THE WICKER MAN
Shaffer had written a film script treatment in the late 1980's for a sequel to The Wicker Man which he had penned for producer Lance Reynolds. The story tells of Sgt Howie returning to Summerisle to face Lord Summerisle one more time and explains how he survived the sacrifice from the first film.
Although Shaffer's ideas for a sequel were never produced, word started circulating in the late 1990's about a possible remake being done by Robin Hardy. In fact, Hardy's film was going to be based on the same theme as The Wicker Man but was not a remake. A short time later, Nicholas Cage also spoke about doing a remake of The Wicker Man in the US with director Neil LaBute. Cage was a big fan of the film and saw potential of giving The Wicker Man a modern day makeover.
Cage began to talk more of his project and it wasn't long before the wheels were put in motion. Cage: "My late friend Johnny Ramone invited me to come over and see this movie The Wicker Man. I was extremely disturbed by it and it stayed with me for a couple of weeks."
Shaffer: "I don't think it bodes well that Cage wants to play Woodward's part and a lot of remakes have come to grief... There is this attitude that if anything happens that is worth anything it has to be in the States."
Edward Woodward was asked if he would be willing to appear in the film, but declined. Woodward: "I was asked to be in it but I didn’t really want to go back. I’ve been there. There’s a slight difference when you are starring in something. When you get to my age, which is 76, you have already starred in things and then gradually the parts get smaller and smaller and smaller and you don’t star in things any more. They say: ‘Get over there.’ You say: ‘Okay.' You tug your forelock and go."
Hardy said: "I struggle to engage with the Hollywood remake coming out later this year, although I haven't seen the film or the script. As a director and writer [Neil] LaBute is very good and I enjoy Nicholas Cage as an actor, but I do not want any involvement in it." In fact Hardy looked at taking things further to distance himself from the project. He called in his lawyers to have his name taken off promotional material for the movie even before lead star Nicolas Cage had finished filming. Hardy: "The amazing thing is that all the publicity keeps on saying that I have written the screenplay, which is obviously not true. I have had to have my lawyers call them, not because I particularly care, but it's clearly wrong that it should be out on websites and in the trades and everything."
Neil LaBute felt that he didn't want to do a repeat of Shaffer's film but instead do his own take on it: "I changed the patriarchy to a matriarchy, the industry from apples to honey, his connection to the island is strengthened because he knew someone from the past who’s part of that community rather than this blind approach to ‘I don’t know anyone, I’m going investigate one place after the next in the same kind of way." About the original film he said: "When I saw it when I was a young man, I was taken with the script, and I was taken with the ending, I wasn’t taken with the music…for me it wasn’t as interesting to talk about the kind of clash of spiritual matters so much as taking things that I was already interested in, in gender politics, and having this matriarchy and spinning the guy, who is essentially the same as the original cop who is a white American male who is in a power position by being a policeman and slowly stripping away all those things while he’s there until they have no meaning. Now he’s just one man against a bunch of people who want to stop him from finding the truth."
Nicholas Cage said there would have been no reason to remake The Wicker Man if LaBute hadn't approached it from a new vantage point. Cage: "I think it's a homage. It's a way of us saying this is a wonderful film."
Neil LaBute: "There are people out there who say, literally, 'I don't care if it's good or bad, I hate the fact that they are doing it.' So, that's a difficult audience to work with. You have to forge yourself ahead and say, I'm making something which, if people are fair with, I think they'll see that you're coming to this with good intentions, and trying to retain the spirit of the thing without being slavish to it."
The general feeling was that the more the film was talked about, the more the people didn't want it to happen. How could they possibly improve on what has been regarded as one of the best British horror films for years? Neil LaBute felt otherwise: "I always loved the movie and I loved the script in particular, but I never thought that it was completed so well that it couldn't be touched again."
The film starring Nicholas Cage, Ellen Burstyn, Kate Beahan, Molly Parker, Leelee Sobieski, Diane Delano and Frances Conroy was shot in Vancouver in July 2005 and released without previews in September 2006. The critics came down hard on the film as did its audiences who came away disappointed, though not surprised.
Kim Newman, writing for Empire Magazine said of it: "This has limited interest to folks who don't know the old movie, and an excruciating experience for those who do. Bad idea. Bad film." In the Toronto Star, Peter Howell dubbed the film: "An unholy mess full of moments of unintended hilarity." He added, "The updating of this tale of ritual sacrifice on a godless island named Summerisle is wrong in just about every way it could be."
