Original VS. Remake: The Wicker Man (1973 & 2006)

Robin Hardy (1973)
Neil LaBute (2006)

Edward Woodward - Sergeant Neil Howie
Christopher Lee - Lord Summerisle
Britt Ekland - Willow MacGregor
Diane Cilento - Miss Rose
Ingrid Pitt - Librarian

Nicolas Cage - Edward Malus
Ellen Burstyn - Sister Summerisle
Kate Beahan - Willow Woodward
Molly Parker - Sister Rose/Sister Thorn
Leelee Sobieski - Sister Honey
Frances Conroy - Dr. Moss
Diane Delano - Sister Beech

Genre - Horror/Thriller/Cults

Running Time - 99 Minutes [Director's Cut - 1973]/ 101 Minutes [2006]

When I think about writing these Original vs. Remake posts for Full Moon Reviews, I find it more fun when the two versions have a difference in quality. Many believe that remakes have no place since they aren't superior to the original. And for the most part, I agree with that - although there are some remakes that are just as good, if not better, than the original version. But sometimes, there are remakes that are so bad, you wonder why they bothered to begin with. And that's the case with THE WICKER MAN.

The 1973 version is more often praised for what it is, although it does have its critics [I used to be one of those until my recent re-watch] due to its subject matter and its presentation. As for the 2006 version, most people hate it. But due to unintentional comedy, it's a film that gets a lot of replay due to Nicolas Cage becoming a one-man screaming ham of an actor who made a ridiculous story into something somewhat entertaining. It's obvious which one I, and probably many others, prefer in terms of quality. But why? Does the original deserve its praise? Is the remake as bad as many say? And how did those damn bees become so popular?

Both films are fairly the same in terms of plot, although each have slight changes. Officer Neil Howie (Edward Woodward)/Edward Malus (Nicolas Cage) receive an odd letter that concerns the disappearance of a little girl named Rowan (Geraldine Cowper/Erola Shaye Gair). All hints of Rowan's location seem to be on a privately owned island called Summerisle.

When Howie/Edward get to Summerisle, the shady locals deny knowing who Rowan is. But as Howie/Edward investigates, he starts to realize that the locals may be hiding something. He slowly learns that the community is into pagan rituals of some sort, using sacrifices in order to please the Sun and Fertility Gods to raise crops and raise the percentage of having children. Howie/Edward realizes that Rowan is the perfect sacrifice, since the sacrifice must be virginal, using her to appease the gods for last year's failure.

Robin Hardy's THE WICKER MAN is one of those 1970s movies that has a major cult following that seems to grow every year. It was a decent success during its release [although Americans didn't get the film until 1978], but THE WICKER MAN wasn't a horror film that many thought about until the internet boom and the release of the 2006 remake. There's probably a few reasons for this. It's not a particularly exciting film. It's more based on story and mystery, rather than visual gore and frights. It also deals with a topic many people have trouble talking about due to unwanted debates: religion and individual beliefs. But there's also a reason why a remake was even thought of to begin with - 1973's THE WICKER MAN is a damn good film that will bewilder you for all the right reasons.

THE WICKER MAN was written by a playwright named Anthony Shaffer, who would have cinema success in 1972 with both SLEUTH and FRENZY. It's quite a simple script on the surface. An officer receives a letter about a missing girl. The same officer goes to a mysterious island to investigate. As he searches and learns more about the inhabitants of this island, he realizes there's more to the story than what he's being told, leading to a twist ending that kind of punches you in the gut. It's pretty much your standard mystery-thriller premise, but Shaffer infuses it with a lot more depth than that.

THE WICKER MAN is probably known for its ideas of different beliefs and how it plays out within the narrative. Sergeant Howie is a Christian, who considers himself a family man who goes to church each Sunday to worship God. The people on Summerisle have different beliefs, almost similar to past Celtic beliefs, in which they believe in free love, nature healing illnesses instead of chemicals, and even human sacrifices for the greater good. THE WICKER MAN is really a story on cultures clashing - one that many would consider civilized versus one many would consider barbaric and not realistic. Yet, the film never once hits you on the head that one way is better than the other. Yes, both sides try to get their points across about their personal beliefs and why they're against each other's. But there's no cliche that Christianity is better, which would make Howie the hero since believing in God makes you "good". This was a rare deal in the 1970s, during a time where pop culture made it clear that religion will save your soul against demons, witchcraft, and Satan himself. The story itself never makes claim as who the good guys are compared to who we're supposed to despise. Are the people of Summerisle different from most people? Absolutely. Are some of their beliefs and methods far-fetched and dangerous? Probably. But who are we to say that they're wrong? I guess that's something for the viewer to decide on their own.

In a lot of ways, Howie is written in a way that's sort of hard to sympathize with him entirely. He's presented as the protagonist, but the way he conducts himself makes him very flawed. He's not the most interesting guy to follow. And usually when he speaks to the people of Summerisle, he talks down to them and calls them "heathens". Jerk. Sure, these citizens are definitely shady and not heroic at all. But Lord Summerisle comes across as more civilized and open-minded than Howie, making him more likeable. And he's the villain! But that's okay, because it allows the story to play out in a grey color instead of plain black and white. This aspect creates an interesting melodrama in which a man, who is stuck to his beliefs uncompromisingly, is driven mad by a culture he fails to understand.

