music tracks and it could be argued that they're a small
price to pay for what are essentially bonus tracks to complement
and ardent fans of the film will doubtless want to own both discs, but for
anyone with a more casual interest, the Silva Screen disc is the obvious
choice. The audio quality is far superior, and the disc offers the
considerable benefit of extensive track notes