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The Wicker Man
Unsolved riddles keep ashes of Wicker Man smouldering 25 years on

Mark is one of thousands of Wicker-Heads, as fans of the cult 1973 Scots horror film The Wicker Man are known. Mark, director of the current Celtic Film and TV festival on Skye, reveals the enduring power of the movie which opened 25 years ago today.

There are plans to create a giant Wicker Man sculpture to mark the film hailed as Scotland's greatest contribution to movie history. The Wicker Man is 25 years old today and its fame has grown every year since it was put together as a low-budget horror flick with a difference in Dumfries and Galloway.

I'm a lifelong fan of the Wicker Man. My earliest memories include a reckless attempt at recreating the film with a Bunsen burner and a big teddy in a wicker pram.


Later as a manager of the cinema in Newton Stewart, I managed to play the film to several locals who appeared in it but had never actually seen it.

Plans for a Wicker-Fest are now under way, including re-building the 60ft Wicker Man from the film and a weekend of mayhem.

Why are the Wicker-Heads so hooked? Part of the reason is that the Hammer-style eco-mystery has thrown up a score of mysteries of its own. The original has NEVER been seen in full and there are claims the negative is buried in a motorway bridge.

The production company which made The Wicker Man perversely fought against its release, eventually selling it on to another distributor for peanuts.

Singer Rod Stewart even tried to buy up every copy so cinemagoers wouldn't see his girlfriend Britt Ekland's naked breasts.

Yet when the film was released in the States it became a smash hit and its first TV showing found a massive new audience.

Wicker Man appreciation societies began to spread up all over the world and in the Nevada Desert fans launched a huge festival called Burning Man, attracting 50,000.

Christopher Lee was quick to claim it as his best work - a considerable accolade from someone who has made more films than any other living actor.

Ingrid Pitt, the scream queen of Hammer who played the librarian complete with naked, lather-covered bath scene, adores the film and claims to have come across long-lost clips.

Edward Woodward, who won the role over Michael York, unquestionably had his finest hour in the film.


And Diane Cliento, who played the schoolteacher Miss Rose, was Mrs Sean Connery at the time of filming but after it became Mrs Anthony Shaffer after falling for the scriptwriter.

But Cubby Broccoli, the Bond producer, was crest-fallen when he finally saw Ekland disrobe as secret agent Mary Goodnight in The Man With the Golden Gun.

He had chosen her for the part because of her voluptuous breasts in The Wicker Man. Unfortunately, he didn't know she was three months pregnant at the time.

Ekland's erotic dance on the other side of Woodward's bedroom wall, which has gone down in cinema history, was mostly performed by a stripper from Glasgow.

Further down the cast lie come Govan's finest neighbours Tony Roper as the postie, and Barbara Rafferty as the breast-feeding woman.

But the greatest mystery still connected to the Wicker Man is the disappearance of several key scenes. Lee, Shaffer and director Robin Hardy claim that the studio butchered the film.

Yet what did make it for the screen was responsible for many far-reaching influences. The scene in An American Werewolf in London where the two boys walk into the country bar and all conversation and music stops is lifted straight from The Wicker Man.

And in Shallow Grave, Ewan McGregor's character Alex takes solace in Edward Woodward's cremation scene, which plays on his television as his unhinged flatmate takes a break from ventilating the attic with his Black and Decker.

So what's all the fuss about? The most bizarre film in British movie making history casts Woodward as the staunchly Presbyterian policeman Sergeant Neil Howie, lured to a fictional Hebridean island.

Summerisle, famed for its exceptional fruit growing, becomes the scene for the hunt for a missing schoolgirl, Rowan Morrison. The wily islanders indulge in Whisky Galore-style late night drinking and open-air orgies. Poor Howie hides away in his bedroom where Willow, the innkeeper's daughter played by Ekland tries to seduce him.

The islanders deny all knowledge of Rowan, including her mother. But the relentless Howie follows the trail of clues until he is convinced that Rowan is alive and is to be a human sacrifice.

But Lord Summerisle and the islanders capture Howie. In front of him is a 60ft Wicker Man loaded with animal sacrifices and waiting for a virgin to be thrown on the barbie - the pious Howie.


The film now earns its original X certificate. There has been no bloodshed, and smiles, songs and offers of casual sex have lured Howie and the audience into a false sense of security. The shriek of the animals builds to a peak with the deranged Howie screaming biblical passages as the flames lick round him.

Ironically, Wicker Man was planned as a support film to the winter-in-Venice horror film Don't Look Now. They are two of the greatest films ever made n the UK. The difference is, one was hyped to the heavens, and the other is only now recovering from being practically thrown in the bin.

Source: The Sun 04/12/1998
Article written by Mark McLachlan