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A man made of wicker, used in some pagan rituals.
People danced around it, and set fire to it. It was burnt to offer sacrifices. The fire does not signify hatred or destruction, but the endless process of change and transformation that moves through all things.

Also, it is the name of a song by British Heavy Metal legends Iron Maiden, the first single that was released from their album Brave New World (2000). B-sides for the single were live versions of Powerslave, Man On The Edge, Killers and Futureal, all recorded on their 1999 Ed Hunter World Tour. Although in the video for this song does contain a 20' high Wicker Man which gets burned, the song itself is not about the pagan ritual, but it is mentioned in the lyrics, and the band thought it would make a good title.
They transformed their mascot Eddie into a 20' high Wicker Man for the liveshows on the Brave New World tour which is used as a backdrop during the song Iron Maiden, and a 12' high Eddie, also looking like a Wicker Man, comes walking on stage during The Evil That Men Do. For each show on that tour, The Wicker Man was the first song to be played each night.

The Wicker Man is a disturbing and artistic horror film that blends religious-themed horror and the ‘weird thriller’ style of the Avengers. Edward Woodward plays Sergeant Howie, a West Highlands cop sent to an island off the west coast of Scotland, where a young girl has apparently disappeared. When he arrives at the island, he finds that no one will admit to even knowing the girl. As he continues to investigate, he uncovers increasingly alarming signs that the islanders are practising pagan rituals and may have conspired to sacrifice the girl to the ancient gods they worship.

Research for the Wicker Man was meticulous. The pagan rituals and beliefs are all real, although they are (intentionally) a mixture of several different cultures and time periods. This is not a simple Christian morality picture condemning pagan beliefs, or a cheap horror exploitation flick where the cult has no meaning. The neo-pagans actually come out of it making at least as much sense as the Christians.

Woodward is brilliantly convincing as the humourless and deeply religious Sergeant Howie, taking us by the hand for a frustrating investigation that quickly turns into a spiritual battle. Christopher Lee plays the charismatic Lord Summerisle, the leader of the cult and ruler of the island, who is wonderfully menacing despite the slightly melodramatic exposition and his strong resemblance to several James Bond villains. Britt Ekland’s main talent seems to be looking seductive and lip-syncing badly for the overdubbed Scottish accent. There are a few other strange accents on display - at least one other villager seems to be Swedish - but on the whole the smaller roles are very well played, making the oddness of the island quite believable.

Released in 1973, this film is an obvious product of its time. Howie and the islanders play out a kind of reversal of the typical confrontation between mainstream culture and the Earth-worshipping, free love and folk songs culture of the hippies. The villagers, even the old ones, all seem like weird hippies, led by the guru Lord Summerisle. Summerisle struts around his castle extolling the virtues of the naked human body and encouraging his subjects to teach their children openly and thoroughly about sex. He preaches an intimate relationship with the land and the ancient spiritual ways, and mocks Christ - “Himself born of a virgin, impregnated, I believe, by a ghost?” Howie, representing the religious mainstream of the time, is aghast at Summerisle’s teachings and the salacious displays of nudity. To modern audiences, his earnest naivete may be a little jarring - if this movie gets remade, I’m sure his character will be changed considerably - but his faith is central to the plot of the movie, and pays off in one of the most memorable finales ever filmed.

The music in the Wicker Man is something that will either put viewers off immediately or make them rush out to buy the CD. It isn’t quite a musical, but features a number of twisted little folk songs sung by the villagers and written by Paul Giovanni. If you enjoy folk music and don’t mind occasional bizarre lyrics, this film and its soundtrack were made for you. If you don’t appreciate this kind of thing, there is enough of it to completely ruin the atmosphere.


At the end of the Wicker Man's production, most of the principals felt that they had made one of the greatest horror films ever. Christopher Lee was particularly happy with the film, as it was the first time after many years of carbon-copy Hammer productions that he had been allowed to flex his talents a little. However, as post-production drew to a close the production company was sold to a group of businessmen who were less than impressed with "their" first major project. They immediately cut 15-17 minutes out of the film and sent it out for a catastrophically limited theatrical run.

