Well, perhaps I should apologize, or at least be embarrassed, but I've gotta say: I didn't hate The Wicker Tree. A long time in coming follow-up to the classic British horror musical from 1973, The Wicker Man (and brought to us by the original writer-director Robin Hardy), The Wicker Tree is entertainment from beginning to end. No, it's not ground-breaking, shocking, thought-provoking, scary, or eerie as the first one, but — and again, I gulp to admit I never much cared for it — then, what do you expect? Lightning (and the subsequent fire) seldom strikes twice. For what this is, a relatively low-budget, direct-to-U.S.-disk, darkly comedic horror flick starring two unknowns, it's a cut above the usual.
The setup slides into place with a pair of sugary-sweet, blonde-haired, blue-eyed born again Texan Christians. The abstaining, promise-ring wearing couple, Beth Boothby (Brittania Nicol) and Steve Thompson (Henry Garrett), are on a mission from… well, you-know-who. It's their goal in life to convert the sinners and the pagans to their ministry's mindset, and so they go from door to door saving one soul at a time. Pop singer of note Beth's trying to shed her former image as a booty-shaking video vixen, while it seems cowboy Steve is just along for the rodeo. The ride takes them over oceans to Glasgow, Scotland, where they plan on spreading the gospel on a cathedral concert tour, but wind up instead as the doomed Queen and Laddie of the Tressock Village May Day Celebration.
The tiny town is populated by a cast of kooky and creepy characters. There's the rich and powerful Sir Lachlan Morrison (Graham McTavish) and his Lady, Delia (Jacqueline Leonardas), the ones who lure the cutesy couple to the Celtic cult. Lovely Lolly (Honeysuckle Weeks) is the local pump and she gets her kit off regularly, while stuttering Donald Dee (Keith Warwick) spills several secrets. Christopher Lee, who starred in The Wicker Man as Lord Summerisle, has a cameo as Morrison's mentor in a flashback.
Based on his own book Cowboys for Christ, Hardy does a fine job of switching back and forth playfully between the large cast of cornball characters while still keeping Beth and Steve central. Playing out very much like a TV movie, it's got that sort of look and pacing; which serves the simple, satirical story well. The lead actors are stilted in a fun way, their fakeness feeling oddly authentic as country and western evangelists. Fire and brimstone is provided by the bad guys, while sex and kitsch is well-represented by the randy locals and promiscuous pagans trying their damndest to repopulate their dying breed. Comic relief (not that "relief" is actually needed) comes in the rather sophomoric form of poking fun at skewered body parts and dissing the disabled.
The Wicker Tree looks and sounds good. The locations are lovely, the horses are gorgeous, the sets are sumptuous, costuming is spot-on, and the original songs (from Beth's bad-girl days with her hit Trailer-Trash Slut, to her current Christ-crooning tunes) are a hoot, but surprisingly believable. Moments of terror are admittedly nonexistent, but there is some gore and even the removal of a still-beating heart from the body of its unwilling donor.
It's not nearly as much depraved fun as the infamous Neil LaBute / Nicolas Cage debacle of devilish delights in The Wicker Man remake (2006), but if you're in the mood for a movie that's not really horror, not really comedy, and not really a musical… but is really just campy, sappy suds… then go ahead and watch The Wicker Tree. I can think of worse ways to kill and hour-and-a-half.
The DVD offers a making-of featurette, which is somewhat amusing mainly because it seems as though some of the actors weren't sure what kind of movie they were making. We get a look at Hardy in action, as well as a brief interview with the always-imposing, ever-commanding Lee. There are also some deleted scenes and trailer.
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Reviewed by Staci Layne Wilson