One of the best ever British films, never mind horror films, celebrates it’s 40th anniversary this year. The Wicker Man’s tale of Christian copper vs. Pagan rituals on the creepy and atmospheric setting of Summerisle has engaged generations of audiences. A better quality print has been recovered following a exhaustive search for missing material long thought lost, and now The Wicker Man: The Final Cut is being re-released on DVD and Blu-ray as well as a limited run in selected cinemas. Manchester’s Grimmfest festival chose to launch this year’s event with a screening of The Final Cut and hosted a Q&A with director Robin Hardy. The Fiction Stroker was delighted to get the chance to sit down with Robin and discuss The Wicker Man!
When you were making The Wicker Man, did you set out to make a melodrama, or a musical?
Well, neither actually. The music that’s in it is incidental because I wanted to recreate the Pagan style, there is so much folk music that harks back to Paganism, obviously they wouldn’t have sung many of their songs in a pre-Christian era and they would have sung them in Welsh if they had, as far as Britain is concerned. But we know their traditions have come down to us through the Welsh, so the music was a natural thing to put in.
How did you work the music into the narrative?
Although I’ve done musicals myself in my time, the kind where somebody starts singing for no apparent reason – that’s perfectly fine. But when you use the song as the sole continuation of the dialogue to move the narrative forward, which is what we did in The Wicker Man, it’s not a musical; it’s just part of the dialogue really. It adds to the atmosphere and usually makes the point stronger. You get to know a lot about the island in the first scene in the pub where they sing “The Landlord’s Daughter” and you wouldn’t get that in your average Scottish Presbyterian pub in the seventies!
Over the years, The Wicker Man has had a horror label attached to it..
..that’s by default though. It’s difficult to know what to call it; The Wicker Man is a genre film. I think of it as a black comedy actually. And, I think that that’s the right category for it. Very early on I was involved in the distribution in the United States which is really where the film went over the top and became what it has been since. There had been this magazine, rather like Empire here, Cinefantastique was the American equivalent. And after they had seen the film, which had been heralded by Variety, which after all is the magazine about films, plus winning an award in Paris, plus the fact that Christopher Lee had a rebirth of his talent, all that was interesting, shall we say, for the film community. So this magazine took an entire issue – one can’t imagine Empire now doing a whole issue and the cover on one film.
The production difficulties over the years have been well documented, now we are at the Final Cut – how do you feel in hindsight now it’s complete?
The first emotion is surprise that it could have happened. The relaunch of it is getting into 50 cinemas in the United States theatrically. Admittedly, that’s a specialised distribution in the way they bring back Gone with the Wind for instance. But in San Francisco it’s going into this marvellous art deco cinema where we originally launched it. And it’s going to be there next week I believe. All the major cities in the States are running it. I really am gobsmacked.
You’re not surprised about its endurance?
You have to realise the amount of drama departments at universities in America. It’s always been a little bit, sort of, well, it sounds ridiculous I suppose but The Wicker Man to film is like Jane Austen to English Literature – a standard book, or in this case, a standard genre film to study.
A couple of years ago, I was asked to preside at a Pagan festival in Croydon of all places. Everyone had piercings from every possible orifice. They were very kind to me though, and I was surprised how young people were who came up with things to be autographed. Actually, on the syllabus in this country for A Level, The Wicker Man is on there. That explains an awful lot of the age gap in appeal to me.
Moving forward, I know you’re looking at completing the trilogy. Is the real sequel the last days of Lord Summerisle facing the second harvest?
No, Lord Summerisle I did in The Wicker Tree (the 2011 sequel). No, it’s to the Gods we have to turn to. Having caused this mayhem and several deaths, it’s time for them to get their comeuppance. A handy place to do that is Wagner’s Ring Cycle if you’re familiar with it. It’s about the Nordic Gods more than the Celtic Gods of course. Wagner was more concerned with the music than logicality of his story. But in that story, which is incredibly ridiculous because you know that gods do illogical things all the time, the gods are foiled and sent back to Valhalla, so that is really what we’re doing.
Robin Hardy, thank you very much.