Forty years have passed since The Wicker Man was released, the "best British horror film ever made” according to Empire Magazine. This 1973 horror classic, though the horror is as more psychological than physical, tends to stick in the mind of anyone who watches it and is much more highly regarded now than when it was released, unlike the rather poor 2006 remake with Nicolas Cage. This anniversary expanded and restored edition then is very much to be welcomed.

In fact I'd go as far to say that this restoration of The Wicker Man and the assemblage of this Final Cut version make for one of the most important home video releases of the year. The film looks dramatically better than it ever has on DVD. It has been nicely cleaned up, yet there is no sign of artificial sharpening or filtering. Color, contrast and grain all look very natural.

Overall clarity is also much improved too, as befits an HD restoration. The newly inserted footage pulled from the Harvard Film Archive print is visibly poorer quality than the main film—grainier, with faded color and noticeably not as sharp but this is to be expected, and the results overall are still very impressive. 

No complaints whatsoever in regards to the sound quality either. Tape hiss, distortion and extraneous noises have been beautifully cleaned up. The dialog is crystal clear and the quasi-medieval and modern folk music (written for the film) is wonderfully clear and full across the entire spectrum.

Among the extra features on this impressive three-disc set are a new interview with Robin Hardy, "Recording the Music" (an interview with Gary Carpenter, associate musical director of the film) and "Releasing the Soundtrack" (an interview with Jonny Trunk of Trunk Records), "Worshiping The Wicker Man" (interviews with filmmaker Eli Roth, James Watkins, director of The Woman in Black, Ben Wheatley, director, Chris Tilly, film editor, and film critic Larushka Ivan-Zadeh), "Burnt Offering: The Cult of the Wicker Man" which is a 48-minute documentary made in 2001, hosted by film journalist Mark Kermode. Among the interviewees are Ingrid Pitt, Britt Ekland, Roger Corman and Anthony Shaffer.

There is also an audio commentary of the Director’s Cut with moderator Mark Kermode, Christopher Lee, Edward Woodward and Robin Hardy, recorded in December 2001 for the 2002 StudioCanal DVD release, a 1979 interview with Christopher Lee and Robin Hardy on the New Orleans talk show Critic’s Choice, hosted by Stirling Smith; and a two-minute trailer. That's not a bad selection of extras for a film that's quite a bit older than I am!

Should you buy it? Oh yes. The Wicker Man is now considered one of the greatest British shockers ever made. There is no film quite like it, with its high concept of a Christian copper set loose in a pagan world in which he is the unwitting pawn in a sinister game. Art director Seamus Flannery’s faceless wooden giant is recognized worldwide. Sergeant Howie’s dreadful encounter with the Wicker Man is as awe-inspiring as it is unexpected. Incredibly, the first time Woodward saw the enormous human shape was during the actual filming of the scene in which he is dragged up the hill to meet his fate. His shock is real.

Unfortunately, The Wicker Man was 30 years ahead of its time and its slow recognition stymied director Robin Hardy’s career. It is sad that this inspired filmmaker has only directed two other films in 40 years: The Fantasist (1986)—a thriller about a serial killer in Dublin—and The Wicker Tree, an ill-fated sequel to The Wicker Man released in 2011 (and in which the now elderly Christopher Lee has a cameo). However, once seen, The Wicker Man—for good or ill—is never forgotten. Strongly recommended.

Here is the trailer...

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