The Wicker Man opened in UK cinemas in 1973 to moderate success and won the 1979 Saturn Award for Best Horror Film, after slipping into obscurity for a while, it was slowly recognised as a cult classic and the staple of British Horror. Out of the 270 plus films that Sir Christopher Lee has done during his career, he has said on record that Lord Summerisle was the best character he has ever played. Whilst the world awaits the release of Robin Hardy’s final cut, this is a brief look at the history of troubled release of The Wicker Man….
Before the film was given a release in 1973, it was re-edited, shortened (using a set of notes by legendary director Roger Corman who was looking at distributing it in the US) and dumped on the tail end of a double bill with Don’t Look Now. Gone was the sinister edge to the film and the plot being slightly muddled by the re-arranging of some scenes.
In 1976, Robin Hardy started work on re-releasing the film due to its growing reputation in the US and to reassemble a cut closer to his original intentions. His first point of call was Shepperton Studios to track down a print of his original long version. After being told that it was possibly used as landfill on the M3 motorway (a claim that Robin Hardy laughs off as ridiculous today), Robin tracked down a copy of the Abraxas print (a print that he had prepared for the US market before the UK release) and made a dupe copy and managed to put together a version that is commonly known today as the ‘middle version’ which restored the film’s original order of events and inserted a few scenes that wasn’t present in the shorter cut but still missing the extended prologue and various other snippets of footage. During the late 80’s Media Home Entertainment (which later became Magnum) released the long version on VHS.
When the film’s rights fell into the hands of Studio Canal (known as Canal+ at the time) in 2001, in partnership with Anchor Bay, they set out to try and restore The Wicker Man to its full glory and to reconstruct the original cut using the best materials to hand. Roger Corman’s print had vanished without trace so what was put together was a hybrid cut using a restored UK theatrical print (also released on DVD) and an NTSC 1” master tape of the longer Abraxas cut. Whilst it wouldn’t win any awards for audio / video quality, Wicker Man fans finally had the chance to see a somewhat closer look at Robin Hardy’s original film. The film had seen quite a few DVD releases during the 2000’s and gained cult status for itself, audiences were reminded of how much of a classic it was when the Nicolas Cage remake stumbled into cinemas in 2006. Whether that version will gain any respect in 40 years remains unquestioned.
Fast forward to 2013, using the power of social media, StudioCanal started a campaign on Facebook asking for fans worldwide to help track down any footage or for clues to find the whereabouts of the longer prints to help prep an upcoming Blu-ray release of the film. The hunt was on the find Robin Hardy’s definitive cut of The Wicker Man. After much searching, what was uncovered at Harvard Film Archives in the USA was an original 35mm print of the Abraxas cut. Whilst this edition contained no additional unseen footage that had already been seen by fans worldwide, it gave StudioCanal a chance to improve upon their 2001 release by using print materials rather than a VHS copy. The print was scanned at 2K resolution and Deluxe restoration labs were tasked with matching the newly found print to an already restored print of the UK theatrical cut. Robin Hardy was also brought in during the process and was given an opportunity to re-edit the film. What StudioCanal are proud to present to fans worldwide is the first director approved ‘Final Cut’ of the Wicker Man that “..Fulfils my vision of what it was intended to convey to the audience” that will be released theatrically and then released on the Blu-ray / DVD formats.
Hidefninja were privileged to be invited to a sneak preview of The Wicker Man: Final Cut on the big screen. My thoughts of the Final Cut are presented below…..
Being more familiar with the UK Theatrical version of The Wicker Man (with thanks to Warner Brother’s ‘Terror Vision’ range on VHS), the Final Cut felt more polished and certainly added some more depth to Woodward’s character. The opening scene before the title sequence of Howie in Church where we also get a glimpse of his fiancée gives the finale more impact and I agree with Robin Hardy that the additional scenes on the mainland (present in the 2001 hybrid cut) do not add any narrative to the story and it was wise to see them go. Other notable additions were the Gently Johnny song piece and the earlier introduction to Lord Summerisle outside Willow’s bedroom on the first night. The rather famous nude dancing scene is moved to later on in the film where it rightfully belongs and makes a bit more sense as you see Howie trying not to give into temptation after what’s he witnessed on the island. It certainly raises the sense of something sinister going on in the background with the newer scenes and the re-editing. A goal that Robin Hardy set out to do and finally had final cut on the film itself. There is a shift in picture quality with the newly integrated scenes and a few jump cuts but it shouldn’t detract from your entertainment the new 2K restoration though was amazing to behold on the big screen. Full of detail and warm colours, The Wicker Man has finally been given the respectful release it should have received 40 years ago. If your local cinema is showing this cult classic, it’s well worth experiencing it on the big screen before treating yourself to the home video release
The Wicker Man opens up in selected cinemas on the 27th September 2013 for a limited and is shortly followed by the Blu-ray / DVD releases on the 14th October 2013.
This edition includes all three versions of the movie, The UK Theatrical cut, The longer “Director’s Cut” and The Final Cut seamlessly branched. also exclusive to this release is a bonus disc full of newly produced documentarys and interviews and some legacy features including the popular ‘Burnt Offering: The Cult of The Wicker Man’ documentary. to round the package off, there is also a copy of the film’s original soundtrack on CD included.
It has come to our attention that the details referring to actual disc content was incorrect. Disc one of the set will contain The Final Cut with additional bonus features and Disc two (NOT included in the steelbook edition despite certain e-store listings) will contain a restored HD version of the theatrical cut and a SD version the director’s cut
For Steelbook collector’s, Zavvi also have a limited edition Steelbook available which Hidefninja are very proud to have taken part in the design of and features interior art chosen by our very own community.