This original release was an 88-minute, heavily edited version that none of the crew were happy with, but were forced to accept. Not only were several scenes cut, but other sequences were completely scrambled. This is the only version that I have seen, and in my opinion it really is a little rushed and jumbled, although still a great film. Howie’s character, in particular, is never very well established in the theatrical version. We know that he is a straightlaced and very religious virgin, but not much more than that. One of the first things to be cut from the theatrical release was a five-minute sequence depicting Howie’s life back on the mainland, and in my opinion this was not a good choice. There are also several continuity errors in this version, mostly due to the rearranging of the story elements.

With the bare minimum of promotion and horrifically limited distribution, the film’s initial reception was lukewarm on both sides of the pond, and it seemed to be failing completely until Christopher Lee and Robin Hardy took on the task of promoting it themselves. In interviews for the DVD release of the movie, Lee talks about presenting the film himself at college towns across America. Eventually the movie found a receptive audience and began to pull in glowing reviews, developing a major cult following which might have had something to do with the fact that the studio had literally tried to bury it.

As soon as the first positive reviews started coming in, Lee and the other principals started campaigning to have it reissued in the form they had originally planned, a 'Director’s Cut' that ran to almost two hours and included the abovementioned establishing scenes and a lot more thematic development and weird imagery. To their dismay, they soon found that an incredible series of errors (or were they?) had sent the original Wicker Man negatives to be archived in the wrong vaults and subseqently -- wait for it -- buried under the new M-3 road. For many years the movie was thought to be lost forever.

The ‘Extended Version’ (which can now be found in a recent Anchor Bay DVD release) was finally rescued from oblivion by none other than cut-rate horror king Roger Corman, who remembered at some point in the late Eighties that once upon a time Christopher Lee had sent him a rough cut of a longer Wicker Man in hopes of selling him the American distribution rights. Apparently Corman loved the film, but was unable to buy the rights at the time. Of course, technically, he should have then returned the print to the production company -- but Corman was always a compulsive collector of horror material, and he kept it in his own private library. It was, of course, the only copy that survived. This Extended Version is a few minutes short of the mythical ‘Director’s Cut’, but is much more faithful to the original arrangement of the scenes than the theatrical version.

The Wicker Man is now available in several DVD releases - I have seen at least three different packages floating around. The Theatrical Version and Extended Versions are both available, with standard DVD extra features like trailers and an interesting 45-minute documentary (although it's worth noting that there are no subtitles in the Theatrical Version). There is also a deluxe Anchor Bay edition which comes in a wooden box and contains both versions of the film, two documentaries and a commentary track with director Robin Hardy, writer Anthony Shaffer and Edward Woodward. If anybody has a spare of this one, I’ll be happy to take it off their hands.

Overall rating: 3 Hands of Glory and a live frog. See it before the Nicolas Cage remake spoils it for you.

A little trivia for ya:
  • Christopher Lee worked for free, and still says that Lord Summerisle was his greatest role ever.
  • The girl in the rear-view shots of Britt Eklund's famous nude dance isn't Britt Eklund. The producers didn't like the shape of her ass, so they hired a body double. One wonders what exactly they did like about her, as it certainly wasn't her acting ability.
  • On that note, another perennial Wicker Man legend has it that Eklund's lover Barry Manilow was the man responsible for the disappearance of the original print, as he didn't know about the body double and didn't want the world to see his girlfriend naked. Um, okay.
  • The whole film was shot on location in Scotland in the months of October and November, although it was supposed to take place in May. It was stormy and freezing. Most of the leads had to put ice in their mouths to keep their breath from steaming, and they would often interrupt interior shots to run outside and capture an exterior scene during the brief interludes of sunlight.
  • In these days of pyrotechnic model work and rampant computer-designed imagery, the movie's final image may not seem like the remarkable accomplishment that it was. As you watch this scene, keep in mind that it was done with a real, life-size wicker man on a rather cloudy day. The odds against it all coming together for that triumphant revealing of the sun were rather high. That, to me, is filmmaking at its finest, and I wouldn't trade that final shot for a million CGI explosions.

The Wicker Man is the South West of England's version of the Angel of the North. The imposing 12 meter high statue of a man is a very popular landmark figure standing alongside the M5 motorway near Bridgwater, Somerset. Made from willow and steel, he stands with one leg slightly in front of the other and arms outstretched, looking as though he has been marching across the landscape for centuries rather for than a couple of years.

