It is 40 years since the Wicker Man first bore its indelible image of a giant burning human-shaped casket onto the retinas of cinema-goers. Now, in a new restoration and a new cut - classed emphatically as the 'final cut' - the film will once again be released theatrically.
Telling the story of a police officer touching down on a remote Scottish island to investigate the whereabouts of a missing girl, it is a horrific tale of rabid deceit, frenzy and terror.
Taking some time out to discuss this final version, the director Robin Hardy was keen to talk about, amongst other things, his achievements with this release, why he thinks the remake was cursed and the one film he would most liked to have directed.
Firstly, what can audiences expect from this final cut?
Well, I can tell you what I expect. I'm expecting the film to be even better than it has been and to be a suitable first film in the trilogy that I am making. The third film of which I am hoping to make next year, so it has got to live up to its billing. Every step in that direction is exciting for me.
Is this cut the closest to your original vision?
We have been able to do two things that are important to me, at any rate. One is to improve the quality of what you see on the screen because of all the good works that Dave at the BFI has done. The other is also to allow me to cut out the little bit of the film that I didn't particularly like in order to make it, from my point of view, a more perfect picture. Every director, I think, has after thoughts and the more you see the film the more the after thoughts lurk.
Was there a specific scene where you thought, 'that doesn't work'?
I have never particularly liked the scenes on the mainland in the police station. I didn't terribly like them in the script and I didn't particularly like the way I had done them. The actors did exactly what they were supposed to do but I just thought that we were about to spend the whole film showing people what kind of person he is and how he is, we don't need some sort of jokey police station scene to do that for us in advance. What we do need is the short scene in the church, which shows him taking the sacrament and shows him as a practising Christian and shows that he has got a girlfriend. That's all you need to say, and then the plane takes off, and that is what now is the case.
So you feel that in progressing things quicker and in being sharper it is more effective?
Yes, absolutely. It also tell you, in a film such as this, which is partly a detective story, it gives you clues as to what's going on. Particularly from the detective's point of view; what sort of person he is and what kind of personality he brings to his task, which is really what the whole film until we get to the cliffs, is about. Some people seem to be surprised by that when they say it's a comedy and it's a detective story and it's this and it's that. My feeling has always been, since we worked on the script, is that it's a game. It's an elaborate game. The man who wrote Sleuth (Anthony Shaffer, who also wrote The Wicker Man), which is the ultimate game film or play, had the chance to do a major game here. All the clues are in plain sight all the way through the film. Okay, it has other themes, which are very important. It has the religious theme and the comedy side of it, the way that the old religion had been restored in a modern context. All those things are there and part of what makes it what some people are kind enough to say is a classic genre film. Still, it's the theme at the very end, where they are standing on the cliffs and Christopher is saying, "the game of the hunted hunting the hunter" and Edward is saying, 'Game? What kind of game?" He has no concept of what has happened.
Speaking of that final scene, did you have a sense at the time you were filming it that this could become an iconic moment?
Well, yes, I think so. Everyone took those scenes very very seriously. When we showed the film for the first time in the American south, where most of the population are practising fundamental Christians, they loved all of that. The pastors and the priests that we invited to see the film had hardly ever seen a film in which the affirmation of the Christian idea had been made so absolutely plain. On the other hand, everyone was walking around saying this is a Pagan picture (chuckles).
What with your return to this world to complete the trilogy, is it a case that you have found it difficult to shrug off the lure of documenting Pagan activity?
No. I'm somebody who doesn't like to be typecast. I have been writing novels relatively successfully, especially in the States, and I have done a great deal of journalism and I'm an artist. At least, I like to think so. So the gaps between my making feature films - incidentally, I have also made a lot of television films, especially in the States, again - has been because I was busy. It's not as if the Wicker Man was haunting me over my shoulder beckoning me. Saying that, I've always wanted to make this as a trilogy. The last film is where we get our own back on the Gods a bit. My final film, of which the script is already finished, is about the Gods getting their comeuppance.
So the circle is complete?
Hollywood seems very keen to remake these older films. What is your opinion of remakes generally?
I'm glad you asked me that. One of my favourite films, if you were to ask me to make a list of my favourite films, would be the Thomas Crown Affair. I think the remake of the Thomas Crown Affair (1999) is superb. I thought the original was very good too. I don't have anything against remakes. In the remake there (the Thomas Crown Affair), the art direction was superb, the acting was wonderful and the story was always a strong one. It had wonderful jokes in it. In fact, the whole thing at the Metropolitan museum with the men in the bowler hats... I mean, you could see that someone who was involved in the Wicker Man would love that!
The reason I didn't really protest about the remake of the Wicker Man was because I didn't realise what a total mess they were going to make of it.
Where do you think they went wrong with it?
Well, I don't know. My theory is that my friend, or my late friend as it were, Tony Shaffer, cursed it from wherever he is and he also cursed the remake of Sleuth, which was even more awful. If you have a collection of really ghastly remakes it needs to go in there and it should go in right at the top of the list. Pinter wrote the script - a brilliant screenwriter. Brannagh directed it - an excellent director as well as actor. Michael Caine in one of his most frightful performances. It's unbelievable. They're all these very talented people and they made this ghastly picture. So there is Tony chuckling to himself, 'take your hands off of my work or you'll see what happens".
(At this point, it becomes apparent that we have exceeded our allotted time for the interview, so we have to quickly scan over the following matters)
Do you feel that technology has aided or hindered filmmaking? In making things easier, has it also made filmmakers lazier and less focused?
I would say that I think it has done that with some and not with others.
What are you influences?
My influences are from books, plays and the whole art scene. I am not solely influenced by other films, really.
If you could have directed another film that is already in existence, what would it have been?
Oh, that's a very very difficult one. Well, I think that it might have to be Some Like It Hot. It would have been so much fun working with the actors. It's one of my favourite films and I don't know what you could do to improve it, actually. Working with those actors would have been just wonderful.
With that, we bid farewell. For those interested, the folk of Summerisle will be eager to greet you on 27 September when they play their game on the big screen once more. The DVD/Blu-Ray release will follow on 14 October.
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