Saturday, June 16, 2007

DVD: The Wicker Man (1974)

• The original Wicker Man is a mind-bender not to be missed.

Genre: Horror, thriller, mystery
Director: Robin Hardy
DVD released: Dec. 19, 2006
Cast: Edward Woodward, Christopher Lee, Britt Ekland, Diane Cilento, Ingrid Pitt
Run time: 1:28 (theatrical), 1:39 (extended cut)
Verdict: &&&1/2

The Wicker Man was made by British horror fans who admired the Hammer films of the time but craved something thematically more substantial, and who could blame them? Set on the mysterious island of Summerisle, where a pagan colony exists largely independent of the outside world, The Wicker Man really doesn't feel at all like a horror film, the category into which it is usually lumped. It's more of a whacked-out, slow-burn thriller that pays off big time with a jaw-dropping, last-minute shocker — a twist on par with that of The Sixth Sense that causes you to reflect with admiration on all that came before. Summoned to the island to investigate a report of a missing young girl is stiff Sergeant Howie (Edward Woodward of The Equalizer fame), whose fervent Christianity collides with the sexed-up local rituals. A hint of something amiss is always bubbling just beneath the surface as he carries out his inquiries, gleaning half-truths from the mysterious, free-spirited islanders. Among them is no less than Hammer horror vet Christopher Lee, who turns in an understated performance as the pagan patriarch, Lord Summerisle. Modern audiences may be stymied by the movie's often glacial pace and some truly awful folk music that dominates the soundtrack, but The Wicker Man is an absolute must for anyone who appreciates a beautifully constructed mind game. The 2006 remake starring Nicolas Cage, though flawed, is faithful to the concept and was unjustly maligned by critics. It's interesting to note some of the differences between the two, such as the remake's stripping away of the Christian versus pagan element. // DVD notes // This two-disc set includes the theatrical version and the extended version with an additional 11 minutes of material. The theatrical cut has a Dolby Surround 5.1 soundtrack, but it's only mono for the extended cut, which has some noticeable variation in picture quality. A new commentary track features all the principals, and a solid featurette, "The Wicker Man Enigma," explores the movie's troubled release after the studio changed hands, as well as the loss of the original master and other enlightening bits. An attractive slipcover adds a little class to the standard snap case.

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