Created by Serena De La Hey for entry in the Year 2000, Year of Art exhibition, he cost £15,000 to build and he symbolizes the cultural history of the area. The Somerset Levels on which he stands are basically fen land and the tradition of working with willow can be traced back to the Bronze Age. Willow is still extensively grown in the area for the purpose of wicker basket manufacture and for furniture, so the choice of material for the statue was not a haphazard one.

Being made of natural material, the project was only supposed to survive for about three years, but during the night of the May 8, 2001 vandals set light to the figure, possibly trying to emmulate the burning of the Wicker Man in the cult movie of the same name. Fortunately, despite the massive blaze, the steel frame was still structurally sound, and there was a strong determination to raise the funds to rebuild him.

In July of that year his skeleton was bedecked in an enormous pair of brightly coloured plaid trousers to launch Wrong Trousers Day - a national charity day aimed at raising money for children's hospitals. The trousers were made by a local company which specialises in making hot air balloons, they took 2 days to make and were the size of 85 pairs of normal trousers!

The rebuilding of the Wicker Man was completed in October 2001, this time with extra steel intertwined with the willow to give him more strength. There are still no fences surrounding him to keep out vandals, but he now stands in the centre of a large weedbed - hopefully the nettles and brambles will protect him for the rest of his natural life.


Ladies and Gentlemen, this review has been certified as being SPOILER FREE for your reading pleasure. Thank-you.

No, I'm sorry. I normally have a no spoiler policy, but I need to bitch about this film, and to bitch one must reveal certain things. Do not go watch this film. I took one for the team here; don't let it be in vain. Which makes the tagline of the film all the more appropriate...

Some sacrifices must be made

The Wicker Man is a remake of the 1973 cult classic of the same name. It stars Nicolas Cage as the protagonist Edward Malus, a man who receives a letter from his ex-fiancée, Willow Woodward (played by Kate Beahan), begging him to come to Summers Isle to help her find her missing daughter. Now, have you already spotted something there? *Edward* Malus? Willow *Woodward*? That's right, the screenplay writer and director, Neil LaBute, named the main characters to pay homage to Edward Woodward (or Ewar Woowar as I call him due to some now-forgotten joke from my childhood*) who played the protagonist in the original film. If he were dead, he'd be turning in his grave; as it is he's probably just sitting on his Stannah Stairlift muttering various cuss words to himself under his breath. He was offered a cameo in the movie. For some reason that I can't fathom, he declined.

Summers Isle is a small, privately owned island off the coast of Washington state in the north-west Pacific. It is mostly unknown, but is in the business of producing honey for export to the mainland in order to keep themselves self-sufficient. When Malus finally manages to arrive on the island, he finds that the missing girl, Rowan Woodward (Erika-Shaye Gair), is denied to have ever existed by the residents of Summers Isle. However, the more he questions them, the more he finds to convince himself that the girl is either dead, or has been kidnapped for reasons as yet unknown.

Okay, that's the brief synopsis.

Now for the bitching.

This is a bad, bad film. It would be a bad film if it stood by itself; but standing next to the original Wicker Man, it may as well just bury itself under the M3 now and have done with it. The screenplay is the most loosely tied-up garbage that I've had the misfortune to have to endure in a long time. It makes the mistake of attempting to combine sections of the original film script with new dialogue that was necessary to cover for the major plot changes that they decided to make to bring the film 'more up to date' with today's perceived audience demographic.

Oh, god, the plot changes. I don't even know where to start.

Okay, the first really big fuck-up is the change in the society and beliefs of Summer Isle. The original was an extremely well researched portrayal of a community who have rejected the teachings of Christianity, and instead returned to the pagan beliefs and way of life that existed before monotheism took hold. The new Summers Isle is an example of feminism gone too far. The women are in charge, and the men are docile, servile mutes (referred to as 'drones') who seem to do a lot of lifting of heavy stuff. And that's it.

Now I can see what LaBute was trying to achieve with this plot change. The original film was rooted in a pagan culture that forty years ago was probably considered to be a controversial way of life. Nowadays, a matriarchal society (where women are the unopposed controlling gender) would also be considered to be controversial, thus challenging the audience's expectations of what a community can or should be. He backs this up by changing the crop of the island to be honey (as opposed to fruit in the original), reinforcing of the concept of a successful, productive female-led human society by showing them to be working with, gathering, and selling the crop of a successful, productive female-led insect society. Malus's concept of what is 'normal' (a patriarchal society) is still challenged as it was in the original, allowing him to still portray a man made increasingly desperate and lost in unfamiliar social territory. But what really annoys is that the main religion of the island is still presented as being paganistic in nature, but so inaccurately it made my eyes bleed. The dominance of one gender over another is not what the paganistic belief system is actually about. This is probably ignorable for the uniformed, but to those who hold the original close to their hearts, it's nothing short of sacrilege.

