Register  |   Log In  |  
Sign up to our weekly newsletter    
Search   
Empire Magazine and iPad
Follow Me on Pinterest YouTube Tumblr
Empire
Trending On Empire
The Future Of Film
The 100 Greatest Video Games
Robin Williams: The Big Interview
Kevin Feige:
My Movie Life

The Marvel supremo's pick of the flicks
Want To Be An Empire Journalist?
Find out how here
Empire Blogs
Under The Radar

Back to all blogs Comment Now

Frightfest 2011: The Wicker Tree

Posted on Saturday August 27, 2011, 20:01 by Damon Wise in Under The Radar
Frightfest 2011: The Wicker Tree

As the lights went down on The Wicker Tree I wondered how many people in the room had ever had the luxury of seeing its precursor without knowing what The Wicker Man actually was. I must have seen the film's first TV screening in the late 70s, and it blew my mind. I can't say I was ever scared by Robin Hardy's 1973 original but I responded very much to its eerieness in a way that I hadn't ever before with a genre film. To be honest, I never took to Edward Woodward's uptight cop and even thought Summerisle might be a great place to visit. My favourite scene remains Sergeant Howie's visit to the lord of the manor, Lord Summerisle (Christopher Lee), on a day when naked teenage girls are performing a fertility ritual in the grounds outside. “Good afternoon, Sergeant Howie,” Summerisle beams. “I trust the sight of the young people refreshes you.” Sgt Howie cannot contain his rage. “No, sir,” he foams, “it does NOT refresh me.” I've always loved that scene because it is the heart of the movie; the more Howie rages against the pagan habits of the place, the more delighted Summerisle becomes: Sgt Howie is almost literally digging his own grave.

To me, The Wicker Man has always been a brilliant black comedy – brilliant because, like Psycho, it plays so beautifully with audience sympathies. Sgt Howie is a force for goodness and justice – but he's also a self-righteous cock. And, going in to The Wicker Tree, I had a horrible feeling that Hardy, returning to his own material after nearly 40 years, might have been blinkered by the film's transformation from an intelligent B-movie shocker into a highbrow, culturally accepted classic. I'm going out on a limb here (no pun intended) but I think The Wicker Tree is a decent, if far from perfect, sequel of sorts to the original. Some of the jokes aren't too funny, some of the scares aren't too scary, but I do think Hardy has some beautifully mischievous points to make about religion, even if he doesn't make them quite so eloquently without the help of the late Anthony Shaffer.

It starts in the present day (I think), with country star Beth Boothby (Britannia Nicol) taking a break from her Miley Cyrus-style stardom to drag her cowboy boyfriend Steve (Henry Garrett) on a Bible-bashing tour of God-forsaken Scotland. Edinburgh literally slams its doors in their faces, so the two, at the invitation of the suave, Lord Summerisle-esque Sir Lachlan Morrison (Graham McTavish), decamp to the village of Tressock, where Beth is to be made May Queen and Steve, nice but dim, is to join her as “the Laddie”, a symbol of masculinity and virility. But while in Tressock the two face up to their disreputable pasts: both are reborn Christians and both are close to lapsing.

Just as you don't need a weatherman to see which way the wind's blowing, you don't really need to be told what kind of thing happens next (yet another creaky pagan trap springs). But what I liked about the movie is that Hardy embraces the obvious: it's a film with a very good sense of humour about itself. There are budgetary issues for sure – a pop video for Beth's pre-religion hit Trailer Trash Love (I think) looks like anything but – and the attempts to create the atmosphere of a fully inhabited town never hit the same heights as The Wicker Man. But the comedy is knowing, the cast is game, and my neighbour in the cinema made the same observation that I did, which is that would have it played rather well as part of the very cinematic 1980s Hammer House Of Horror TV series.

The music could have been a lot better integrated, especially in a party scene that comes with a very MOR soft-muzak score (from the director that hated having to have an electric guitar riff in the original!). But this was to be – for me – very much a not-so-guilty pleasure. Like Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes, it could never hope to match the ending of the original, but there's something off-the-wall and bespoke about all three of Hardy's films that really appeals to me. You'll see faces, performances and scenes that you'll never see in any other movie (usually for good reason). But perhaps it's a good thing that he's never made more than those three. Like The Wicker Man and the little-seen follow-up The Fantasist (1989), this is another uneven renegade production that throws up images, moods, lines, ideas and jokes that are sure to stay longer in the mind than many more professional, refined and meticulous productions have faded into the movie mist.


Login or register to comment.

Comments

1 Loosecrew
Posted on Tuesday January 10, 2012, 15:11
It was fucking awful.

Log in below, or register to post comments
Username:
Password:
Remember Me:

CATEGORIES

Empire States (440)

Under The Radar (317)

Infinite Lives (92)

Small Screen (57)

Words From The Wise (35)

Cannes 2011 (28)

Off The Wire (24)

Comic-Con 2010 (21)

Casting Couch (2)

Oscars 2011 (1)


RECENT POSTS

Night Visions 2013: The Strange Colour of Your Body's Tears, We Are What We Are, Big Bad Wolves
By Owen Williams

Night Visions 2013: Jodorowsky's Dune, Nightsatan & The Loops Of Doom
By Owen Williams

Night Visions 2013: Adjust Your Tracking (or Does Anyone Actually Miss VHS?)
By Owen Williams

Night Visions 2013: Fresh Meat, The Colony, Sawney
By Owen Williams

Film4 FrightFest 2013: Sunday and Monday
By Owen Williams

Film4 FrightFest 2013: Thursday and Friday
By Owen Williams

Bloody Cuts In Conversation
By Owen Williams

European Film Awards 2012
By Owen Williams

Night Visions 2012: Silje Reinamo and Thale
By Owen Williams

Night Visions 2012: Juan Martinez Moreno and Attack of the Werewolves
By Owen Williams


