It's Harvest Festival time on Summerisle, a tiny island off the coast of Scotland, but amid all the dancing and prancing and naked coupling in the garden behind the pub, things are getting a wee bit strange. Or so, at least, it seems to Sgt. Neil Howie (Edward Woodward), an upright policeman and devout Christian who has flown his seaplane from the mainland to investigate the disappearance of a teenage girl.
Thus begins The Wicker Man, Robin Hardy's nutty celebration of heathenism, procreation, Celtic music, fertility rites, human sacrifice, new-fanglerd farming techniques, animal masks and a naked, bum-slapping Brit Ekland. With a script by Sleuth scribe Anthony Shaffer, the British indie, shot in and around a cluster of lovely little Scottish villages and on the Isle of Whithorn, bombed when it came out in 1973, but soon found its ardent fans. In 1979, the film -- with Christopher Lee as the Dionysian noble Lord Summerisle, and a bevy of actresses (Bond girl – and Sean Connery spouse – Diane Cilento, Hammer Horror gal Ingrid Pitt) ) – was hailed as "the Citizen Kane of horror movies" by Cinefantastique magazine. To celebrate its 40th anniversary, Rialto Films has issued a restored version, opening Friday, Nov. 8, at the Ritz Bourse.
The new edit, approved by director Hardy, incorporates a scene when Woodward's sarge first spies Lee's Summerisle performing a rather randy ballad, "Gentle Johnny," for the publican's saucy siren of a daughter. (Ekland's singing was dubbed by Annie Ross, of the jazz trio Lambert, Hendricks and Ross.) There are other, grainier, inserts, too, including cutaway shots of snails in the throes of commingling.
Lots of nudity (and girls in sheer body suits), and lots of deep dialogue ("You'll simply never understand the true nature of sacrifice." "Don't you see that killing me is not going to bring back your apples?"). The music, mostly traditional Celtic ballads, airs and reels, or songs inspired by such, have a twee and twangy Incredible String Band vibe.
No mention will be made here of a certain 2006 remake with a certain Nicolas Cage in the Woodward role. We didn't mention that, right?