California Literary Review

May Day! May Day! It’s Robin Hardy’s The Wicker Tree

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December 14th, 2011 at 11:53 pm

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Robin Hardy's new film The Wicker Tree

© 2011 British Lion Films Corporation

At long last, the prophecies have come true. The stars are aligned. The harvest is ready. Get your reaping sticks, or whatever one uses for reaping. And don’t forget to bring some matches. Robin Hardy, director of the 1973 cult horror favorite The Wicker Man, has realized his longtime vision for a second tale of mystery, murder, and pagan zealotry. Based on Hardy’s novel Cowboys For Christ, The Wicker Tree once again pits earnest representatives of very different religions in conflict which promises to get downright scary. Those pagans and Christians just get into one hilarious mess after another.

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The original film stars Edward Woodward (Breaker Morant) as a morally upright, or perhaps uptight, police officer investigating the disappearance of a young girl on a remote Scottish island. As he probes into the quiet community of Summerisle, he first bristles at their frank celebration of the earthly and sensual, then shudders with horror as he realizes that the old ways might be bloody ways indeed. At the cheerful bidding of the community leader (Christopher Lee), the innocent lawman descends into the horrifying pageantry of some very ancient worship. I will not dare spoil the now famously spoiled ending, but be prepared for just the faintest suggestion of human sacrifice. Weaving austere Celtic lore with major psychedelic vibes, it is truly a one of a kind film.

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Despite the anticipation of some, many have disparaged the very notion of dipping once more into the legacy of The Wicker Man. If this film were a reboot, or a remake, or a similar travesty imagined by some new and feeble-minded director, there would be just cause for alarm. Case in point: Neil Labute’s 2006 remake of The Wicker Man, which was awfully feeble-minded for such a normally clever playwright and filmmaker.

This is more akin to when John Cleese followed his hit comedy A Fish Called Wanda with a little-known but delightful script called Fierce Creatures. Not many people saw the latter film, but it turned out to be a fine little farce in its own right. It is not a sequel to Wanda, but it has the same cast, the same madcap humor, and makes numerous pointed winks at its predecessor. In addition to a similar plot and visual style, Hardy also managed to summon up Sir Christopher Lee for this go-round. Whatever the result, that fact alone will pack the seats with faithful fans. With the two most important members of the family involved, it seems fitting that British Lion Films Corporation, the original distributors of the 1973 film, are in charge this time too. If it’s credentials you want, the good people at British Lion have given us many other great films, such as The Third Man and Lord Of The Flies. They seem to have a taste for the dark stuff.

Early press for The Wicker Tree has not been overwhelmingly good, but one might say it has been encouragingly mixed. The original Wicker Man did not become known as “the Citizen Kane of horror films” overnight, or even during the horror boom of the 1970s. It vanished into relative obscurity for some time before its rediscovery, and look at that baby burn now! Expecting the same kind of masterpiece all over again might be pushing it, but who is to say what the future holds? That is the magic of the cult film. And cult films about cults are extra special.

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