Another reason why THE WICKER MAN stands out is due to its musical interludes. I guess one would consider the film part horror-musical, as the people of Summerisle seem to burst into folk music with lyrics that usually involve sex. And the songs aren't there just to lighten up the mood and weird viewers out. They move the narrative along by providing us information that becomes important by the film's end. And while the songs may sound a bit upbeat, the lyrics are pretty edgy and bleak. I think the most memorable music number involves a nude Britt Ekland [and her body double due to her being pregnant while filming] dancing in her room, grinding against a wall that seems to mesmerize Howie on the other side of the wall. These interludes could have been really cheesy, but end up giving the film a creepy atmosphere.

The direction by Robin Hardy is quite good. There's a ton of style going on here visually, especially during the musical interludes [the Britt Ekland scene being the highlight as it's truly mesmerizing for Howie and her the audience all at once]. THE WICKER MAN is a colorful film, showcasing the Scottish landscape and taking advantage of the scenery. How can you not find the beauty in the ceremony that takes place during the film's final act, involving the carnival dragon, the parade, and then the Wicker Man ceremony itself? The editing and pacing is also top notch, as every scene seems to build towards the twist ending. Whether you watch the theatrical version, or the Director's Cut like I did, Hardy does an impeccable job with presenting such an odd, yet interesting tale.

The acting in THE WICKER MAN is probably its best asset. Edward Woodward, who would become a bigger star in the 1980s by starring in The Equalizer, is great in the role of Howie. In a role originally presented to Peter Cushing, Woodward really plays a dour character well, not shying away from displaying the character's flaws through his stubbornness and ignorance. Woodward also presents Howie as a thinking and active character, making us believe he's not leaving until he figures out the mystery of Rowan and Summerisle. We both identify ourselves with him, because he's figuring things out while we do. But we also have trouble sympathizing with him because he's too stubborn in his ways. And Christopher Lee - who claims that THE WICKER MAN is his best film - is just fantastic as Lord Summerisle. He's so classy and civilized, yet there's something really slimy and shady about the man. Lee plays really captivating villains you can easily love, and this role is no exception. Britt Ekland is very sexy in her role, which is pretty much all it really calls for. And the other actors are great as well. Just a great cast.


As for the remake, I only have three words for it:


NOT THE BEES!!! But I'll get to that in a moment..

The 2006 version of THE WICKER MAN is probably one of the biggest blunders on the remake train. Take everything that made the original so damn good and just crap all over it. A simple story that becomes more complicated than it needs to be, acting so bad it borders on hilarious [one of the few highlights from this remake], and direction so lacking that you wonder why they even bothered. THE WICKER MAN (2006) has a terrible reputation, and it's well deserved.

Let's get the positives out of the way, since there are only a few of them. I appreciated the change where it concerns Summerisle. Instead of going the Pagan route, the remake focuses more on the Battle of the Sexes. Women are in power, while men are just there to be slaves and help populate the community. While the script could have done more with the concept, at least it tries to differentiate itself from the original in a more relevant way. It's just too bad the females in Summerisle are presented as stupid and weak during the final act, when Edward is punching and superkicking them across the screen. But at least it's something.

Speaking of Edward punching and kicking women, the entire final act is just pure hilarity. An hour before this, THE WICKER MAN just drags and almost puts you to sleep. But once Edward starts stealing bicycles, punching women, kicking them into walls, yelling about his legs being broken, and just going off on people in such an over-the-top manner, you can't help but laugh at how ridiculous the climax and conclusion of the film are. It's as if both the director and screenwriter just said "fuck it" and just go screwball towards the film's end. It's just too bad they didn't do this for the first hour of the film, Then the film's reputation would have been more positive due to unintentional comedy. I mean seriously - Edward beating up women in silly ways, a ton of overacting, and Edward running around in a bear suit? How can you NOT laugh at this?

And I gotta say - Nicolas Cage may not be my favorite actor in the world, but he definitely is the highlight of this terrible remake. I'm not really sure what happened with the guy. One year he wins a Best Actor Academy Award, and then he suddenly becomes the patron saint of so bad, they're good films. And while THE WICKER MAN isn't one of those films, at least Cage does his best to be such a massive ham onscreen to make us want to watch. The strange facial expressions, the screaming of dialogue for no reason, and just the sheer melodrama that felt like Cage had his drink spiked or something - you can't take your eyes off of this guy. And it wasn't as if his acting was terrible before the switch, as he underplayed the thing pretty darn well against a crappy script. But the final act is just a bizarre performance from him, which doesn't surprise me why THE WICKER MAN is one of his more memorable films for all the wrong reasons.

