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THE WICKER MAN
2 Disc Collector's Edition

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Edward Woodward, Britt Ekland, Diane Cilento, Ingrid Pitt, Christopher Lee
Director:  Robin Hardy
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio:  Anchor Bay
Features:  See Review
Length:  88 Minutes (Theatrical), 99 Minutes (Extended)
Release Date:  December 19, 2006

“You’ll simply never understand the true nature of sacrifice.”

Film ***

The Wicker Man is a devilishly clever little film that teases, tantalizes, and inspires chuckles and raised eyebrows before blowing you away with a monster of a twist ending.

Sergeant Howie (Woodward) is a dedicated lawman and a by-the-book Christian who comes to a tiny Scottish island called Summerisle to investigate the reported disappearance of a little girl.  He doesn’t find much cooperation from the inhabitants, who strike him as “raving mad”.  The girl’s own mother claims she has no such daughter.  The school, led by Miss Rose (Cilento), state they had no such student.  It turns out to be a lie, which disturbs Howie, but not nearly as much as the lesson on the Maypole, which the teacher correctly describes as a phallic symbol!

Howie’s world is more and more rocked, as he witnesses more strange and uncivilized behavior from the residents, including strange orgies, naked children dancing around and over a fire, and a bizarre through-the-wall seduction scene he endures from his innkeeper’s daughter (Ekland). 

A meeting with the owner of the island, Lord Summerisle (Lee, in a wicked performance) confirms the truth:  they are an island of pagans.  They believe in the so-called “old gods” of the sea, the sun, fertility and so on, to whom they credit their success of raising tropical type crops on such a cold, northern island.  Howie, whose Christian sensibilities seem unshakable, is morally outraged.  Nevertheless, he still has a job to do.

As he learns more and more about the pagan religion, and witness more and more strange occurrences on the island, he becomes convinced that the girl he is looking for is alive and about to be sacrificed in a ritual to bring the island’s harvest back.  In a daring move, he dons a disguise and takes part in the strange island ritual in hopes of rescuing the girl.  He doesn’t have a clue what’s really in store, nor do we.  I’ll leave it at that.

A quick look back through the events of the film will convince audiences of just how neatly Howie’s fate was laid out for him the minute he stepped on to the island.  The structure of the picture is neatly constructed…it’s forays into eroticism and weirdness might mask the pivotal points along the way, but they do exist for rediscovery on subsequent viewings.

It could be argued that the ultimate point of the picture is the failure of religion in general.  Howie’s attempts at using his Christian beliefs to appeal to the pagan people falls miserably short, to be sure, but neither is there salvation in their bizarre antics and rituals. 

Anchor Bay is the definitive studio for bringing cult classics like this to DVD…and at long last, they got this one right.  The two disc collector's edition features both the traditional 88 minute theatrical version as well as the extended 99 minute director's cut.  It's nice to finally see both together in a reasonably priced package (as opposed to having to spring for the limited set).

So enjoy at long last, and feel free to finally retire those VHS copies.  The Wicker Man is back for real, and better than ever.

Video **

The video problems here are mostly related to the quality of the print, and not the anamorphic transfer itself.  There are stretches where scratches and discoloration create a noticeable flicker effect on the images, and overall, the picture tends to look its age from the dirt and dinginess apparent on the frames.  Images maintain sharpness fairly well throughout, and colors render well despite a somewhat washed-out look.  Without a full scale restoration, this may be as good as it gets.  It’s more than watchable, but it’s no standout.

Audio **1/2

The soundtrack is mixed for 5.1 audio, but it doesn’t make much use of discreet rear signals.  The haunting folk music sounds quite nice, and gets a bit opened up with multi-channel sound, and certain sequences of the score make good use of the subwoofer’s low frequency capabilities.  Dynamic range is only fair, but dialogue is well rendered and clear.  Overall, a decent job.

Features ***

Most of the features are on the theatrical version disc.  I particularly enjoyed the 35 minute documentary The Wicker Man Enigma.  It features plenty of fresh new interviews with cast and crew, including Lee, Woodward, director Hardy, writer Anthony Shaffer, and many more.  There are also some talent bios, a trailer, a TV spot, and a couple of radio spots, in addition to animated menus with sound.

The extended version has a terrific new commentary featuring stars Edward Woodward and Christopher Lee, along with director Robin Hardy and moderator Mark Kermode.

Summary:

The Wicker Man is an effectively startling mystery with an unforgettable ending, but the real horror is no longer an inability to get the full director's cut on DVD.  With this two disc set, Anchor Bay has righted a great wrong and proven themselves once again to be the fright fan's best friend.

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