The Wicker Man

The Wicker Man (1973)
Anchor Bay Entertainment
Cast: Christopher Lee, Edward Woodward, Ingrid Pitt, Britt Ekland
Extras: Documentary, Trailers, TV Spots, Radio Spots, Biographies

"The Wicker Man" is a film of great reputation, although not too many people seem to have seen it. Then again you may have, but chances are that you only saw a skeleton of the real movie, as the original 98-minute gem has been repeatedly mutilated and edited in the past to the point that its story was hardly conclusive or cohesive, let away had the emotional impact the film creates in its original version. All that is history now, because Anchor Bay Entertainment has once again salvaged a film from impending obscurity and brings it to DVD in a spectacular new version that is part of a Limited Edition release, alongside a regular release of the theatrical version of "The Wicker Man."

In a sense incorrectly regarded as a true horror film by many, "The Wicker Man" is actually a dark thriller that has extensive religious and occult references and a dark, foreboding tone. It is the story of Sergeant Howie (Edward Woodward), a police officer who travels to a remote, private island off the coast of Scotland, to investigate the disappearance of a young local girl. To his surprise, no one seems to know the girl despite the fact that she must have grown up among them. Even her mother refutes her existence, but before long, Sergeant Howie is able to find clues that lead him to believe that the girl may have become a victim of a violent crime and that the entire island is covering up for the murder. Amazed, shocked and disgusted by the locals’ attitudes, and the openly pagan religious worshipping exercised on the island under the direction of the island’s owner Lord Summerisle leaves Sergeant Howie little choice. He has to infiltrate their cult to learn what really happened.

On the limited edition DVD, which comes in a sturdy wooden box, Anchor Bay offers us two versions of "The Wicker Man." The first is the mutilated theatrical cut of the film while the second disc contains the 98-minute long extended version of the movie with over 10 minutes of additional footage. It is especially this version of the film that is striking, as it drives the story home even more powerfully, more eloquently and with more surprise. The thrills the audience has to go through until the climax are much more visceral and the level of suspense is gradually growing as footage is implemented in a flashback fashion and events are suggested that may or may not have happened.

The film manages to lure the viewer into this weird world of island living where sexuality is an open pleasure and everyone gets some and where a harrowing darkness seems to lurk underneath the friendly surface. It creates a strong sense of uneasiness within the viewer but always gives the viewer a feeling of superiority, as if we knew what was really going on. As the viewer learns however, little does he really know about what is really happening.

"The Wicker Man" features a superb and authentic cast, which help make the film such an experience. Real townspeople – not actors – have been used to create the credibility within the community, while the main characters have been cast with the likes of Christopher Lee, Ingrid Pitt and Edward Woodward. For Lee it was a welcome break away from the Hammer films and the typecasting he had been fighting at the time, as his character of Lord Summerisle is a wicked mix of madman and nobleman that he masterfully fills with believability and depth. But it is Edward Woodward who carries the film with his frustration and his inability to grasp the orgiastic lifestyle of decadence and lack of concern that he is facing the moment he sets foot on the remote island. In true rational policeman fashion tries to solve the case in an attempt to hammer home common sense thinking into people’s minds to find out the truth about the disappearance.

Anchor Bay Entertainment is bringing us "The Wicker Man" in a brand new <$16x9,anamorphic> <$PS,widescreen> transfer in the film’s original 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Although the print shows some minor blemishes, the presentation is sparkling and clear. Film grain is visible throughout the presentation, but it is a deliberate tool by the filmmakers and hence integral part of the film itself, adding to the authentic flair of the picture. The film’s striking visuals are nicely reproduced on this DVD, revealing a very good level of definition with a lot of detail. Colors are well-saturated, making the Scottish landscape look even more sumptuous and lush. Although the color palette gives away the film’s origins in the 70s, nothing on this DVD would indicate that this film has been shot on an extremely modest budget. Skin tones are also faithfully rendered and no oversaturation is visible anywhere. The blacks in the transfer are very deep, giving the image plenty of visual depth. Complemented with the oftentimes stark contrast of the film, it adds tremendously to the film’s authenticity and feel of realism. Shadows are also perfectly reproduced without breaking up, revealing good definition throughout.
The compression of the film has been handled very well and there are no noticeable compression artifacts, despite the film’s challenging nature. Maintaining grain in a film without turning it into a mess of artifacts is a challenge only few compressionists know how to handle well.

The extended version of the film that can be found on the second disc of the set is unfortunately not quite as good-looking, but for a reason. Because many of the elements of the extended version had been lost and are available only in a certain quality, Anchor Bay has done something only very few publishers would ever do for a film. In instances where the footage of the extended version is identical with the theatrical version and the quality is poor, they have actually inserted footage from the theatrical cut to improve the overall quality. While the result is somewhat inconsistent, it creates a presentation that is complete and thoroughly enjoyable, especially considering the fact that this version has never before been available!

Once again, Anchor Bay has gone the extra mile with this release and created a new <$5.1,5.1 channel> <$DD,Dolby Digital> audio mix for this release. Although the film dates itself through its music and its use thereof, the result is a very natural presentation that is free of distortion and sibilance. There is no background noise and a good frequency response creates a well-rounded sonic experience. Dialogues sound a bit harsh at times as a result of the technical limitations of the source material, but overall this remix is a well-done and welcome addition to the DVD that makes it all the more valuable.

The DVD also contains a few interesting extras, such as a new 35-minute documentary entitled "The Wicker Man Enigma." Featuring interviews and a look at the history of the film itself, this documentary offers valuable insight into the origins of the film, its production, but also its violation as it got censored and edited. In depth it explores the controversy surrounding the film and offers the views of those affiliated with the production, such as Christopher Lee in retrospect.
Theatrical trailers, TV and radio spots as well as biographies of the principal cast members can also be found on this DVD, as well as an Easter Egg that reveals some ultra-rare footage that fans will, no doubt, die for!

"The Wicker Man" is a great and intelligent horror thriller that does not go for the throat. Carefully, sensibly and always with a dark undertone director Robin Hardy lets the story unfold. It is this combination that makes it such an effective film and I am glad that finally the extended version is available to audiences. It is the version you should have seen but never did. Do yourself a favor and get this disc before someone else does. As a fan of sophisticated horror I promise you, you will not be disappointed at Anchor Bay’s fantastic release.