The Wicker Tree
A film review by Stephen Grantham
It is. It isn’t. It is. It isn’t. Apparently it isn’t a sequel of the original seventies ‘Wicker Man’. But it is!
Though Hardy the director of the amazing ‘Wicker Man’ says that is a not a sequel but a film in its own right, that it only carries the same themes as his original film. I personally think it is a sequel, even if it’s onlysupposed to have loose affiliation with the original.
The ‘Wicker Man’ that is now recognized as a classic in the horror genre, but was billed alongside another English classic horror, Nicholas Rhode’s ‘Don’t Look Now’ by Lion films, who were to be honest with you a bunch of idiots for not endorsing these brilliant films, and allowing them to play at forgettable billings, when first on release at theatres. But as with all things that are great, these have been become cult classics and withstood the test of time. (By the way if anyone is bothering to read this first:(1) stop reading and get a life and (2) if you consider yourself a film buff and a horror fan get these gems from the seventies – you will not be disappointed! Oh and avoid the remake starring Nicolas cage, compared to the original it’s a pretty bad remake. Best to think of it as a film on its own that cashed in on the Wicker Man’s cult status).
Now on with the review. I love the seventies ‘Wicker Man’ it had pretty much everything. It was a satire, thriller, folk-musical and horror film, all packaged in a grainy independent production that the low budget actually helped, rather that hindered. It was of its time but in some ways ahead of its time; it had a surreal documentary feel and a narrative story line that was so tight, that if you hadn’t seen it before, you could not guess the ending. And of course, the ending was one of the bleakest for its time and as gone down in film history. The theme that the director returns to here is the same as the original that of Christian and Pagan religions taking each other head-on with a good reason to ban sacrifice, if your friends think it is cool to worship the Mother Goddess etc.
I have to say that the first hour of the film is well for want of better descriptive noun – shit! It is a horrible mess the direction is so loose its annoying but nowhere as annoying as the two sacrificial heroes. (After about ten minutes I wanted to set fire to these annoying couple myself). But the last hour, certainly the last half-hour, makes-up for the dismal beginning. (To be honest if you get this film either buying, renting or simply good old theft, it would be advisable to lose the first hour and enjoy the last). Edwards Woodward’s authorities figure representing a Scottish Fundamental Christianity, who is both dominating and bullying, is replaced by a cute young couple whose sugary sweet innocence is marred only by their unbelievable gullibility.
The ‘Wicker Man’ was subtle all its loose ends tie nicely at the end. Unfortunately this film, though the ending is powerful, cannot justify the stupidity of the first hour. A lot of the atmosphere was lost moving it to mainland Scotland and away from the Scotland’s Summer isle. The isolation of being trapped on the isle was an essential element of the first film. There seems to be a lot of ideas and newsworthy items in ‘Wicker Tree’ that are out date, and out of context in the film. The original premise for ‘The Wicker man’ ideal for sacrifice was to help replenish the crops of apples that Summer Isle was famous for and help keep the isolation of the Isle and the community. Here it is no longer a pagan fertility religion but a cult and instead of apples they want their females to be literally fertile. (Apparently polluting one of their rivers with nuclear waste, that the cult use for a pagan rite, as made their females all infertile. What? They didn’t die of radiation sickness or cancer? Utter fucking ludicrous!
So the movie starts off with an ex-diva pop star ‘Beth’ (Brittania Nicole) and her cowboy boyfriend ‘Steve’ (Henry Garret) who leave their ministry to preach the gospel as part of their ‘Cowboys for Christ!’ and venture to Glasgow in Scotland to preach their message door to door, not surprisingly they are met with contempt, now there is a surprise, luckily they avoid the inner city, where they probably would have been mugged or killed, more than likely both!
Anyway the minx in this film is ‘Lolly’ (Honeysuckle Weeks) (yes, her of ‘Foyle’s War’ and you get to see a lot more of her than you did in all the seasons of ‘Foyle’s War’ ) who tempts the would be cowboy to a little afternoon delight, without even thinking about his vow of celibacy, takes Lolly up on her offer . (You see they have the two heroes both have these neat little rings – not engagement rings as such – that mean that they will abstain from sex until they are married! All very well, except these two have a past that make them about a virginal as Madonna in the eighties when she was doing far too much cocaine…) Steve after shagging Honeysuckle is now thinking twice about his relationship with Beth. But not too worry he soon riding horses and discussing their annual hunt for the Laddie (this is not a good idea considering these particular pagans) from Sir Lachlan Morrison (Graham McTavish) and his bitchy sidekick Delia Morrison (Jacqueline Leonard).
As I have already stated the last hour is when things become much more composed and the direction more solid. The final you will already know or at least guessed from the ‘Wicker Man’. The ending strikes me as an ending that you might expect from the seventies horror movies, in particular the Amicus Productions, and it is satisfying unsettling. It’s such a pity it couldn’t have been like that all the way through. I think this film is an interesting companion piece to the ‘Wicker Man’ but in no way eclipses it.