THE WICKER MAN… BUT NOT THE GOOD ONE! THE 2006 RE-MAKE REVIEWED BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

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THE WICKER MAN. (2006) BASED ON A SCREENPLAY WRITTEN BY ANTHONY SHAFFER AND THE 1967 NOVEL ‘RITUAL’ BY DAVID PINNER. DIRECTED BY NEIL LABUTE.

STARRING NICOLAS CAGE, ELLEN BURSTYN, KATE BEAHAN, FRANCES CONROY, MOLLY PARKER, LEELEE SOBIESKI AND DIANE DELANO.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

‘I can tell what she sees in you. A kind of rough potential…’

‘Step away from the bike…!’

‘Not the bees…!’

Nicolas Cage on the re-make: “There is a mischievous mind at work on The Wicker Man, you know? You know what I mean? And I finally kind of said, ‘I might have known that the movie was meant to be absurd.’ But saying that now after the fact is OK, but to say it before the fact is not, because you have to let the movie have its own life.”

Christopher Lee on the re-make: “I don’t believe in remakes. You can make a follow-up to a film, but to remake a movie with such history and success just doesn’t make sense to me.”

The 1973 WICKER MAN, on which this film is based, is one of the best British horror films ever made. Starring Christopher Lee as the eccentric and charismatic Lord Summerisle and Edward Woodward as Sergeant Neil Howie, it tells the story of a prim and proper Christian copper- Howie- visiting a pagan island off the coast of Scotland to search for a missing child.

Once on the island of Summerisle, with its close-mouthed and strange inhabitants leading him a merry dance for most of the film, he discovers the real reason behind his mysterious summons to the out-of-the-way place. Therein lies the horror, the kind of real lasting horror that outlives the mere boogeyman-under-the-bed story.

Nicolas Cage’s re-make of this superb film has not only been deemed unnecessary (I mean, you don’t re-paint the Mona Lisa, do you, or get some hack to re-write Shakespeare’s plays?) but also, erm, if I may say so, diabolical. Diabolically bad, lol.

Personally, I feel rather sorry for poor Nicolas Cage as Edward Malus, as he bumbles around the female-dominated island of Summersisle in his hot heavy city suit (he’s clearly suffering from excessive heat the whole way through the film), making himself look more and more ridiculous in the eyes of the snotty, superior natives. They are really, really mean to him, the bastards. Or should I say bitches…

Edward Malus is a big, burly California cop who, one day right out of the blue, is gobsmacked to receive a letter from his ex-fiancée, Willow Woodward, who dumped him and ran off under mysterious circumstances many moons ago. She lives on Summersisle now, a privately-owned island off Puget Sound in Washington, and it is from here that her daughter Rowan has gone missing. She’s appealing to him because she trusts him and also because he’s a cop, see?

Malus can’t get himself to Summersisle fast enough, so obviously he still has feelings for the anorexically skinny Willow with the moon-face and the bee-stung lips. And they might actually be bee-stung, because the island’s main export is their honey, for which they keep, like, a million bees, to which poor Malus is unfortunately allergic and must keep a shot of adrenaline to hand, just in case.

It’s not the only thing he’s allergic to. He’s also very much allergic to the smart-ass, lying backtalk he gets from the members of the weird, isolated community that resides on the island of Summerisle. From the moment he lands, he is led on the same kind of soul-destroying wild-goose chase we remember from the 1973 original movie.

Who’s Rowan? Rowan is alive, Rowan is dead. I’ve never seen this child before in my life, but lo and behold, here’s her name in the school register. Rowan was burnt to death, Rowan is being held somewhere. Something terrible is going to happen to Rowan and, last but definitely not least, Rowan is your daughter, Edward Malus, and this stirs Edward to action like nothing else could have done.

Round and round he goes in circles, re-tracing- or trying to!- the steps taken by Edward Woodward in the original movie. The tavern is run by the sarcastic and gigantic Sister Beech, who might just possibly maim the gnome-like, poisonous little Alder McGregor for life if she were to accidentally sit on him.

The school is the province of the snooty, smirky Miss Rose, who propagates the same kind of phallocentric ‘filth’ in her class of ‘little liars’ as does Diane Cilento in the original, but this Miss Rose doesn’t run rings around the bamboozled copper with the same panache with which Diane Cilento does it. Diane Cilento was the kind of mature sexpot who would eat Edward Malus- and Nic Cage!- for breakfast, lol.

Then, of course, there’s the obligatory trip across the island to meet the boss of the whole kit and kaboodle, the smilingly enigmatic Sister Summersisle whom poor Malus just can’t fathom out at all, with all her ‘Goddess of the Island’ gibberish that Malus can’t quite believe he’s hearing spouted in the twenty-first century. (She’s played by Ellen Burstyn, Regan’s mom in THE EXORCIST, by the way, so there’s no questioning her horror pedigree.)