The New York Times said: "A movie like this can survive an absurd premise but not incompetent execution. And Mr. LaBute, never much of an artist with the camera, proves almost comically inept as a horror-movie technician. He can’t even manage an effective false scare, or sustain suspense for more than a beat or two. Nor does the crude, sloppy look of the film turn into cheesy, campy excess. It’s neither haunting nor amusing; just boring." The Huddersfield Daily Examiner wrote amusingly: "The incessant buzzing throughout The Wicker Man isn't from the beehives, which play a pivotal role in Neil LaBute's contentious remake. It's bluebottles swarming over his excremental screenplay. LaBute re-imagines Robin Hardy's seminal 1973 horror film as a plodding, unintentionally hilarious slice of hokum set on an idyllic island in the Pacific northwest. The narrative lurches from one preposterous, hammy interlude to the next. As the film's hysterical finale approaches, Cage raves: "Something bad is about to happen, I can feel it!" That would be his career going up in flames."
Robin Hardy added his feelings too: ”It was a complete failure. There was nothing enchanting. No fun. They just didn't get it. There was that pointless transfer of male to female; the music is Muzak, elevator music; and Cage makes a complete fool of himself. Christopher Lee told me that, after the film tanked, Cage happened to meet him in Hungary and he told Lee that they had no idea what went wrong. Frankly, I think [writer] Tony Shaffer cursed them, like the remake of Sleuth, which was an awful, dreadful film.”
As mentioned earlier, Robin Hardy had his own plans to produce a film in the style of The Wicker Man, but stresses that it is not a remake but a film which revisits the same territory. This was originally called The Riding Of The Laddie but was later renamed May Day. The plot is based on a young American Christian couple, Beth and Steve, who leave America to visit Scotland where they are to enlighten the heathens there with the words of God. They visit the quiet town of Tressock where they are welcomed by the locals, or so it may seem.
Robin Hardy explains: "In this film, I want to show how sympathetic characters can unwittingly be drawn into a seemingly friendly, hospitable community in which something frightful is going on underneath the surface. That's what happened in Germany, of course. They'd all read 'Mein Kampf,' yet no one acknowledged what was really going on. Like Hitler, Sir Lachlan Morrison is a dictator with charm and charisma. In this case, there's religious elitism as well as social elitism."
The cast for May Day was set as Christopher Lee, Vanessa Redgrave and Sean Astin. Hardy was also hoping to have Ewan McGregor in the film too, but he was committed to the Star Wars films at the time. Then reports came through that the film was being delayed due to finance and for a while the project seemed to have come to a halt. Then at Wigtown, Scotland in May 2006, Robin Hardy launched a novel version of his film which was now called Cowboys For Christ. Hardy told that despite the difficulties of the finances, etc the film was still going ahead and he hoped that filming would begin the following year.
Although Christopher Lee was still onboard, Vanessa Redgrave was no longer listed but Joan Collins was. Steve Astin's name had also disappeared from the cast list and the filming in 2007 never came about. In 2008 a local newspaper in Dumfries and Galloway reported that filming was set to start in Dumfries and Galloway, with casting about to begin for extras and accommodation booked for some ninety people for four weeks, however the local council announced that the plans had been cancelled. Local councillor Gill Dykes revealed that the production company had cancelled the shoot due to difficulties with financing and that they are looking to put alternative funding in place. There's no word on if the production of Cowboys for Christ is going to be scrapped, but the word from the official council press release through the BBC is that the production company are trying to find alternative funding, and the council haven't yet been told that the production won't come to the region and still hold out some hope.
Robin Hardy prepared a press release to set things straight with the media:
COWBOYS FOR CHRIST The second film in The Wicker Man Trilogy.
NEITHER a PREQUEL or a SEQUEL, nor a RE-MAKE, COWBOYS FOR CHRIST on May Day
Robin Hardy, author, screenwriter and film director designate of Cowboys for Christ and director of the original The Wicker Man film as well as co-author of the novel of the same name…. lays some media rumours and canards to rest :
Principally :Why is Robin Hardy remaking his own film, The Wicker Man ?
He is NOT remaking The Wicker Man. Who ever remade a film they have already directed? A re-make of The Wicker Man, however, written and directed by Neil LaBute, was released in 2006. Nicolas Cage starred in the role created by Edward Woodward in the original film. No-one involved in Robin Hardy’s The Wicker Man was in any way involved in the ‘re-make’. At one point the Producers of the re-make had (or allowed) Robin Hardy’s name to appear next to that of Neil LaBute, as co-writer, in the Hollywood trade paper listings. It took a considerable number of e-mails from Robin and his lawyers to the re-make’s producers to ensure that his name was removed.
