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:
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