Judge Gordon Sullivan's life is about to become the next Wicker story: The Wicker Patio Chair.
Accept Our Sacrifice
Modern horror is traditionally dated from 1960, the year of Hitchcock's Psycho, but it took a few years for horror to build up a head of steam. It wasn't until the late Sixties and early Seventies that we started seeing classic after classic film being released in theaters. Many, if not most, of those canonical horror classics have received the sequel treatment. There's Psycho 2, Look What Happened to Rosemary's Baby, The Exorcist II, and even The Omen had its sequels. One of those Seventies classics that didn't get exploited was The Wicker Man, the creepy 1973 British horror flick. Technically, it still hasn't gotten a sequel, as The Wicker Tree is intended as a "companion piece." No matter what you call it, though, The Wicker Tree (Blu-ray) continues the obsession with modern paganism in the British Isles.
Beth (Brittania Nicol) and Steve (Henry Garrett, Red Tails) are a pair of Christian singers bent on bringing the good news to the fair people of Tressock in Scotland. Hoping to convert the local population, the pair agree to participate at the center of the local Mayday festivities as Queen and Laddie of the celebration. Naturally, the people of Tressock aren't just going to erect a Maypole, and soon Beth and Steve are in danger.
Let's forget that The Wicker Man was ever remade. Even if you like Nicholas Cage and remakes, that was a horrific excuse for a film that offered viewers few of the pleasures of the original and even fewer of the pleasures of more modern horror. Really, then, this is the first genuine return to The Wicker Man's territory in thirty-five years. It's to the film's credit that original author of the book and director of the film, Robin Hardy, has returned the material himself He even penned the follow-up novel Wicker Tree is based on, Cowboys for Christ.
However, the film's plusses kind of end there. The original film was strong because we as the audience followed Sgt. Howie reluctantly onto the island. He won us over with his charm, and his quiet faith was just one aspect of his personality. More importantly, he was tolerant of the weirdness he encountered, so that by the time he was in danger, we felt for him.
Those facts are in sharp contrast to Beth and Steve. The idea behind their characters is to savage the contemporary conservative Christian movement; I am in total sympathy with that skewering. However, they're our main characters, and our entry point into the Scottish weirdness. Unless we're on their side, the rest of the film isn't horrifying. The film might have gotten away with such unlikeable characters as protagonists, but only if the point was that we wanted to see these two killed. The film doesn't really take that tack, either. Sure, the villagers are more carefully drawn than the pair of singers, but we're not really set up to sympathize with them totally, either. The result is a mess where we can't really feel for anyone, and the confrontation between Christianity and paganism just feels silly.
One of the reasons the original Wicker Man was popular was because of its pagan nudity, which was often censored or otherwise downplayed. Though nothing in The Wicker Tree will be quite as inspiring as the nudity in The Wicker Man felt in 1973, there is a bit of naughtiness here and there to keep some fans entertained.
Taken on its own terms, the film isn't awful. Since it's explicitly designated a "companion piece," rather than a remake or a sequel, the differences between this film and the original might be excused. Though I don't think removing the comparison turns Wicker Tree into a masterpiece, the story of a pair of proselytizers getting their comeuppance is mildly entertaining without the expectations of a classic behind it.
This Blu-ray is also pretty good for a feature of this budget. The 2.35:1 AVC-encoded transfer is uneven, but when it's strong, it's excellent. Some scenes can be a bit soft—witness the Dallas skyline in the film's opening—but overall the sharpness is impressive, especially in the natural textures of Scotland. Similarly, the image is generally clean, but noise does crop up occasionally. Colors are the most impressive aspects, with solid saturation and appropriate flesh tones. The Dolby TrueHD is on the same level. It's not the most immersive or dynamic track, but the dialogue is clean and clear and the surrounds get a bit of a workout during some of the film's more intense moments.
Extras include a pretty standard making-of, some deleted scenes, and the film's trailer.
The Wicker Tree isn't a great film, but many would argue the original isn't perfect either. Those obsessed with the original might find some fun revisiting the pagan-versus-Christian themes of the first film, while novices might enjoy the satire and sex. The Blu-ray is strong enough to recommend at least a rental to interested viewers.
I'll accept the sacrifice, and this disc is not guilty.
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