A chip off the old cult block

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The Wicker Tree (15)

Director: Robin Hardy

Starring: Graham McTavish, Jacqueline Leonard, Henry Garrett, Honeysuckle Weeks, Clive Russell, Christopher Lee, Brittania Nicol

IT’S not often that a film premieres in Glasgow.

Then again, it’s not often that a film’s subject matter is a Scottish, human-sacrificing pagan community – unless, of course, you count The Wicker Man.

Fans of the cult classic can perhaps breathe a sigh of relief, as this was not another rehashed remake (although more on the subject of that Nicholas Cage film later).

It was a special screening of The Wicker Tree — the latest film from the original’s director Robin Hardy, and less of a remake or a sequel than a bit of a send up, really.

Of course, other critics haven’t viewed it quite so favourably — many no doubt bristling at the thought of tampering with the “Citizen Kane of horror films” (as noted by magazine Cinefantastique, when the 70s film gained belated acclaim).

The synopsis of The Wicker Tree is similar, if slightly more laughable — a couple of born-again, Texan Christians come to Scotland to spread the church’s word, only to find themselves at the mercy of a Pagan community on May day.

Alright, so it’s almost exactly the same formula — but this reviewer would argue that the low-budget, big-laughs film has as much potential for a fan base as the first film, although perhaps not for the same reasons.

Yes, it lacks the power of the final sequence of The Wicker Man — a haunting, harrowing piece of cinema largely thanks to Edward Woodward’s performance.

And yes, not only is the premise a little familiar to us now, but as a modern day twist we can’t help but laugh at the naivety of our missionary protagonists, rather than rooting for them.

Still, it’s an enjoyable watch and — most importantly — it doesn’t seem quite as insulting to the original film as the Hollywood remake.

Incidently, a question and answer with Robin Hardy followed, during which he was asked what he thought of the big budget version.

His response — a despairing ‘how could such talented people do something so badly?’ — summed up the feeling of many a fan (myself included). It’s possible to surmise that The Wicker Tree is harmless in comparison.

There are also plenty of interesting points to pick up on throughout — unquestioning religious beliefs, loss of traditional faith, and even nuclear power and its negative health effects.

But most of all the film is just fun, and gleefully ridden with cliches and stereotypes of the, now fairly well-explored, territory of the folk horror film.

And who better to present it on a new, if similar, plate, than the man behind the original and best?

Rating: 3/5

The Wicker Tree is out on DVD/Blu-ray on April 30.