Plot: What’s it about?
Sergeant Howie (Edward Woodward) is a skilled police officer, but in his next case, even his skills will be tested like never before. He has been summoned to an offshore Scottish village by an unsigned letter, to look into the disappearance of a young girl. Howie is a man of religion and as a devout Christian, he is unprepared and shocked by what he finds, once he arrives in the area. The place is overseen by Lord Summerisle (Christopher Lee), a mysterious man who has a lot of charisma, but could also be very dangerous. Howie sees all sorts of bizarre rituals and such, which is to be expected, since Summerisle’s residents are pagans. The people there thrive on sexual lust and hedonism, doing as they wish at all times, but since no one is hurt, there’s not a problem, right? Well, Howie seems to think the missing girl was some sort of human sacrifice, which means he has to act fast before the cult acts again. But is this conclusion due to his own religious intolerance, or is this group a horrific, murderous cult?
As the remake arrives on home video, the original The Wicker Man has been repacked in this new Collector’s Edition. In this two disc release, we have both the original theatrical version (88 minutes) and the extended (99 minutes) version, so fans don’t have to choose. I prefer the extended version myself, but it is great to have both in one package, especially at an affordable price. The film itself is superb and is a real classic of horror, though not in the blood & gore sense. Instead, The Wicker Man uses intense suspense and tension, to build an atmosphere loaded with eerie textures, which is very effective and very memorable. This might be too slow for some viewers, but I feel it moves at a perfect pace and never becomes dull, much to the opposite, if you ask me. If you’re into creepy movies, they don’t come much creepier, as The Wicker Man has atmosphere to burn. Christopher Lee’s performance alone is worth the cost of this release, a true tour de force presence. The Wicker Man is a movie that no horror collection can be without and thanks to this new Collector’s Edition, fans can own both versions of this classic for one low price.
I’ve seen a number of excellent performances from him, but Christopher Lee really pulls out the stops here, in what I hold as one of his finest overall efforts. This kind of role seems like second nature to Lee, who thrives on deep, mysterious characters, as evidenced by the wealth of them he took on over the years. I think this is the kind of role that could be ruined by some actors, as they would go over the top with it, but Lee is a master of balance, so he keeps the character fine tuned and on the mark. I never tire of watching Lee in roles like this one, so I am thrilled to own The Wicker Man on DVD, if simply for that issue. You can also see Lee in such films as The Satanic Rites of Dracula, Horror Express, Scars of Dracula, The Bloody Judge, The Devil Rides Out, and Dracula: Prince of Darkness. The cast also includes Edward Woodward (Breaker Morant, Tv’s The Equalizer), Britt Ekland (The Man with the Golden Gun, Satan’s Mistress), and Diane Cilento (Negatives, The Agony and the Ecstasy).
Video: How does it look?
The Wicker Man is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. This film has a rather troubled past and as such, I wasn’t expecting much from this release, at least in terms of print condition. But as usual, Anchor Bay has risen to the challenge and in the end, we have a terrific visual presentation of this movie. Aside from the intentional grain present and some very slight print defects, this is a flawless, highly impressive effort in all respects. The print looks a million times cleaner than I’ve seen it, which means the other elements are never hampered, while detail can shine through, as intended. The colors have a muted hue most of the time, but this is intentional, so no worries on that end. I saw no errors in terms of contrast, which looks dead on and very sharp from start to finish. I never expected this to be such a dynamic presentation, but I am thrilled with the results and fans should be also.
Audio: How does it sound?
I was skeptical about the new Dolby Digital 5.1 option here, but I was pleased with the results, to be sure. Unlike many of these remixes, the surrounds are used in natural doses, which enhances the experience, but never makes it seem hollow. I find these kind of updated tracks often featured forced surround presence and such, which lessens the audio impact, instead of improving upon the original. The music sounds wonderful in this mix, always rich in tone, while sound effects remain natural, but spark in at times to enhance the atmosphere. A creepy flick like The Wicker Man can use some added tension via audio and here, we have that and then some. The dialogue is clean also and is never obscured, which leaves me to score this one very well. This disc also includes a 2.0 surround option, in case that better suits your needs. On a side note, the extended version only offers a mono soundtrack, but it sounds reasonable.
Supplements: What are the extras?
For the theatrical version, we have the same extras from the previous single disc release. The highlight is The Wicker Man Enigma, a collection of interviews with cast and crew members. This piece runs just over thirty minutes and provides a wealth of inside information, from the film’s production to the cuts made to how the film has fared over the years, very cool stuff. This disc also includes some talent files, a television spot, radio spots, and the film’s theatrical trailer. The extended version houses a new audio commentary with stars Christopher Lee & Edward Woodward, as well as director Robin Hardy. This is a boon for fans, as the trio cover all sorts of topics and share a lot of insight about the production. I was thrilled to see this was included and without a doubt, fans will be too, especially as they listen.