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  Directed by
  Starring
  Specs
  • Widescreen 1.85:1
  • 16:9 Enhanced
  Languages
  • English: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
  • English: Dolby Digital Stereo
  Subtitles
    English
  Extras
  • Theatrical trailer
  • Audio commentary
  • Featurette - Making Of
  • Interviews

The Wicker Man: CE

Universal/Universal . R4 . COLOR . 99 mins . M15+ . PAL

  Feature
Contract

British horror films have always had a certain something that marks them as different and The Wicker Man is no exception. There is the usual concoction of camp horror, humour and strangely incongruous characters with odd and inexplicable habits. There are certainly numerous examples of all of these in The Wicker Man, but oh so much more.

Sgt. Howie (Edward Woodward) arrives by seaplane on a small privately owned island off the Scottish coast to investigate the disappearance of a local teenage girl (though it’s not clear who reported her as missing). From the outset it is obvious that the island and the locals are not your typical small town community. They claim no knowledge of the girl, not even her mother, but further investigation by Howie uncovers traces of the girl that few seem willing to acknowledge. The more he uncovers, the more unfazed by her disappearance they seem. Things heat up when they sense he is interfering, but interfering in what?

The island folk are ever more determined to make Howie’s work as difficult as possible. Making things even tougher for him is their completely open paganism and rampant sexuality that horrifies, frustrates and infuriates Howie. They seem as devout in their beliefs as Howie is in his.

With May Day fast approaching, the islanders, under the leadership of Lord Summerisle (Christopher Lee) have planned the usual festivities, merry-making and idol-worship culminating in a sacrifice to their gods in order to ensure a better harvest than last year. Can this have anything to do with the girl’s disappearance? You just know that it can. But what can one man do when faced with the Wicker Man and a whole island bent on appeasing the gods?

This DVD release of The Wicker Man is a beauty, for it includes both the butchered theatrical version and the 'director’s cut' with an extra 15 minutes that actually makes a little more sense and makes the film a little darker, especially the somewhat confusing opening. It is not your typical horror fare though, and wisely holds back the gore and guts, opting for suggestion, mystery and intrigue instead

The extras were all townsfolk and not actual actors, which lends an eerie realism to the film. The supporting cast of Diane Cilento and an overtly sexual Britt Ekland certainly do their bit, Lee is calmly menacing, and Woodward is brilliantly balanced, his character really standing out from the islanders. Howie is more normal than normal when surrounded by the “raving lunatics”, trying to be both policeman and unprepared moral guardian and educator.

The film is as much about belief and faith as it as about the mystery of the missing girl. There are some subtle and not so subtle digs at Christian philosophy. The R rating of the time is understandably not justified in 2003, and there is little here that will horrify or offend most viewers, unless of course you are horrified by some pretty tame female nudity.

This classic British horror film has been eagerly awaited by many, and with two complete versions, audio commentary and other worthy extras, should see it finding its way into many collections.

  Video
Contract

The two versions of the movie available as part of this release are essentially the same, bar the ‘new’ footage that has been put back into the film to create the 'director’s cut'. This is of a noticeably poorer quality due to it being sourced from an inferior quality copy that was sent to the States for a cinematic release. This footage stands out from the overall high quality of the film, but as the negatives of the original cut were long ago dumped, this is the only option and therefore we have to be thankful that it is here at all. Both versions of the film are in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and are 16:9 enhanced.

For a low-budget film that is 20 years old, this holds up very well. Sure it’s not reference quality, but it is still remarkably clean, free from dust and dirt, and colours have generally held up well. The picture is well defined in general, and there are no problems with colour bleeding, nor any evidence of noise.

There is some grain in evidence, but this is slight. There are no edge enhancement issues or compression artefacts. Black levels are generally good, occasionally appearing a little grey and green, but overall are quite good and offer decent shadow detail. It may have that definite ‘70s look, but on the whole is as good as it’s ever been I am sure, and it will probably never look better, even the 'director’s cut' with its extra additions.

