From a press release earlier this week...
New York-based distributor Rialto Pictures has announced the U.S. release of THE WICKER MAN – FINAL CUT, the definitive version of Robin Hardy’s thriller of pagan worshippers on a remote Scottish island. Seen for decades only in mutilated copies, the new Studiocanal restoration is the culmination of a long search (conducted via Facebook) for the complete director's cut. This year marks the 40th anniversary of the cult classic.
Rialto will roll out the restored version beginning September 27 at IFC Center, New York City, with runs in Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington and other cities throughout the fall.
After receiving an anonymous letter about a missing 12-year-old girl, devoutly Christian cop Edward Woodward travels by seaplane to a remote Scottish island to investigate. But the islanders welcome neither his badge nor religious devotion, for laird of the isle Christopher Lee and his devoted followers worship only the pagan gods of old - and those gods demand a sacrifice. Woodward fears for the missing girl's life and follows every possible lead to find her - despite the islanders' interference - before she becomes a human sacrificial lamb.
Starring Edward Woodward (Breaker Morant, TV's The Equalizer), horror film legend Christopher Lee, stalwart Hammer vampiress Ingrid Pitt, and Swedish blonde bombshell/Bond Girl Britt Ekland (Man With The Golden Gun, After The Fox, Get Carter), WICKER MAN is a quintessential 70s thriller, with the search for its integral version one of cinema history's great detective hunts.
Butchered by its doomed UK distributor to fit on double bills, with its original camera negative apparently lost, THE WICKER MAN has gathered a devoted fan base over the past four decades, with the complete version their Holy Grail. Some missing scenes were recovered from an obsolete one-inch broadcast tape, but over the years there were rumors of complete 35mm prints floating around.
Earlier this year, the search intensified when worldwide rights holder Studiocanal initiated a Facebook campaign to recover the missing 35mm material, resulting in the discovery of a 92-minute 35mm release print at the Harvard Film Archive. This print was scanned and sent to London, where it was recently inspected by director Robin Hardy, who confirmed that it was the same cut he had put together for its American distributor in 1979. This culminated in a digital restoration of the complete U.S. theatrical version, which director Hardy recently anointed as "the final cut."
Hardy, now 83, has said of this restored version, “It fulfills my vision.”
Sitting in bed with a nasty flu-type bug, I have been somewhat perked up by this news. Before going any further, allow me to state that 1973's The Wicker Man is one of my top three or four favourite films of all time. Therefore, it was with a great deal of excitement that I read the news of the discovery of this 92 minute print, along with the appearance in the release schedules of a UK Blu-Ray release (billed as "The Final Cut") in a few weeks' time.
To cut a very long story very short, the original 99 minute cut was hacked down to 84 minutes by UK distributor British Lion, who sent it out on a double bill with Don't Look Now. It disappeared from screens not long after, but began its rebirth thanks to the tradition of Brit-horror films turning up on TV on Friday nights, both on the BBC and ITV.
Which brings us to this 92 minute version. Firstly, it is not, I repeat not the original cut - that's the 99m one, reassembled from mixed sources for previous releases on DVD. The closest comparison I can think of without seeing it is with the reassembled version screened by the BBC in their much missed Moviedrome strand on BBC2 sometime in the late 80's. This included material missing from both the 84m and 99m versions. Is this the version rediscovered? We shall have to wait and see. Early indications suggest that the Blu-Ray will include all three versions, hopefully with seamless branching blending the best possible sources for all of the scenes included in each cut. Whilst not providing the perfect 99 minute cut that us diehard fans would love to have, it's probably as good as it's gonna get unless some kind of miracle happens. There's a fair proportion of followers who rate this 92m cut as the best one, so they may be well pleased.
So... I'm cautiously looking forward to this Blu-Ray, due on October 13th 2013. I've grown cynical of the reissue/repackage mentality of late, but I'll be sharing my thoughts once I get my hands on a copy...
Meanwhile, for the unitiated, here's the original trailer...