One film, two versions: The Wicker Man

In 1973, I went to see a very unusual British film. Though always described as a ‘Horror’ film, it is really nothing of the sort. Though it does have a ‘demonic’ theme, it is really more about Pagan beliefs, and the activities of a cult. The pedigree of this film is excellent. Written by Anthony Shaffer, and starring Christopher Lee, Diane Cilento, Edward Woodward, Brit Ekland, and Ingrid Pitt, it was made by British Lion, but in the spirit of the familiar Hammer productions of the period.

In the search for a missing girl, a police sergeant (Woodward) travels to the remote Scottish island of ‘Summerisle’. Once there, he is appalled to discover strange practices, including public sex, nude dancing, and the following of Pagan beliefs and rituals. We are aware that the sergeant is a devout Christian, and also a virgin, facts that have a relevance later. He visits Lord Summerisle, (Lee) the man who owns the island and is the head of the weird community there, and he avoids a seduction attempt from the glamorous Willow. (Ekland) As his enquiries continue, the theme becomes darker, and there is information that the missing girl may be in danger of being sacrificed to the Pagan gods, to ensure a good harvest. The sergeant does his best to rescue the girl, leading to a now famous climax on the clifftops of the island.

This is a very unusual film that now rightly has ‘Cult’ status. At the time, it was considered to be a little outrageous, but was very popular with the critics, and audiences too. The various cast members are all on great form, ensuring that the film never feels silly or contrived, and it builds the tension very nicely. Filmed on location in Scotland, the sets and scenery add to the authenticity, and this is regarded to be one of the most important British films made during that period.

In 2006, Nicolas Cage starred in an ill-advised remake, made in America. Using much the same plot, with some alterations to the characters, it follows a policeman searching for the missing daughter of his ex-fiance. He travels to an island to conduct his search, and discovers a strange community of people led by a woman, Sister Summerisle, (Ellen Burstyn) who produce honey. The rest is much the same as the original, and the ending more or less identical. But this isn’t just the usual pointless remake. It is also a terrible film. The sometimes-reliable Cage goes completely overboard, with a performance so farcical that audiences believed it to be a comedy. Burstyn (a great actress) was completely wasted, and the film lost millions, as well as being reviled by the critics. It really is just rubbish.

60 thoughts on “One film, two versions: The Wicker Man

  1. Nice comparison. I re-watched the film with Cage recently since it was on a TV movie channel and laughed throughout. It was so funny. I cannot imagine anyone being really spooked or unsettled by this “latest” version. I agree that Burstyn is wasted completely.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great post 🙂 Once again, the crappy American remake can not even be compared to the masterful 1973 British version. According to Alex Cox, this film was put on the second half of a double bill with Don’t Look Now back in the day. Here is the link below and once again, keep up the great work as always 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve seen neither film. Ironically, though the Nicolas Cage is rubbish, and the original British film is cultish, the trailers suggest the opposite. The trailer for the original film looks a bit silly, whereas the trailer for the Cage film looks exciting. I guess that’s the power of movie trailers!

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    1. Trailers tend to feature either ‘best bits’, or ‘confusing bits’. Both films could be viewed as ‘silly’, I agree. However, the original feels quite unsettling, in later scenes, whereas the remake descends into farce. ‘Cult status’ is bestowed by admirers of course, so is always a matter of taste.
      Thanks, David.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Ah, The Wicker Man. I didn’t watch the re-make. The original was filmed near where I live (it gave birth to the Wickerman music festival, sadly no more) and it has a big place in people’s hearts around here. Lots of places can be visited – the pub in Creetown, the kirkyard in Anworth, closes in Kirkcudbright. Many local people were extras – and were quite shocked when they saw the finished film! I met Edward Woodward and Diane Cilento – well, I passed them on the staircase at the Cally Palace Hotel where they were staying and where I was attending the police constables’ ball with my then boyfriend, who wasn’t a policeman so I have no idea how we came to be there. I heard Rod Stewart tried to buy up all copies of the film because he was so furious and jealous of people ogling Britt doing ‘that’ dance!
    The only thing about it I really, really hate is that Lord of the Dance tune and now I’ve typed the words I know I’ll have it as an ear worm for the next few days.

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    1. Knowing the locations, I hoped you might have a story, Mary. Thanks for your ‘personal connection’ to the film. It was a good idea not to watch the remake, unless you were tipsy, and in the mood for a good laugh. It plays like an intentional parody of the original, and seems to have been written as a comedy.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

        1. ‘8 MM’, (1999), ‘Bringing Out The Dead’ (1999) (great film about paramedics)
          ‘Peggy Sue Got Married’ (1986) ‘Red Rock West’ (1993), ‘Leaving Las Vegas’ (1995) ‘Lord of War’ (2005). All of those are worth watching, as far as I’m concerned, Kim. 🙂
          ‘Bringing Out The Dead ‘ is one of the few films about paramedics that feels ‘real’, based on my own experiences. It was directed by Scorsese, and co-stars John Goodman. I am about to do a ‘retro review’ of it, coincidentally.
          Best wishes, Pete.

          Liked by 1 person

  5. Well…I am almost afraid to say it here, as I haven’t seen any one in the comments who agrees with me, but erm….I quite liked the version with Cage (please don’t hate me 😅😅) I haven’t seen the original, but looking at the trailer it really seems like a cult film, and a chilling one at that as I got creeped out by the trailer alone. Will try and see if I can find that one somewhere! Looking forward to the next post in this series 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. OK Michel. Time to stand in the corner like the naughty boy you are, I’m afraid.
      Just forget you ever watched that awful Cage outing, and watch the original now! You can’t come out of the corner until the opening credits. 🙂
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Exactly! No imagination, taking the ‘easy’ route by remaking classics, and hoping a new generation is unaware of the originals. It (almost) never works.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Like

      1. Many colleges and universities have a course on film even if they have nothing else in drama or cinematography. You may be eligible for life learning credit that could add up to a degree in the subject.
        Warmest regards, Theo

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Not 100% certain, BF. So I checked, and you’re right. Jazz singer Annie Ross dubbed her lines. 🙂
          “Former Bond girl Britt Ekland starred as the seductive innkeeper’s daughter in the film. However it was later revealed that almost all of her dialogue and singing was re-dubbed by Scottish singer and actress, Annie Ross.”
          Best wishes, Pete.

          Like

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