Not an Autumn goes by that I don't indulge in the ultimate cinematic sacrifice to the regenerative forces of Spring by viewing the most excellent British cult classic The Wicker Man (not to be confused with the poorly-honeyed and over-the-top misogynist romp of a remake starring Nicholas Cage). This year's viewing, however, will be an extra special treat in that the film is celebrating 40 years of horrific pagan pageantry with the theatrical release of The Wicker Man: The Final Cut wherein director Robin Hardy's original vision is finally restored.
For those who have never seen it, take warning. This film is unsettling in that it is a bit of a musical studded with weird sex scenes and even weirder segments debatably necessary nudity, often interrupted by non-violent horror elements and culturally-confused comedic spells all revolving around a central mystery thread: a child is reported missing from a remote Hebridean island and the stringent Sergeant Howie (Edward Woodward), come from the mainland, is determined to find out what happened. The result is a very revisitable cinematic delight, though it ultimately leaves disconcerting and, depending on your moral compass, a horrifically distressful aftertaste.
This new restoration comes courtesy of a world-wide search spurred by the director and StudioCanal who reached out to fans via Facebook to help them locate and recover the long-lost footage cut from the film. Why was it ever cut in the first, you ask? Well, it seems The Wicker Man originally screened as the "B" picture on a double bill with another thriller flick and there is one story circulating that said release was truncated to "fit" with the feature (whatever that means. It begs the question: was this a time issue? Because let's be real: double features are gonna be long no matter how much you chop).
There are other reports that the shorter, restructured narrative that deviated Hardy’s initial cut were ordered by EMI studio executives that suggested a more "upbeat" version of a particularly brutal, not to mention crucial, scene. Hardy refused and consequently had to remove twenty minutes of, well, heathen logic. Even Roger Corman judged in favor of cuts when he was sent a copy to screen (which proved very helpful when the hunt for "complete" versions of The Wicker Man began in the mid-70s because, of course, Corman still had his).
Anyway, one would think all this tinkering with lost, found, and lost (again) footage restored time after time into a patchwork of scenes, multiple chronologies, questionable erotic content and musical interludes would not a critically acclaimed cinema classic make. On the contrary, critics, casual viewers and midnight maniacs alike spread nothing but love for this masterpiece that is often and affectionately referred to as "the Citizen Kane of Horror movies" in spite of its many renderings (and I refer not only to its checkered past of re-cuts and re-releases but also to the crappy remake as well as the sequel it spawned).
Do the right thing, see the final final cut of The Wicker Man during its US theater tour (see the schedule below the trailer) or do the lazy thing and hold out for the DVD. Either way, King for a day, amirite?
The Wicker Man: The Final Cut - U.S. theatrical schedule:
:: September 27 – October 3 NEW YORK, NY IFC Center
:: October 4 – 5 SAN FRANCISCO, CA The Castro Theatre
:: October 11 – 17 SANTA FE, NM Jean Cocteau Cinema
:: October 18 – 19 NASHVILLE, TN The Belcourt
:: October 22 DULUTH, MN Zinema 2
:: October 25 – 31 CHICAGO, IL Music Box Theatre
:: October 25 – 31 DALLAS, TX Angelika Dallas
:: October 25 – 31 SAN DIEGO, CA Gaslamp 15
:: October 25 – 31 FAIRFAX, VA Angelika Mosaic
:: October 25 – 27 BELLINGHAM, WA Pickford Film Center
:: October 26 SEATTLE, WA Cinerama
:: October 28 – 31 PITTSBURGH, PA Pittsburgh Filmmakers at Regent Square
:: November 1 – 7 LOS ANGELES, CA Landmark Theatres - Nuart
:: November 1 – 7 PORTLAND, OR Hollywood Theatre
:: November 3 AUSTIN, TX Alamo Drafthouse - The Ritz
:: November 8 – 14 PHILADELPHIA, PA Landmark Theatres - Ritz at the Bourse
:: November 9 KANSAS CITY, MO Alamo Drafthouse - Mainstreet
:: November 15 – 16 HOUSTON, TX Landmark Theatres - River Oaks
:: November 15 – 16 DENVER, CO Landmark Theatres - Esquire
:: November 15 – 16 BROOKLINE, MA Coolidge Corner Theatre