Book Review: Inside the Wicker Man or How Not to Make a Cult Classic

These days “cult classics” are everywhere, any film with even a slight whiff of sci-fi or horror in its script seemingly worthy of the tag. But, there was a time when a film had to earn the label, something about its cast, production history or story unique enough to genuinely inspire a cult, however benign, to form around it and worship at its metaphorical feet.

One such film is 1973’s The Wicker Man, the Scottish-set chiller starring Edward Woodward as devout Christian policeman, Sergeant Howie, sent to the remote island of Summerisle to investigate the disappearance of young Rowan Morrison.

On arrival, Howie is greeted warmly by locals, including the charming Lord Summerisle (Christopher Lee) and buxom landlord’s daughter, Willow (Britt Ekland), but it soon becomes clear that the island has its secrets and that Howie is about to become the pawn in a very complicated game…

Now, author Allan Brown has returned to The Wicker Man in his newly revised history of the film, a book which originally appeared in 2000 to lay bare the troubled production to a fan base which appears to grow with every passing year.

This edition naturally covers much of the same ground as before, starting at the project’s genesis as a means for Lee to escape the trappings of his Dracula persona, honed to perfection in seemingly endless Hammer movies, at a time when the British film industry seemed to have had a stake driven through its heart thanks to audiences abandoning cinemas in their droves.

From here things get murky, the machinations of various money men impacting on the work of the cast and crew as they took to the Highlands of Scotland to make this odd little film that nobody, except Lee, seemed to have much faith in.

With financiers keen to pull the plug on production, uncomfortable shooting conditions which saw blossom taped to tree branches to hide the fact that it was bitterly cold, demands from the studio to add an upbeat ending and the destruction of the only negative, this is a story almost as odd as the one at the centre of the film itself.

Brown has pulled together interviews with most of those involved, adding new content for this re-release which includes additional contributions from cast and crew, more behind-the-scenes stills and, perhaps most excitingly, the screenplay for the unmade Wicker Man II.

Overall, it’s a fascinating record of the production which acts as a salutary warning for anyone planning their own move into filmmaking. It’s also a treat for movie buffs keen to delve into the making of a film which, had the executives got their way, really shouldn’t be remembered at all.

Inside The Wicker Man is out now from Polygon

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