The cult British horror movie The Wicker Man has hit 40. To celebrate its birthday in style, Studio Canal have re-released the movie in selected cinemas across the UK and produced a four disc DVD reissue. The DVD boasts three different cuts and a whole heap of special features. There’s the Final Cut, the UK Theatrical Cut and an extended Director’s Cut, which is surely enough to keep die hard horror fans going for a while. Alas, the hilarious Nicholas Cage remake is not included.
Watching The Wicker Man on this 40th anniversary reissue, it’s striking just how wonderful and frightening this movie is. It is, in its own quirky way, possibly the most sinister film ever to come out of Britain. It’s not a horror that will make you jump, but rest assured it is more insidious than Insidious and will leave a nasty taste in your mouth. It’s also interesting to note just how much of a benchmark it is; fans of more recent British folk-horror outings such as Kill List (2011) or A Field In England (2013) will doubtless already know of the debt these films owe to The Wicker Man.
For the uninitiated, though, The Wicker Man’s plot is easy enough. Sgt Neil Howie, played brilliantly by the late Edward Woodwood, flies to a remote Scottish island to investigate the case of a missing teenage girl. When the locals all claim to have never seen the girl before, Sgt Howie sniffs foul play and sets about to solve the case singlehandedly. As with all horror films, something is not quite right. The suspicious and obtuse islanders treat his investigation with disdain, leading Sgt Howie on a wild goose chase until the central plot twist slowly starts to reveal itself.
On a technical level, this is the best The Wicker Man has ever looked, finally completing Robin Hardy’s directorial vision. The folky soundtrack, too, echoes and enchants. It’s clear that Studio Canal have tried to make this reissue well worth the price, adding newly found footage – or at least newly remastered footage – into the main film. The opening scene is one such implant, showing Sgt Howie on the mainland before he takes off. The scene is grainy and imperfect but this does not really detract from the film’s bewitching progression.
Of course no review of The Wicker Man could go without mentioning the understated performance of Christopher Lee. Lee plays the island’s central figure, Lord Summerisle, who leads the disturbing pagan rituals that inspire the film’s horrifying and iconic ending. Equally impressive are the minor actors and extras who so effortlessly make Sgt Howie and the viewers alike into intruders.
Whether it’s your first time or perhaps even your 40th, this reissue of The Wicker Man is a must for horror fans.
The Wicker Man is in selected cinemas now and will be released on DVD and Blu-ray on October 14.