When a movie has been remade, a question presents itself. Which one do you watch first? Just a few weeks ago, I wrote a review of the remake of Flight of the Phoenix which I very much enjoyed, and then saw the original. I guess I got lucky there. Keeping it simple, think of it this way. In most cases, a movie is remade because the original is VERY GOOD and someone wants to capitalize on it with a new audience. It's the rare remake that tries to put a new spin on an awful movie.
This whole review is basically an exception to the rule. My senior year at IU the campus movie channel aired the 2006 version of The Wicker Man starring Nicolas Cage. Without giving away anything, let me say this. It is an awful, aaaaaaaawful movie...and I love it. It's played seriously but comes across as so unintentionally funny that I recommend it whenever I can. I'm not talking a chuckle here and there, I mean laugh out loud till you cry funny. Of course, the one problem is that the original, 1973's The Wicker Man, is a bit of a cult classic and held in high regard as a good movie.
So there's my problem. As epically bad (and therefore enjoyable) as Cage's remake is, it is almost a scene for scene redo with a few variations on the setting and background. The kicker is the ending which provides a huge twist and could have been a real shocker of a conclusion if it wasn't so damn funny. Well, last week TCM Underground aired the 1973 original and I taped it. It is a much better film and even treating everything deathly seriously, it is not a funny movie thankfully. But knowing the twist and where the story is going, it does lose some of the luster. So what to take away here? Almost always watch the original and then the remake. Anyways, on to the review.
A sergeant on the police force in England, Neil Howie (Edward Woodward), receives a letter from someone on the tiny coastal island of Summerisle. It asks for his help in finding a missing girl, Rowan Morrison, who disappeared completely in the past weeks. So off Howie goes to investigate, but he quickly finds everything is not as it seems (how often can you say that in a horror/thriller movie?). The island is run by Lord Summerisle (master of British horror Christopher Lee), whose family has cultivated a way to grow fruit by praying to all sorts of pagan gods. Howie, a devout Christian, is taken aback, but even more than that, he's confused. He gets the run around from the people of Summerisle, some say Rowan's dead, others have never heard of her. Can Howie figure out what's going on?
It depends on the movie whether I'll reveal the big twist in a review, and this is one I will not be telling. For one, it's a really good twist that comes completely out of left field. I can't think of even one hint or clue that's given like so many movies do nowadays. It's even a little shocking in the revelation as the doomsday scenario washes over the characters. Credit goes to Woodward for his part as Howie, a pompous, devoutly religious man, who scoffs at everything he seens on the island having to do with paganism. He's in just about every scene, and it's a performance that carries the movie.
As Lord Summerisle, Christopher Lee is the perfect choice to play the part. He gets to be eccentric, extravagant and basically everything you'd ever think of in your desire for a cult leader. But because it is Lee, it is never a laughable effort. It's Christopher Lee so he must be on to something. Diane Cilento plays Rose, the schoolteacher who tells the children all they'll need to know about their pagan religion, and Britt Ekland makes a memorable appearance as Willow, the innkeeper's daughter who tries to seduce Howie. In a very 70s scene, Ekland sings a Scottish folk song to Howie from another room while dancing naked. Next door, Howie tries to keep it together.
Director Robin Hardy filmed the movie in Scotland, and the movie benefits greatly from the on-location shooting. The old Scottish streets and houses, the green countryside all help build a sense of doom that something horrible is coming. It all looks too nice, too perfect, but you just know that something is building. The ending is worthwhile and makes the sometime slow pacing even more nervewracking. Check this one out, and then go see the awful remake. If possible, it'll be even funnier. The trailer has some semi-SPOILERS, I'd recommend going into this movie blind though.
The Wicker Man <----trailer (1973): ** 1/2 /****