The Wicker Man: Director's Cut (1973)

Christopher Lee stars in this well written and very eerie classic of British Horror from director Robin Hardy. Optimum UK 3-disc DVD.

Title card

The Film

Sergeant Howie (Edward Woodward) of the Scottish West Island Constabulary receives an anonymous letter from the remote Summerisle community telling of a missing girl. He flies out to the island to investiage and discovers a mysterious and obstructive wall of silence from the townspeople. As he digs deeper his discovers that the islanders are followers of a curious pagan religion lead by the Lord Summerisle (Christopher Lee), and as more clues emerge, that there seem to be sinister motives behind the girl's disappearance.

The Wicker Man is a very well written film that combines effective horror and mystery stories with a thought provoking theme. At first the film plays like a classic mystery tale, with Howie trying to unravel the truth behind the disappearance. However, it soon becomes clear that there is something sinister going on, and as it progresses, the film builds an incredible sense of dread and an atmosphere almost unrivaled in horror cinema, and it grows to an incredibly powerful climax. Interestingly though, the film stands out above the horror themes with a much deeper storyline concerning a battle of the faiths. Sgt. Howie is from the start identified as a solid Christian, and he is shocked by the non-Christian attitudes of the townspeople - particularly their frank discussions of sexuality and their belief in natural reincarnation. It has been said to represent the conflict between the traditional Christian beliefs and the ever increasingly liberal culture of the 1970s, although importantly the script does avoid too much direct judgement against either side and leaves potential for some interesting debates afterwards.

Robin Hardy's direction is very strong with some unsettling use of camera angles and even slow motion in a few scenes - it certainly helps to build the atmosphere and largely covers up the fact that the film was shot in Winter but set in Summer. The soundtrack is most memorable and includes a variety of folk songs that really help to boost the atmosphere further giving it a surreal nightmarish quality.

The lead roles of Sgt. Howie was originally suggested for Michael York, but since he was unavailable, they instead cast Edward Woodward, an actor mostly known for television work. He gives a strong and very plausible performance and brings a lot of strength to the role. Christopher Lee was involved in the film from the start, looking for a role that would take him out from the Dracula typecasting - he gives an impressive performance here as an unexpectedly 'nice' figure, although his distinctive voice and presence provides a strong sense of dread to the character. The rest of the cast, including Britt Ekland, Diane Cilento and Ingrid Pitt as the female leads, perform well and help to keep the atmosphere strong and effective.

An effective script, cast and soundtrack gives The Wicker Man a powerful atmosphere that few other horror films have ever achieved - it has repeatedly and quite rightly been voted as one of the best horror movies of all time. For horror fans this is undoubtedly a must watch film, and it comes recommended to all cinema fans. To anyone who has only seen this film in the simply butchered 'theatrical cut', I must strongly recommend seeing the director's cut version as reviewed here as it relocates a number of scenes, provides an extensive opening that gives Howie's character more plausibility, and contains the 'Gently Johnny' sequence that is among the best, and most haunting of the songs in the film.

In Brief

Anyone famous in it? Christopher Lee - A horror icon who made his name in the Hammer films of the 1950s/60s.
Ingrid Pitt - the Polish born beauty best known for her role in Hammer's The Vampire Lovers (1970).
Edward Woodward - the British star best known for this film, who latter starred in TV series The Equalizer (1985)
Directed by anyone interesting? Robin Hardy - a little known British director who has only shot a few other films, and has been working on a sequel to The Wicker Man for many years.
Is it scary? A general feeling of dread pervades the entire film.
Any violence/gore? None.
Any sex? A few soft nude scenes and sexual references.
Who is it for?
A must see film for horror fans, it comes highly recommended to all.
Good soundtrack? A mostly folk music score that helps to give this film an eerie and dream-like atmosphere.


This film is part of the new Wicker Man collectors edition boxset from Optimum Releasing UK. Both the directors cut (reviewed here) and the deeply inferior original theatrical cut are included using the same prints/transfers as the existing WB set. The Optimum set includes most of the same bonus features as the WB DVD, plus a new 50 minute television documentary about the film and its legacy, there is also a third disc containing the film soundtrack - however it lacks the television/radio spots and the talent biographies of the previous discs.
Visuals Original Aspect Ratio - 1.85:1 widescreen. Anamorphically enhanced. Colour.
For most of the runtime the print is strong with good colours, minimal print damage or grain. The director's cut includes 15 minutes of footage restored from a much lower condition print which is much grainier and softer and the interchanges between the footage can be distracting although they are generally are done smoothly.
Audio English language mono. Sounds good with no drop in quality in the extra scenes.
Subtitles None.
ExtrasThe set includes:
  • Disc 1:
    • Original theatrical cut of the film. Anamorphic widescreen and with original mono audio, or a rather tinny and flat 5.1 remix. (1hr 24m 01s)
    • Original theatrical trailer.
  • Disc 2: 
    • Director's cut of the film (as reviewed above). (1hr 39m 40s)
    • Audio commentary with director Robin Hardy, actors Christopher Lee and Edward Woodward, and moderated by film critic/writer Mark Kermode.
    • Footage of the audio commentary recording showing the four men talking. Not particularly interesting.
    • The Wicker Man Enigma, a documentary about the film including interviews with most of those involved. Presented fullframe within an anamorphic frame. (34m 33s)
    • Burnt Offering, a different and more interesting documentary shot for TV, presented by Mark Kermode and including some modern location shoots including more interviews with all those involved in the production. Anamorphic widescreen. New feature for this DVD. (48m 15s)
    • Critics choice interview - a contempory TV interview with Christopher Lee and Robin Hardy. Very low PQ, presented fullframe within an anamorphic frame. (24m 29s)
    • Trailers for Don't Look Know (1973), The Wicker Man (2006) and Cronos (1993).
  • Disc 3 is a film soundtrack CD.
RegionRegion 2 (UK, Europe) - PAL
Other regions? Various other DVDs of this film exist, although this is currently the most feature packed.
Cuts? The film is believed to be fully uncut as far as possible. Both theatrical and director's cut prints are included in their English language prints. There are rumours of a longer, original director's cut of the film but this is believed to no longer exist.



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All text in this review written by Timothy Young - 26th August 2006.
Text from this review not to be used without authorization.

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