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The Director of Cult Classic The Wicker Man Returns With the Wicker Tree - Interview With Robin Hardy

Posted: 12/04/2012 00:00

Thirty-nine years after The Wicker Man first sent shivers down the spines of cinemagoers, the film's director, Robin Hardy, 82, again pits Christians against pagans in an adaptation of his 2006 novel, Cowboys for Christ.

Now titled The Wicker Tree, the new film follows a pair of naïve Texan evangelists, played by Brittania Nicol and Henry Garrett, who travel to a small Scottish border village to preach, with predictably horrific consequences.

So what brought you back to the Wicker Man milieu, Robin?

"I thought it would be interesting to do the film using a much more contemporary group of Christians, ones who frankly are in the news, really, our fundamentalist friends. And also to do a number, really, on American innocence, and to fit it into the Wicker Man territory."

And you do that how?

"By confronting them with something which is completely strange, and which they don't fully realise is completely strange because everything outside the United States is strange to them."

You could have simply made them figures of fun, but you resisted.

"Yes, because they're just like the rest of us except they're landed with this sort of brainwashing from childhood. Unless they travel outside of their particular communities, the Red States as they're now called in the United States, they never get to see the rest of the world in perspective."

They're out of their depth in the same way that the country has been in its foreign ventures, aren't they?

"Well if they were in Papua New Guinea, they couldn't be more at sea with what they're confronted with. I think that's a kind of paradigm for the situation our American friends [have been in]. It's a kind of innocence bordering on ignorance. I didn't want to make it a political film, but it seemed to me worth making a point, and using it as an important part of the character development of the two young Americans, and the world they face."

The Wicker Man came out of nowhere, of course. Did that film's status as one of the best British horror films of all time feel like a weight on your shoulders when you were making this?

"No, I don't think it's a weight. But, obviously, because of its success, and also because I've remained very intrigued by everything involved with it, it's very tempting not to use that world and those terms of reference for another story, particularly if the other story can treat with things that are relevant to us today."

This seems to have come out of a film you tried to make called The Riding of the Laddie. Did you write the novel Cowboys for Christ because of the slow pace of raising funding?

"I did really, yes. Also, I thought there were things I would like to explore that I hadn't put in The Riding of the Laddie script, and when I wrote the book it made it possible for me to completely re-write the screenplay, with a much clearer idea of what I really wanted to do. In fact I don't think I shall ever try and write a screenplay again without having done the book first. It's very helpful because you get all the back plot of the characters."

Anthony Shaffer, who wrote The Wicker Man, told me that he'd written a sequel. Did he discuss it with you?

"I never saw it but he did write a screenplay, which he showed to Christopher Lee. It was called The Loathly Worm. I don't think Christopher particularly liked it. And I don't think Tony [who died in 2001] was particularly satisfied with it. As recounted to me, which is one of the reasons I didn't read it, the Edward Woodward character, Howie, escaped out of the back of the wicker man, and therefore was not killed. So the story continues many years later with all the actors that were in the original film, 20 or 30 years older. That was the way it worked. I, personally, didn't like the idea of that, so I was never involved."

The Wicker Tree will have limited screenings around the country before being released on Blu-Ray and DVD on 24 April.

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