U.K. based writer-director Robin Hardy's cinematic claim to fame is undoubtedly his pagan paranoia horror black comedy musical, The Wicker Man, released in 1973. It's a, er, cult classic, beloved by most and considered peerless by many. So why make a sequel after all these years? And what was he doing during all those years of gaps on his IMDb profile?
Not to be off-putting, but those were the first questions I asked, when I had the opportunity to interview him over the phone earlier today. Sounding spry, the 83 year old told me he's happy to have completed the sequel, The Wicker Tree, last year and to be onto his next film, The Wrath of the Gods. And, he said, it's not like he was living under a rock or inside an effigy all those years between films — he's directed TV commercials, written books (his Cowboys For Christ novel is the source for The Wicker Tree), and pursued his art. "I started as an artist in Paris," he told me. "I started with Matisse, [and] got into films almost by mistake." He prefers working in the television commercial short form, adding, "They actually make much more money for a director."
Hardy said what coaxed him back to the Wicker world was, in part, the "terrible" 2006 remake, directed by Neil LaBute and co-produced and starring Nicolas Cage. "Cage is a very talented actor," he said. "But he is not a romantic lead." "Ah," I replied, "You've obviously seen Captain Corelli's Mandolin." Hardy laughed, "Exactly! You've just made my point. He's a great character actor, though." We chatted a bit about how Hardy "had to get a lawyer" to take his name off the remake, and the one scene which left him "incredulous with disbelief" (when Cage tumbles downhill in a bear suit; "Most actors I know would have said, 'you want me to do what?!" ").
His sequel is quite different from both the original, and the remake. In The Wicker Tree, a pair of sugary-sweet, blonde-haired, blue-eyed born again Texan Christians take the place of Howie (Edward Woodward, in the original). 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.But soon the horrifying reality dawns on the naïve couple as they learn the true significance of the Celtic pagan rites.
As with The Wicker Man, there's singing and dancing a-plenty in The Wicker Tree. "The folk songs we used," said Hardy, "are a great throwback to paganism and if you listen to the lyrics, they advance the narrative." The film was not especially well-reviewed when it was released in Britain, but I could sense Hardy likes the movie and so I asked him what his greatest satisfaction was, in making it. He said it was in being able to cast the actors he wanted, and in the songs, "some of them, I wrote myself," he added.
And how he sums it all up? "It's a fantastical black comedy. That's the genre I best fit into."
The Wicker Tree bows on Blu-ray and DVD tomorrow (April 24, 2012).
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by Staci Layne Wilson