She even takes him on the obligatory tour of the grounds on which she gives him a potted history of her ancestors and their wacko beliefs and how they came to be keeping bees on Summersisle. It doesn’t measure up to Christopher Lee’s immaculately sardonic and memorable sound-bites in the slighest: ‘A heathen, conceivably, but not, I trust, an unenlightened one…’

There’s the visit to the offices of the doctor-cum-photographer, who takes the pictures of the harvest festivals every year (I liked Frances Conroy as Dr. Moss; she was possibly my favourite character in a film in which you’re not exactly spoiled for choice), and the house-to-house search of the island that reveals nothing near as elegant as the gorgeous Ingrid Pitt, resplendently nude in her hip-bath. Nic Cage’s normally fairly wooden acting (sorry, Nic!) is ridiculously over-the-top in places, which kind of gives the film a comedic value the film-makers probably didn’t intend it to have.

There’s a bit more violence against Malus’s person in the climactic scenes than in the original, as the twisted islanders make full use of his allergy to bees, and they decide to break his legs as well into the bargain to incapacitate him (My God, weren’t the bees enough???), but the climax- the procession, the chase, the walk to the Wicker Man- lacks the fantastic atmosphere and high drama of the original film, even if it does try to replicate the ending.

But the ending of the 1973 WICKER MAN could, quite simply, never be replicated. When the burning head topples majestically while the sun sinking over the ocean is itself a huge ball of fire, and then the words British Lion come up and the credits as well, I get shivers down my spine every time that don’t stop until the screen has gone blank. That ending is legendary. You can try to emulate it, if you wish, but you’ll never repeat what cannot be repeated.

Of course, the marvellous music is also a substantial part of what makes the 1973 film what it is, and this 2006 version obviously doesn’t have that advantage. On the other hand, the 1973 film doesn’t have Nic Cage dressed as a rather shabby-looking bear, for some reason, or Nic Cage punching three women in the face and karate-kicking one of them, or Nic Cage in what I believe to be the funniest scene in the whole movie, the one where he’s pointing a gun at a schoolmarm on a bicycle and shouting in typical heavy-handed California-cop fashion: ‘Step away from the bike…!’ It also doesn’t have the Evil Twins from THE SHINING in it, horribly aged to resemble hideous old crones, lol. So there you are, it’s all swings and roundabouts with these things, isn’t it?

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

http://sexysandieblog.wordpress.com

http://serenaharker.wordpress.com

https://twitter.com/SandraAuthor

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THE WICKER MAN. (1973) BRITAIN’S BEST HORROR FILM REVIEWED BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

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THE WICKER MAN. (1973) DISTRIBUTED BY BRITISH LION FILMS. SCREENPLAY BY ANTHONY SCHAFFER. INSPIRED BY DAVID PINNER’S 1967 NOVEL ‘RITUAL.’

PRODUCED BY PETER SNELL. DIRECTED BY ROBIN HARDY. MUSIC BY PAUL GIOVANNI. CINEMATOGRAPHY BY HARRY WAXMAN.

STARRING CHRISTOPHER LEE, BRITT EKLAND, INGRID PITT, DIANE CILENTO AND EDWARD WOODWARD.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

‘Welcome, Fool. You have come of your own free will to the appointed place. The game’s over.’

‘Oh Sergeant. You’ll just never understand the true nature of sacrifice.’

‘Come. It is time to keep your appointment with the Wicker Man.’

‘Here comes the chopper to chop off your head…’

‘And now for our more dreadful sacrifice…’

‘We carry death out of the village!’

‘That’ll make you sleep, my pretty Sergeant.’

This is a superior cult horror film by anyone’s standards. It’s deemed by many to be the best British horror film ever made- I concur- and legendary actor Christopher Lee is said to consider his performance as Lord Summerisle in the cult movie to be his finest. I graciously concur once more.

Mark Kermode, esteemed and delicious film critic, loves this film. Ditto moi-même. If I sat here for a thousand years, I couldn’t think of anything derogatory to say about the film, so yes, my review will be nothing more than a great big love-in, lol. Read on if that’s your thing.

Flawless performances by a superior cast make for mesmerising viewing. Edward Woodward of CALLAN fame plays Sergeant Neil Howie, a straight-laced, upright Christian police officer who travels to the nearby Scottish island of Summerisle to investigate a report of a missing child called Rowan Morrison from an anonymous source.

