It never bodes well when directors revisit one of their classics to mine more material from it decades after the fact, and it’s especially bizarre when it happens in the low-budget world of cult horror.
A recent example is Dario Argento’s dreadful “Mother of Tears,” a cap off to the supposed trilogy he started in the seventies with the surreal masterpieces “Suspiria” and “Inferno.” Argento isn’t the director he used to be. Once the bloody Buñuel of horror, his recent work is a parade of low-budget schlock that wouldn’t get an ounce of attention if his name weren’t attached.
Like Argento’s “Suspiria,” Robin Hardy’s “The Wicker Man” from 1973 is up there with the all-time great horror films. It’s an unsettling cautionary tale of the clash of religion, marinated in folk music and pagan imagery. The late Edward Woodward stars as a Scottish police officer and devout Catholic, who is called to the small, isolated community of Summerisle to find a missing girl.
As he tries to solve the case, the pagan ways of the islanders disturb him to the point where it seems like something more sinister is afoot, leading to a shocking and iconic conclusion. The film features a memorable performance from Christopher Lee as the enigmatic religious leader of Summerisle, a role that was completely different from the gothic material he had become known for cranking out at Hammer Studios.
Over the years “The Wicker Man” developed a significant following, and rumors of a sequel have come and gone over the years. The film’s writer, Anthony Shaffer (who also penned Hitchcock’s “Frenzy”) put together a treatment entitled “The Loathsome Lambton Worm” (which sounds more like a disturbing children’s book than a horror film), but nothing ever came of it. Most of us are unfortunate enough to remember Neil LaBute’s 2006 remake with Nicolas Cage, which only resulted in a goldmine of unintentional comedy. That same year, Hardy published a semi-sequel in the form of a book called “Cowboys for Christ,” providing the basis for this film adaptation, which comes to DVD and Blu-ray this week, “The Wicker Tree.”
The film’s plot is very similar to the orginal “Wicker Man,” following a young Christian singing sensation (Brittania Nicol) and her cowboy fiancé (Henry Garrett), both of whom travel to the Scottish countryside to spread the Gospel through music with the help of a couple of local aristocrats who lord over a community of pagans. As their May Day celebration approaches, the locals woo the couple, but it’s clear that the locals have other plans for them.
If you’ve seen “The Wicker Man,” you have a pretty good idea of what those plans entail.
The LaBute/Cage remake was horrible, but the hideous reaction it elicited gives it more value than something that elicits no reaction at all. I’d rather see a movie that boils my blood and has me leaving ranting and raving, or a movie that has me laughing at the wrong moments (example: Cage wearing a bear suit and sucker-punching random women in the face). “The Wicker Tree” isn’t one of these movies. It’s a boring movie, a slog to get through. It says nothing “The Wicker Man” hasn’t said already, as the religious themes were covered more poignantly before.
It’s a lesser retelling of the exact same thing, a bankrupt, vapid product that has no significance at all. Seeing Lee pop up in a moment that may or may not tie the two films together was just a brief bit of fan service, and the acting is big, bad, and broad for the most part, especially the aw-shucks bumpkin performances by Nicol and Garrett.
This is a tempting offering for those who hold “The Wicker Man” dear like I do, but believe me when I say it offers you absolutely nothing. Just dust off your DVD copy the original classic and give it another spin instead. I read online that Hardy is preparing a third film in what I’m guessing is now a series, called “Wrath of the Gods.” Let’s hope he at least finds something new to say next time.
Other Noteworthy Releases
Contraband: I’m always down for a Mark Wahlberg action vehicle, I’ve always found him to be an enjoyable leading man. Unless, of course, he’s being directed by M. Night.
The Innkeepers: Ti West’s follow up to the excellent “House of the Devil.” The horror genre is in the throes of a dry spell, but West is one the genre’s tip top young talents. Big Hollywood’s Christian Toto conducted an interview with him recently to coincide with its release.
Dark Tide: Hey, remember when Halle Berry was a big name?
The Organizer: Obama? Alinsky? Nah, Marcello Mastroianni.
A Hollis Frampton Odssey: I probably would’ve gobbled this Criterion release up back when I was taking avant-garde cinema classes. But having digested the works of filmmakers like Kenneth Anger, Maya Deren, Bruce Conner, and Stan Brakhage (who also had his works collected by Criterion), I can’t be bothered unless it’s thrust upon me.
Let the Bullets Fly: I have no idea what this is, but it looks like it’s Chinese and involves Chow Yun-Fat shooting people. Sold!
The Buccaneer: Fredric March! Playing a swashbuckling pirate! In a Cecil B. DeMille film! What more do you need?
Available on DVD
Shogun Assassin – 5 Film Collector’s Edition: All that delicious Lone Wolf & Cub samurai slaughter on Blu-ray. You’re welcome.
Available on Blu-ray
This post originally appeared over at Parcbench