One of the most shocking horror films of the 1970s, The Wicker Man burns up Blu-ray with a fantastic new four-disc Blu-ray collection from Imprint Films. This set brings all three cuts of Robin Hardy’s mesmerizing descent into cult madness with an excellent assortment of bonus features including the film’s soundtrack on CD. With beautiful case artwork, great transfers for all three versions, and clean audio - this is an essential pickup for fans of this film. Highly Recommended
Police Sergeant Howie (Edward Woodward) is a good man. A righteous man, he upholds the law to the letter and never misses church and aims to be a clean family man abstaining from relations with his bride to be until their wedding night. When a mysterious letter arrives at his station describing the murder of a little girl on a remote island village, Howie immediately flies out to investigate. But upon his arrival, he’s not as shocked by the prospect of Lord Summerisle (Christopher Lee) and an entire village covering up the murder of a young girl but the discovery they’ve entirely abandoned their Christian heritage for sexually-charged pagan ideology and a darker more sinister purpose.
Loosely based on David Pinner’s novel “The Ritual,” The Wicker Man is a deceptive horror film in that it’s not altogether horrific. With the rise of Hammer and the new wave of ghastly modern horror films, Robin Hardy’s cult classic is an outlier. It works by steadily building tension and suspense without depending on shock, gore, or easy jump scares. In fact, much of the film is a meditation about cultural understanding with the strong sturdy Christian Howie unable to grasp how anyone could abandon the faith for an orgy of paganism. The film even works as a look at The Troubles of Northern Ireland which started in the late 60s about a group of people wishing to worship in their own way but are being imposed upon by the autocratic religious majority. And while this film may feel at times like it’s not really going anywhere, it’s building towards a grand and shocking final act.
It’s the final half-hour that makes this haunting piece of folk horror stick. If Hardy’s direction or Anthony Shaffer’s screenplay hadn’t landed, this film would probably only be remembered as an oddity in Christopher Lee’s extensive catalog of appearances. And while I love his time as Dracula and his time as Captain America’s most diabolical foe, I still look to his time as Lord Summerisle as one of his creepiest roles. Perhaps it’s because I saw this film as an impressionable teenager that I am initially very distrustful of overly friendly and outgoing people. Lee’s Summerisle is charming, debonair, and openly inviting. Why wouldn’t you trust him? Well, what happens during the last act of the film is a pretty damn good reason!
Now for a more recent example of a similar film but not the same would be the excellent Midsommar. Both The Wicker Man and Midsommar are very similar and cover familiar ground about an outsider invited to observe an odd culture whose ways may seem shocking with again a similar ending, but that’s where the similarities end in my opinion. The two films go about their dark deeds with a very different approach with The Wicker Man being far more sinister, dark, and quite frankly shocking. As much as I loved Midsommar my knock against it is that it plays its best shock cards early and frequently so that by the time the end rolls it may be emotionally satisfying but it’s not surprising. Comparatively, you wouldn’t think Christopher Lee leading a merry band of people in a rousing chorus of “Summer Is A-Cumen In” to be a terrifying experience but it in fact very much is.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
The Wicker Man celebrates the arrival of summer with an incredible three Blu-ray disc release from Imprint Films. You get a BD-50 disc with the more recent Final Cut, a BD-50 disc with both the Theatrical Cut and Director’s Cut, and a BD-50 disc with additional bonus features including the Director's Cut in standard definition. Also included is the film’s soundtrack on CD. The Final Cut disc and the Theatrical/Director’s Cut disc get their own clear keepcase with the Bonus Features and CD occupying a two-disc clear keepcase. All discs are region-free. All three cases are housed in a beautiful hard-stock box that opens from the top and features custom artwork. This collection is limited to 2,000 units.
In 2013 Studio Canal oversaw the restoration and release of The Wicker Man The Final Cut. 90% of this image is impeccable and stunning but in order to facilitate the additional scenes, rough dupe element inserts were added and were restored to a condition that’s best described as “good enough to get by.” It’s this restoration that Imprint appears to have sourced for this release of The Wicker Man. While you can absolutely notice the quality difference for the newer scenes, they thankfully don’t interrupt the flow of the film too severely and aside from a couple conversation scenes are relatively brief. When it’s good it’s gorgeous with fully appreciable details, facial features, and fine textures. Film grain is intact without signs of severe smoothing. Colors are beautiful offering up a full range of early spring earthly shades with lovely primaries. The insert scenes still look overly brown and washed out.
Now the Theatrical Cut shows all of the beauty the film has to offer without the dodgy inserts. Front to back it’s fantastic and if that really is the best surviving version of the film it’d make for a hell of a 4K Ultra HD release someday - hopefully not too soon since we just got this set. The Director’s Cut again is similar to the Final Cut with lower quality SD inserts. These sequences are their own mixed bag - hallmarks of the format limitations. Then in the bonus features, you have the Director’s Cut fully in SD, which if you saw the old DVD you have an idea what that looks like.
The audio for each cut of the film is an LPCM 2.0 track that is just fantastic. Dialog is clean and clear throughout without issue. Sound effects are on point giving the film an eerie quality with the terrific score and creepy folk tunes throughout. With the Director’s Cut and Final Cut inserts the audio slips dowm in overall quality a tad, but nothing horrendous. You can still clearly make out what any given actor is saying and songs and score aren’t dramatically hurt by it.
In addition to including all three cuts of the film, Imprint has gone out of their way to source a tremendous amount of new and archival bonus features to pick through. You have three great audio commentaries for the various cuts of the film. You get the soundtrack - which may or may not be your thing. Some of the music is creepy but the folk tunes wouldn’t be the first thing I’d ever throw on. After that you get several hours of new and archival interviews and making-of features to dig through - so long after the credits roll and the smoke clears, you’ve got a lot more to enjoy with this set.
Theatrical Cut/Director’s Cut Disc
Final Cut Disc
Bonus Features Disc
The Wicker Man may not rely on blood and guts and jump scares to deliver its brand of horror. Instead, it gets into your brain and fiddles around for about an hour before it drops into its shocking final act. With a great script, smart direction, and excellent performances from Edward Woodward and Christopher Lee, this film haunts you long after the credits finish. Imprint Films delivers fans of this 1973 Folk Horror classic a tremendous Limited Edition set offering up all three cuts of the film with an excellent video transfer, clean audio, and hours of interesting and extensive bonus features. If you’ve been needing to add this chilling flick to the collection, this is likely the best you’re going to find. Highly Recommended