To the tune of ‘Corn Rigs’ by Paul Giovanni, Howie flies in the police seaplane over the bit of sea separating the Scottish mainland from Summerisle. (The movie was filmed in Dumfries in Scotland.) The green and rocky land looks like it hasn’t been inhabited since the time of the Druids. You immediately get the sense that something special- and dreadful- is going to happen here.

The old lads who greet Howie at the harbour are just brilliant. I wonder if they were actors or locals, some of which might well have been. ‘Have you lost your bearings, sir?’

Howie passes the photo of Rowan Morrison around amongst them and they hem-and-haw and reach into inside pockets for spectacle cases and say they’ve never seen the ‘gerril’ before in their lives, before eventually admitting that they do have a May Morrison on the island. She ‘keeps the Post Office in the High Street.’ ‘That’s not May’s daughter, though…!’

The motherly May Morrison does indeed preside over the Post Office-cum-sweet shop, whose window is filled with chocolate March hares and curious-looking cakes baked to commemorate God-knows-what kind of strange celebrations.

May is adamant that the girl in the picture is not her daughter and her ‘real’ little daughter Myrtle says that Rowan is, in fact, a hare, who ‘has a lovely time. She runs and plays in the fields all day long.’

The people of Summerisle are a mighty strange bunch in general and immediately set about leading poor old Sergeant Howie on a merry dance/wild goose chase. He is fed any number of conflicting snippets of information about Rowan Morrison, the supposedly missing child, which frustrate him no end and eventually cause him to doubt the veracity of anything he is told by these weird, insular people.

As if that weren’t bad enough, Howie is bewildered and befuddled by the apparent lack of any morals or good Christian values on the heathen island of Summerisle. Men and women engage openly in a sexual free-for-all that mortifies and horrifies the virginal Sergeant.

Men and women copulate openly on the village green at night. In the Green Man pub, where Howie is billeted for the duration of his fateful two-night stay, the regulars sing bawdy songs like ‘The Landlord’s Daughter,’ which are simply peppered with outrageous sexual innuendo.

Virginal young men are sent to the bedroom of Willow McGregor, the actual landlord’s daughter, for sexual deflowering and initiation. Gently now, Johnny! No-one, not the villagers, not even Alder McGregor, her gnome-like little father, bats an eye at such flagrantly unabashed conduct.

You see, the islanders on Summerisle worship what they call ‘the old gods,’ the gods of the sun and the gods of the sea and the goddess of the fields, and they don’t attend any kind of church services, even supposing they had any working churches in which to hold them. Their churches are in ruins and their grounds allowed to run wild. ‘Minister?’ repeats the Old Grave-digger-Gardener incredulously, before lapsing into mad fits of laughter at Howie’s ignorance.

There is a deliciously pagan feel to the film that quite simply transports the viewer back a thousand years to more primitive, godless ancient times. Young women, under the supervision of Miss Rose the school-teacher, dance naked around open fires in the hopes of being made fertile. (‘They do love their divinity lessons…’)

Schoolchildren- Miss Rose again!- are taught to ‘venerate the penis’ because that is the source of all life. Makes sense, I suppose, but do they have to rub it in like that? The islanders are encouraged to ‘appease’ their gods with sacrifices in order to ensure a plentiful harvest of apples, the main source of industry and income on Summerisle.

Howie has a big spat with Miss Rose about the way the schoolchildren are taught such things. She succeeds in completely bamboozling him with her skilful double-talk and innuendo and the clever way she has of never fully answering any of his questions. He becomes quite frustrated with her, and she’s not the only islander to so flummox him.

The people in the pub, as well as the good folks down at the school, swear they’ve never seen hide nor hair of a person called Rowan Morrison. The Old Grave-digger-Gardener says that the piece of skin hanging over one of the graves is ‘the poor wee lass’s (Rowan’s) navel-string,’ and ‘where else would it be but hung on her own little tree?’ The doctor who filled out Rowan’s death certificate says she was ‘burnt to death, like my lunch will be if I stand here talking to you.’

So, does Rowan Morrison exist or does she not? Do the villagers know her or not? Did she die or did she not? Is she buried somewhere or is she not? Howie rightly feels like he’s going insane. Everywhere he turns, he finds conflicting information. Come to that, did last year’s crops fail or did they not? And what does that have to do with the missing girl?

Christopher Lee puts on a show-stopping performance as the devastatingly handsome and aristocratic Lord Summerisle, lord of all he surveys and unquestioned leader of his people.

He is perfectly supported by three beautiful blonde females in the shape of Diane Cilento as Miss Rose, Ingrid Pitt as the Librarian and Britt Ekland as Willow McGregor. Ask Britt what she thought of the weather in Dumfries during the shooting of the film, by the way. Go on, ask her!

