Robin Hardy is a horror legend for one very big reason, The Wicker Man. And it’s safe to say that his first and most famous film has cast a huge burring shadow over his career, which much like the titular torture trap found in his amazing 1973 movie, he has found it impossible to escape.
After being born in 1929, the writer and director has only made three films, The Wicker Tree being the most recent in 2010. As a supposed sequel in its themes and ideas rather than characters and storyline, some 40 years later The Wicker Tree is adapted from Hardy’s book Cowboys for Christ and was one of the most eagerly anticipated films at its European premiere at Frightfest last year.
Sadly however The Wicker Tree is a huge disappointment. It’s a pale, hollow shell compared to the cult classic it’s supposed to follow, failing to excite and innovate on every level. Instead it leaves the viewer desperate to return to the original and remove this blight on the blissful memory of such a legendary horror movie.
The plot is one of the main problems, following an evangelical Christian pop star who travels from Texas with her boyfriend to spread the good news to Scotland. Invited by the laird of the remote village of Tressock to preach to his people, the pair set out eager to convert more haggis eating heathens to their cause.
Although they think the people they meet seem slightly strange, the religious do-gooders are happy to be offered a large role in the Tressock’s May Day celebration only to find that the beliefs of this small village are a lot darker and primal than they ever imagined. The pagan festival they are to feature in will culminate in them losing much more than their innocence and faith.
From the brief description above it is easy to see where the story is going and this plot predictability can be gained not only from the first 15 minutes, but in fact the title alone as soon as you learn the connection to The Wicker Man.
This serves to rob any viewer (save the most filmically illiterate) of any tension or intrigue as to the motives of the characters and the twists and turns ahead, making the script seem slow and obvious as it trudges towards the inevitable tragic conclusion.
Hardy has tried very hard to evoke the ethos and spirit of The Wicker Man in The Wicker Tree. What this seems to mean is sex, spiritualism and songs, yet none of these elements work in the same way that they did way back when.
In many ways Hardy’s film seems out of place in the 21st century in both its construction and direction, but most obviously in its old fashioned obsession with sex which is laughable rather than liberating.
With buxom uninhibited spirits bathing in lakes, naughty posh totty on powerful stallions and double entendres popping up everywhere (ooh er missus!), all set against the uptight virginal American Christians the film plays out like ‘Carry On Wicker Man’, failing to achieve the controversial and challenging free spirited sexuality the original succeeded in suggesting.
In the same way George Romero’s Diary of the Dead played out an old man’s understanding of future media and Internet domination, The Wicker Tree feels like an unwanted throwback film, out of place in modern cinema.
It goes without saying that The Wicker Man has been inspirational in horror both in Britain and Hollywood. Yet the films and directors who cherish the original and draw from it all manage to bring fourth something new, whereas it appears Hardy has been left behind.
Horror films echoing The Wicker Man are too many to mention. However movies like Hammer’s Wake Wood is a perfect example of pagan horror drawing on the rich vein of English folklore, sadly untapped by so many. Even a modern horror like The Shrine shows innovation using the theme of a small society turning to torture and ceremony to protect themselves from outside interference as a basis to do so much more.
The film most notably inspired by Hardy’s classic is Kill List. One of the best horror films of last year, it perfectly captured the sense of insanity and fear found when one man’s world seems to be controlled by outside forces, forcing him along a fateful path of destruction and pain.
The Wicker Tree never even touches the films cited above and is even further away from Hardy’s original masterpiece. Much like the Christopher Lee cameo contained within it, the Wicker Tree is unsatisfactory, failing to give us even a glimpse of what made the original so great. Outdated, predictable and fundamentally not scary, the film even makes Nicholas Cage’s remake seem somehow acceptable – which is saying something.
Hardy has said that he plans another film to follow The Wicker Tree entitled The Wrath of the Gods.
I’m sorry to say that for his sake I hope the wrath of the gods of horror stop him before the last shred of the legacy from his original movie is destroyed by these terrible sequels.