The director and writer Robin Hardy, who passed away earlier this week, made only a handful of movies. And only one of those movies had any influence – but what an influential movie it was. He was the director of the 1973 horror film The Wicker Man, which regular readers of this blog will know is a big favourite of mine. It might not be quite the greatest horror movie ever made, but it’s surely the greatest one ever made in the United Kingdom.
And for my money, there’s nothing in the history of the British film industry that compares with its final image. This shows the head of the burning wicker man – within which luckless virgin / policeman Edward Woodward has just been sacrificed by a community of pagans on a remote Scottish island – collapsing before the Atlantic horizon, which is glowing like a furnace while the white disc of the evening sun sinks behind it.
The movie / TV fan website Den of Geek marked Hardy’s passing by providing a link to a 2008 article written about the film by one of its supporting stars, the late Polish actress Ingrid Pitt. In it Pitt amusingly spills some beans about the making of The Wicker Man: including how Edward Woodward’s biggest irritation about being inside the wicker man was not the flames licking up from below, but the sacrificial animals that were sealed inside the thing in the cages above and were peeing down on his head; or how her co-stars Britt Ekland and Diane Cilento spent the shoot moaning about their troubled marriages to their film-star spouses, Peter Sellers and Sean Connery respectively.
(c) British Lion Films
Hardy’s other films were the 1986 Irish movie The Fantasist, which I haven’t seen – few people have seen it – but which certainly sounds interesting; and 2011’s The Wicker Tree, a spiritual if not a direct sequel to The Wicker Man. As I wrote about The Wicker Tree in this blog two years ago, the sequel isn’t an outright disaster, but it’s slipshod and uneven in tone and is badly let down by the non-performances of its two American leads. It shows how unique The Wicker Man was in its perfect balance of horror, humour, music and bawdiness – a balance that you probably couldn’t achieve twice.
Before his death Hardy was trying to raise funds for a second Wicker Man sequel, provisionally entitled Wrath of the Gods. But although we’ll never see that film now, The Wicker Man’s DNA is evident in a number of other movies made during the past two decades, most notably Julian Richards’ Darklands (1996), David Mackenzie’s The Last Great Wilderness (2002), Edgar Wright’s Hot Fuzz (2007), David Keating’s Wake Wood (2009) and Ben Wheatley’s Kill List (2011); and no doubt it’ll influence more movies in the future.
And back in May this year, Radiohead paid homage to The Wicker Man in the charming but sinister video for their recent song Burn the Witch, which depicted pagan sacrifice in a stop-motion-animated English village inspired by the 1967 children’s TV show Trumpton. Spookily, the creator of Trumpton, Gordon Murray, died on June 30th, just two days before Hardy did – a coincidence that suggests there exists a deadly Radiohead Video Curse. (Perhaps for their next release, Thom Yorke and the gang might want to make a video about Tony Blair, filmed in the style of a Michael Bay movie.)
(c) XL Recordings