The protagonist is also no longer portrayed as a deeply religious man, a devout catholic, which indicates that LaBute failed to grasp another core element of the original film – that is, the juxtaposition of two belief systems that are at the same time parallel in their implicit faith despite a lack of proof to back-up said belief. This implied that both belief structures were equally valid; in the remake the islanders say that their way is the right way, and there's no argument from Malus to challenge this belief. Plus there's no moaning of "Oh God! Oh Jesus Christ!" as the protagonist is dragged toward the Wicker Man, which is probably the best part of the original; it's certainly the one quote that everyone remembers.

Despite the loss of the opposing force of Christianity in the film, he has kept the derelict church in the story. However, this jars with the story told by Sister Summersisle that when they arrived on the island they were already religious refugees pursued across America for their beliefs. Talk about a plot hole. It's also still got a maypole in the background of one scene, despite the fact that men don't play an active part in the society. Did anyone read this script with their brain switched on before they started filming?

Okay, now I'm just being petty; back to the constructive bitching.

So, focusing on the final scene of the Wicker Man.... As it burns in the original, the villagers sing and dance as they would at a village fair. Everyone is happy, and the ceremony itself is depicted something that is a normal part of society; all this time the protagonist is screaming and chanting extracts of the bible to comfort himself as he is martyred. The thing that shocks the audience is the realisation that moral normality is dictated by the majority, and what they perceive as being an atrocious, cruel act perpetrated against a man who did nothing but try to live his life as his faith dictated him to, is to others a cause of celebration. In the remake, the villagers instead just stand chanting like brain-washed members of a cult. You are not shocked by this. Cultists do strange things that you already know not to be 'normal'. Your knowledge that the act is wrong is not challenged by those responsible for it being, not only unmoved, but also actively celebrating and enjoying the experience.

Also, for some unknown reason, Sister Summersisle still tells Malus that he is being martyred as a consolation for what he is about to endure. But he's not a devout Christian; this would mean nothing to him. It's just a line kept from the original script to... actually I don't know why they kept it from the original script. There're a lot of things about this film that leave me thinking 'Why...? Just... why?'

Actually, I can't do this anymore. The more I think about this film, the more I can feel vital organs in my abdominal cavity clenching with frustration. There's still so much more to say, but I can't do it. The reason that Malus is drawn to the island. The flashbacks that he keeps having for no apparent reason about an incident that is never actually explained. The depiction of females as being sinister beings, and their cruel treatment of males. Malus's character and his relationship with Willow. Scenes from the trailer that aren't in the actual movie.

The lack of singing of catchy folk songs for fucks sake.

Look, the take-home message is, if you love the original, DO NOT GO AND SEE THIS FILM. Don't waste two hours of your life like I have. I watched it so that you don't have to. I don't think I can emphasise this enough.

If morbid curiosity does tempt you to put yourself through this, make sure to have a copy of the original to go back to at the end of it.

You're going to need it.

Year: 2006
Running time: 102 minutes
Writer and director: Neil LaBute

spiregrain says: re The Wicker Man: The Onion AV Club recons there is a mysoginistic streak in this; with Cage blundering about puching women in the face. Did you find that as well as being stupid, it was malign in that way?

Oh, god, yes. Thank you for reminding me, because that was another point that I felt that I had to mention (but obviously forgot to). At one point, he roundhouse kicks a young girl in the face, making her fly back against the wall on the other side of the room. What the fuck? That scene actually made me wince. I mean how much of an overreaction is that? Didn't his mother ever tell him that you shouldn't hit girls? That counts for roundhouse kicking them in the face as well, you twat. He had also seconds before punched her mother in the face; I think that's an entirely valid reason for her to be attacking him in the first place.

Jesus H fucking Christ.

*Oolong says: re The Wicker Man: 'Why does Edward Woodward have four Ds in his name?'

Thank-you. I knew one of you would do me the favour of reminding me what that joke was.

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