As for that "bees" scene, it amazes me that a deleted scene would be the most popular clip from this remake. That's right - the bee scene is not even in the actual movie! And I don't even think it's all that great of a moment, nor is it special. But it captured the imagination of so many people, creating memes and homages inspired by this bee scene. If Nicolas Cage isn't many money out of this internet sensation, he should be.

But other than that, THE WICKER MAN is a miserable failure. The script is just sooo bad. While I love the feminism pitch that replaced the religion themes of the original [just because the remake tried to be its own thing in that aspect], the screenplay does nothing with it really. Why were the women of Summerisle doing this to men? Why couldn't the men speak? Why are there more girls than boys on the island? And if you're going to sacrifice anyone for some God, why is it being done in a wicker MAN instead of a wicker WOMAN? Doesn't that contradict the whole deal? It just didn't make sense, since the script doesn't allow anything to develop.

It also doesn't help that none of the characters have any depth. Edward is really the only one because he has motivation, as his daughter is the one he's searching for on the island. But the women are as deep as a puddle. I could tell you their names, but I couldn't tell you what their purpose were. Some of these women seem important, but they don't have enough of a presence to really matter in the bigger picture. Maybe Willow, who is Rowan's mother and Edward's former lover, is the only one. And she just comes across as vapid and annoying, although I guess it makes sense when it comes to the film's climax. But other than that, you wouldn't really care about anyone in this remake.

Neil LaBute's direction doesn't help much either. Unlike what Hardy did in the original, LaBute doesn't think about giving the film any sort of tension or suspense. It just felt like scenes were falling into scenes, rather than the scenes building up to the next. It didn't help that the editing was a bit odd. And the use of the film's score was a bit much at times, which took away from what the scene was building to. The jump scares were pretty weak too, I gotta say. I did think the cinematography was nice, but everything else didn't click. LaBute has directed some good films, like NURSE BETTY and IN THE COMPANY OF MEN. But THE WICKER MAN is not the man's finest moment.

Besides Nicolas Cage, there's no one else really worth talking about in this remake. Ellen Burstyn is totally wasted as Sister Summerisle. The woman is a talented actress, but the script just makes her look like a fool. Kate Beahan is kind of hot as Willow, but her character was ultra annoying. Leelee Sobieski needs a new agent, as she does nothing of note here at all besides getting superkicked by Cage. Molly Parker plays two roles, although I don't know why. I will say her scene at the school was pretty decent. Diane Delano was picked to play the typical "lesbian stereotype", which is a shame since she's a better actress than that. I felt sorry for this cast.


- Howie, on a boat, needed a dingy. This would have a different connotation in the world of porn. Probably be a lot wetter too.

- Summerisle has an obsession with hares. Glenn Close would have a field day boiling on a stove here!

- The citizens of the island enjoy singing whenever they can. All this town needs is a butch gym teacher to make it a show on FOX.

- Apparently, there's a song that claims that sex and semen creates trees. You'd think the environment would be a lot better if that's the case. Many of you are shooting blanks!

- Lucy enjoys torturing a beetle. I think Ringo Starr deserves more respect, in my opinion.

- A woman was breast feeding while balancing an egg in her hand. America's Got Talent's next winner, ladies and gents.

- A local shop was selling human parts, including foreskin. I must have watched the Uncut Version...

- Summerisle sacrifices humans to the Sun God and the God of Crops. Justin Bieber should travel to this place... for the scenery...

- The school is supposedly up the hill and through the woods. I already know where grandmother's house is. I just want to be educated, dammit!

- There was a crow trapped inside a school desk to see how long it would survive in there. Brandon Lee suffered more than we all thought...

- Frances Conroy played Dr. Moss in the remake. How fitting, since this film is an American Horror Story in more ways than one. Send this one Six Feet Under.

- Edward is afraid of bees. Not surprising, since a majority of his films after the Oscar win were graded C or less.

- Sister Summerisle painted her face half black and half white during the sacrificial ceremony. I could make a Michael Jackson joke here, but I don't wanna be startin' somethin'.


Two films of the same name, but with totally opposite qualities - THE WICKER MAN is a story that has been proven to both be successful and a failure. The 1973 version is a film deserving of its cult status, with an interesting screenplay, tense direction, and fantastic acting by Edward Woodward and Christopher Lee. The 2006 remake is just an abomination, not understanding why the first film worked so well. Sure, it has unintentional comedy that will entertain you during the last half hour. But the script is terrible, the direction is blah, and the acting is just poor. Save the 1973 film, but sacrifice the 2006 remake inside of a giant wicker man. It may not make your crops grow, but it sure will help you save money on therapy sessions.


3.5 Howls Outta 4


0.5 Howls Outta 4

TRAILER (1973)

TRAILER (2006)

1 comment:

  1. I don't understand how an acclaimed filmmaker and playwright like Neil Labute could make such a turkey. It's not even an ambitious failure, it's just a gigantic mess. Nicolas Cage just embarrasses himself. Thank goodness Ellen Burstyn is there to class up the place.


Related Posts with Thumbnails