Lord Summerisle, tall and wild-haired and obviously sexually charismatic, condones all the naked dancing-over-fires and sexual permissiveness on the island. ‘Have these children never heard of Jesus?’ a horrified Howie demands of him.

Howie is quite simply flabbergasted by all the ‘fake biology’ and ‘fake religion’ and the bizarre Celtic paganism he observes going on around him. He won’t get any joy from Lord Summerisle. Jesus? ‘Himself the son of a virgin, impregnated, I believe, by a ghost.’ The strait-laced Howie nearly explodes with anger.

You’ll find out exactly what Lord Summerisle thinks of Howie’s devotion to the Christian religion in his monologue- ‘I think I could turn and live with animals’- outside Willow’s bedroom window while the snails are copulating.

This scene was butchered for the original theatrical release and Christopher Lee was rightly angry about this because the lazy, languorous, almost sensuous movement of the snails on the stalks exactly mirrors those of Willow and Ash Buchanan and is a metaphor for their off-camera coupling, which we hear but don’t see.

Lord Summerisle’s grandfather was the man who, in Victorian times, first grew the famous Summerisle apples on the island, availing himself of the handy soil conditions and the warm Gulf Stream to do so.

He was also the man who brought back ‘the old gods’ to the people, the gods of nature, and now Lord Summerisle carries on the tradition with all the gusto of his male ancestor. Nature is acting up, is she, getting all pissy? Chuck her a sacrifice. A chicken, a keg of ale, a human being, depending on the severity of the crisis.

Are you beginning to see where this is going? The horror mounts as the all-important Mayday celebrations approach and, by the time Sergeant Howie finally discovers exactly why he’s been summoned to Summerisle, the viewer is staring wide-eyed at the screen, appalled both at the poor man’s fate and at the knowledge that he’s not the first to which such things have happened and he may not even be the last.

The lead actors and actresses are wonderful, but the villagers are all so memorable too. The mighty Oak, who thrusts and dry-humps behind the petite blonde Willow during the pub rendition of ‘The Landlord’s Daughter.’

The harbour-master who from the outset proclaims himself as completely untrustworthy. The gentle, mild-mannered little Apothecary, who can’t remember if the ‘gerril’ in last year’s harvest festival was Rowan or not.

The hairdresser, whose blank but smug stare at Howie during his house-to-house search proclaims that she knows way more about Rowan Morrison than she’s letting on. Broome, the laird’s smirking manservant. The schoolteacher, who sings lewd songs about procreation to his pupils.

And, of course, we have the head-wrecking May Morrison herself, who might or might not be party to the terrible fate in store for her daughter, Rowan. If she’s even May’s daughter, that is. Howie still doesn’t know.

I can’t finish without mentioning Willow’s Dance, the one that’s designed to seduce the sexually uptight Howie, who’s still a virgin, if you please, despite the fact that he’s engaged to a nice wee girl from his church called Mary. ‘She’ll spend more time on her knees in church than on her back in bed…!’ That’s only the postman’s opinion, of course, lol. You don’t want to listen to him.

Howie is sorely tempted by Willow’s wild naked dancing. ‘How a maid can milk a bull, and every stroke a bucketful…’ He suffers agonies of temptation, in fact. Britt Ekland, whose Scandinavian accent was dubbed in the film, apparently only agreed to being topless in this iconic dance scene, but a body double was used for the lower body without her knowledge. To this day, she won’t sign photos of that other woman’s ‘big fat ass…!’

My favourite scenes? Howie in the deserted and decaying churchyard, fashioning a rough cross out of two sticks, watched by a breastfeeding young mother. Christopher Lee expertly playing a few bars of piano music while Miss Rose’s girls jump naked over the fire.

Howie doing his house-to-house search and ‘accidentally’ coming upon the truly beautiful Ingrid Pitt in her bath. Lord Summerisle prancing and cavorting down the road in his Cher wig and Laird-issue sneakers as if he were born to do it.

The swordsmen cavorting in the final, dreadful procession. Britt and Ingrid ‘anointing’ a shell-shocked Howie with their long hair. The first terrible sighting of You-Know-Who. The singing and swaying at the end. The huge structure collapsing into the sea while the blazing red sun goes down.

A word about the fabulous, fabulous music. Performed by the specially-formed folk-rock group Magnet, it’s seriously sexy and complements the action beautifully. I’m being totally serious when I say that I can never hear the opening strains of ‘Gently, Johnny’ without wanting to rip all my own clothes off and engage in the wildest, hottest, most primeval sexual activity imaginable with Christopher Lee. Ahem. Just watch the film. You’ll see what I mean…

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger, poet and book-and-movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens’ fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

http://sexysandieblog.wordpress.com

http://serenaharker.wordpress.com

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

https://twitter.com/SandraAuthor