Relying on the box-office potency of Nicolas Cage’s name world-wide, the re-make of The Wicker Man did not actually lose money, but it was slaughtered by the critics both sides of the Atlantic. Some pointed out that it had been robbed of the humour, the sexiness and, most importantly, the beautiful music ( much of it based on Robert Burns’ songs ) of the original and as a result the horror, when it came, was pure bathos.
Robin Hardy’s Cowboys for Christ, a novel which Christopher Lee describes as “ Erotic, romantic, comic and horrific enough to loosen the bowels of a bronze statue,” was written partly to serve as the basis for the second film in a trilogy where The Wicker Man has led the way. The third film, “The Twilight of The Gods”, to be set in Burbank, California and Iceland will close the trilogy with a sensational re-imagining of the last act of Wagner’s “Ring Cycle”.
The Wicker Man, after its theatrical triumph in the USA in 1979-80, became a huge success in the English-speaking TV market and, in recent years , spectacularly profitable in video and, later, in DVD. So with a substantial fan base for The Wicker Man to which must be added Christopher Lee’s impressive following world-wide, there clearly exists a ready audience for films in this highly original genre – for Cowboys for Christ and, later on, for The Twilight of the Gods.
Some journalists who may not have read any of the relevant material have reported that Cowboys for Christ is a remake of The Wicker Man. This is incorrect. Is Bad Day at Black Rock a remake of Shane or High Noon or vice versa ? They are ALL excellent Cowboy Movies. So are dozens of other Cowboy films inhabiting the same territory. Theirs was a hugely successful genre of motion picture, complete with it’s own recognisable iconography. We believe that each film in our Wicker Man trilogy will confirm that the genre we have created is as beguiling as the inhabitants and landscape in the three films that make up The Lord of the Rings or the three films that are the ‘Godfather’ series. Hugely different obviously, but equally unique.
The originality of The Wicker Man, it’s occasional use of songs to virtually narrate the story, but well short of making the film a ‘musical’, its use of eroticism and humour, it’s avoidance of blood or gruesome detail, but reliance on the audience’s imagination to convey horror – all these elements defied accepted formulae making every studio ‘pass’ on the screenplay in the nineteen seventies. It was left to Christopher Lee and Robin Hardy to arrange the highly successful distribution of the film in America. ‘ What is it ?’ the Sales and Marketing departments of the Studios asked. “ How can it be a horror film with all those jokes ? Where is the blood ? Why is there no scary music instead of those cute folk songs ?” But after Cinefantastique, a leading Hollywood film magazine, called it The Citizen Kane of Horror Films and devoted a whole issue to it, the film started to break cinema ‘house’ records from Boston to San Francisco. People started to ‘get it’ and critics and audiences have been ‘getting it’ ever since. They will ‘get it’ with Cowboys for Christ; we just have to be persistent and make the film. Then the audience will laugh and cry and, many of them, find themselves still shuddering as they leave the cinema
Our current experience with Cowboys for Christ has been similar to that which confronted us with The Wicker Man in the seventies. Plus - it has been necessary to finance the film with disparate equity investments. One of these investors, putting up £750,000 ( $ 1.5m ), appears to have been wiped out by the current Credit Crunch leaving us, within two weeks of starting to shoot, to replace his investment. This naturally led to our producers ( Peter Watson-Wood and Alastair Gourlay ) to postpone the production till we have closed the gap. Replacing this money in the current financial climate will not be easy but investors are trickling in from both sides of the Atlantic. We are determined to make Cowboys for Christ – very soon.
By now the projects title had changed yet again - this time to a more fitting The Wicker Tree. Filming was then scheduled to begin in the summer of 2009 but was dealt with another blow. Christopher Lee, who was cast as Sir Lachlan Morrison injured his back after tripping over power cables while filming the latest Hammer Film The Resident in New Mexico. With the rest of the production crew and cast ready to go, Hardy had no alternative but to recast Lee's character.
The cast now included Graham McTavish, Jacqueline Leonard, Brittania Nicol, Henry Garrett, Clive Russell and Honeysuckle Weeks. Filming began in July 2009 at Midlothian, Haddington and Gorebridge on the South-East side of Scotland.
Although Christopher Lee was unable to take the leading part, Hardy wrote a role especially for him. He will play a mysterious stranger who talks about his philosophy of life and death, and is listed in the script simply as “Old Man” – though audiences and fans of The Wicker Man will recognise him immediately as Lord Summerisle...