RECENT COMMENTS

Night Visions 2013: Adjust Your Tracking (or Does Anyone Actually Miss VHS?)
"Or don't..."  Owen Williams
Read comment

Aruba 2013: Juan Francisco Pardo Q&A
"Sadece on altı dakika içinde iyi bir görsel hikaye anlatmak önemli beceri ve bel"  skndrdmr
Read comment

Aruba 2013: Opening Gala
"That really amazing."  ommrudraksha
Read comment

2013 IIFF - The Winners
"Hi Simon, Trying to get in touch with you. Hope this works. I enjoyed your piece on Enter t"  matthewpolly
Read comment

Christoph Waltz will win an Oscar
"although its old now :(, of course he was gonna win it :), one of the many idols of why i wanna be a"  SONYA ALALIBO
Read comment

Brisbane International Film Festival: First Report
"I think it is pretty clear the story revolves around The Blacksmith, in The Man With The Iron Fists,"  owenyunfat
Read comment

TIFF 2012: Silver Linings Playbook, The Perks Of Being A Wallflower, Cloud Atlas, The Place Beyond The Pines
"Thanks for the feedback! I hope I didn't give the impression that Cloud Atlas is a write-off; I just"  Damon_Wise
Read comment

TIFF 2012: Silver Linings Playbook, The Perks Of Being A Wallflower, Cloud Atlas, The Place Beyond The Pines
"Hi Damon With regards to Cloud Atlas, I fear that it will face the same problem a"  ChesterCopperpot
Read comment

TIFF 2012: Silver Linings Playbook, The Perks Of Being A Wallflower, Cloud Atlas, The Place Beyond The Pines
"No worries! I just try to describe things as I see them, and I often forget that, as Empire has grow"  Damon_Wise
Read comment

TIFF 2012: Silver Linings Playbook, The Perks Of Being A Wallflower, Cloud Atlas, The Place Beyond The Pines
"Don't get me wrong, I appreciate your early reviews from the festivals, and of course, I'm not alway"  pythonlove
Read comment


POPULAR POSTS

Sundance Part Six: In The Loop
13 comments

Basterds Blog
9 comments

Damo's Top Ten Of 2009
9 comments

The Times BFI London Film Festival Preview
9 comments

Sundance 2010: Four Lions blows everyone away!
8 comments

Sundance 2010: The Killer Inside Me causes outrage!
7 comments

Chris Hewitt Of The Year Award!!!!
7 comments

TIFF 2012: Silver Linings Playbook, The Perks Of Being A Wallflower, Cloud Atlas, The Place Beyond The Pines
7 comments

The Wrestler
6 comments

Where to see Moon...
6 comments


BLOGGERS
Damon Wise (297)
Helen O'Hara (168)
James Dyer (86)
Amar Vijay (71)
Ali Plumb (56)
James White (29)
Phil de Semlyen (19)
Owen Williams (15)
Ally Wybrew (2)
Ben Kirby (1)
Ian Nathan (1)
Dan Jolin (1)
David Parkinson (1)

SPECIAL FEATURE
The 301 Greatest Movies Of All Time EMPIRE READERS' POLL: THE 301 GREATEST MOVIES OF ALL TIME
You turned out in your hundreds and thousands, and here are the results... Browse the full list


CURRENT HIGHLIGHTS
The Future Of Film: The Streaming Services Will Be Major Studios
(Or how Hollywood will have to start worrying about Netflix)

The Empire Podcast #129: Liam Neeson Interview
Plus Max Irons, Sam Claflin, Douglas Booth, Holliday Grainger and Jessica Brown Findlay drop by to talk The Riot Club

The Future Of Film: We'll Be Watching Films In Virtual Reality
Immerse cinema aims to become the must-have experience for the filmgoers of the future

The Future Of Film: Cinema Will Cross The Uncanny Valley
The future of VFX, from believable digital humans to underwater mocap

The Future Of Film: There Will Be Another Indie Golden Age
Independent producers are growing from micro-budgets to something a lot bigger

Empire's Epic Interstellar Subscribers' Cover
The countdown begins to Christopher Nolan's sci-fi masterpiece

Shut Up, World! Gary Busey Is Talking!
Strap yourselves in and meet a true Hollywood original.

Subscribe to Empire magazine
Get 6 Issues Of Empire For Only £15!

Get exclusive subscriber-only covers each month!

Subscribe today

Subscribe to Empire iPad edition
Get The Empire iPad Edition Today

Subscribe and save maney on annual digital subscription

Subscribe today
Buy single issues

Get 6 issues of Empire for just £15!
Get the world's greatest movie magazine delivered straight to your door! Subscribe today!
Empire's Film Studies 101 Series
Everything you ever wanted to know about filmmaking but were afraid to ask...
The Empire iPad Edition
With exclusive extras, interactive features, trailers and much more! Download now
Home  |  News  |  Blogs  |  Reviews  |  Future Films  |  Features  |  Interviews  |  Images  |  Competitions  |  Forum  |  iPad  |  Podcast  |  Magazine Contact Us  |  Empire FAQ  |  Subscribe To Empire  |  Register
© Bauer Consumer Media Ltd  |  Legal Info  |  Editorial Complaints  |  Privacy Policy  |  Bauer Entertainment Network
Bauer Consumer Media Ltd (company number 01176085 and registered address 1 Lincoln Court, Lincoln Road, Peterborough, England PE1 2RF)