  Audio
Contract

As with the overall good video, the audio is quite good with few deficiencies. The shortened theatrical version has been given a Dolby 5.1 treatment, but I am not sure this was the best idea. The rear channels are not used much, and when they are they tend to draw attention to themselves as the audio seems to get much louder. Dialogue is almost all from the front centre speaker, with the rest of the sound being washed across the three fronts. The 'director’s cut', however, has only been awarded a Dolby Digital 2.0 mono track, but to be honest I am not sure there is very much lost from the 5.1 track of the short version.

The volume may need a tweak, but the clarity is more than acceptable and there are no issues with synchronisation or fidelity. The low-level sounds are fair but not overly aggressive. The musical numbers sound fair, although Britt is no lip-syncher.

There are no problems with hiss as I thought there may be, and no crackles, pops or dropouts. The occasional scenes that require increased volume sound fine, if a little forced and unnatural in 5.1 but will not disappoint in general.

  Extras
Contract

The Wicker Man devotees are going to really like this release with its two versions just the beginning. The first disc also contains the theatrical trailer, running over two minutes and doing a good job promoting the weirdness and quirkiness of the film in Dolby stereo. The picture quality is not as good as the feature.

There is a lengthy and informative making-of featurette entitled The Wicker Man Enigma that includes recent input from the main cast and crew. It takes a good look at the shooting of the film, the end result, the treatment of the final product by movie executives, and the film’s eventual proclamation as a cult classic and one of the best British films of all time.

Interview With Christopher Lee is a 25-minute fuzzy colour piece from a US television show called Critic’s Choice. It is/was hosted by the verbally challenged Stirling "Err Err Ahh" Smith (Molly Meldrum anyone?), an American television film critic. On his 1973 show he interviews Christopher Lee and Robin Hardy with very long-winded questions, but their answers prove quite interesting. The picture quality has suffered with age, but this is pointed out on the DVD and if it is this or nothing, then I am sure any movie buff will take it. Both of these features are cropped and matted and appear as almost square images on screen.

The second disc contains the 'director’s cut' as well as the audio commentary from Christopher Lee, Edward Woodward and Robin Hardy, facilitated by Mark Kermode. It is more of a panel discussion than a commentary and very little of what is discussed relates to specific scenes on screen as they comment. Sure, they talk about some scenes, as well as cast and casting, location filming and a great deal about the various length versions of the film, but little else is about specific scenes. Christopher Lee has some very strong ideas about why the film was butchered into different length versions. There is not a great deal of technical information shed, but as the commentary team is actors and a writer, this is not surprising.

The remaining extras are minor such as a short, framed TV Spot, and a collection of Radio Spots running over five minutes.

There are some Talent Biographies for the main cast and crew that are quite informative and well researched.

Those with a DVD-ROM can access the DVD-ROM Feature that contains a six-page press release.

There is also some hidden footage of the commentary team in action that you will find on the second disc, or cheat and check out our Easter egg page for that and other hidden goodies.

  Overall  
Contract

The Wicker Man is one of those films that seems to keep people talking for many years, as much for the history of the film as well as the film itself. This was a film that was adored by the makers and cast, dubiously greeted by the 'suits', and all but dismissed by the distributors, only to be thrown a lifeline in the US. The critics loved it, the public mostly loved the film’s multi-leveled themes, and to this day it remains a cult horror favourite. With two versions and some decent extras on offer, the time has never been better to get acquainted, or re-acquainted, with this bizarre little gem.


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      And I quote...
    "A classic cult horror film if ever there was one..."
    - Terry Kemp
      Review Equipment
    • DVD Player:
          Akai
    • TV:
          TEAC CT-F803 80cm Super Flat Screen
    • Receiver:
          Pioneer VSX-D409
    • Speakers:
          Wellings
    • Centre Speaker:
          Wellings
    • Surrounds:
          Wellings
    • Subwoofer:
          Sherwood SP 210W
    • Audio Cables:
          Standard RCA
    • Video Cables:
          standard s-video
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