“A Completely Alien Society”: The Making of “The Wicker Man”

The Wicker Man, made in 1973 and starring Christopher Lee as Lord Summerisle, Edward Woodward as Sergeant Howie of the West Highland Police, and Britt Ekland as Willow, the Aphrodite Pandemos of Summerisle, is remembered simultaneously as “the best British horror film ever” and one of the favorite movies of the Pagan revival during the 1970s, 1980s, and beyond.

Pagans for the most part emphatically do not view it as  horror film, although some avert their eyes or explain away the last few minutes. Instead, they see Summerisle, the fictional Scottish island setting, not as a “a completely alien society” but as a place where they would very much like to live — or at least go on holiday.

In 1998, to mark its twenty-fifth anniversary, BBC Scotland produced The Wicker Man Enigma,  this half-hour documentary about The Wicker Man’s making and, equally important, its mysterious post-editing existence. Some of the cast were re-interviewed: Lee reads dialogue that was cut from the final version, while Edward Woodward revisits the Scottish hotel where key scenes were filmed, socializing with some of the locals who were extras there in the “Green Man” pub.

Various trivia are examined, such as whether Britt Ekland actually had two nude body doubles rather than one, or whether a complete negative still exists, and how The Wicker Man inverts a common trope of horror films, in which sex leads to death — think of Dracula or any number of “dead teenager” movies.

4 thoughts on ““A Completely Alien Society”: The Making of “The Wicker Man”

  1. It always shocked me that so many Pagans idealized the community on Summerisle, where sex was compulsory, superstition ran amok and human sacrifice acceptable. I admit I enjoyed the movie from an outside-the-Craft perspective, but from my POV as a Wiccan, it was a PR disaster for us.

    • I don’t know if “compulsory” is the correct word, but I would be OK with “encouraged.” And as the documentary says, this pro-sex attitude inverts the usual trope of horror movies of that era, in which pre-marital or extra-marital sex often resulted in Bad Things happening. After all, if Sgt. Howie had accepted Willow’s invitation, he would not have ended up where he did.

      The filmmakers were not consciously making a pro-Pagan revival movie, although some of the stronger attacks on monotheism were, apparently, left on the cutting room floor. I always thought of The Wicker Man more as an in-group pleasure than a recruiting tool.

  2. Thanks for sharing this! At the end, it’s mentioned that in 18 months, a sequel was coming out, being filmed in Scotland…I’m hoping that wasn’t the Nicholas Cage one (which I thought was filmed on the islands outside of Seattle) – know anything about that?

    • I had the same question. I don’t think that a 1998 documentary would mention a 2006 movie as forthcoming, so I am not sure what was meant.

      Here is the trailer for the Nicolas Cage remake, filmed in Washington state, as you mentioned:

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