Robin Hardy was a true original, and his 1973 film The Wicker Man is often and justifiably hailed as the finest British horror film ever made.
The story of the film’s conception is perhaps as fascinating as The Wicker Man itself, with a studio unsure of what it had on its hands butchering Hardy’s masterpiece in the process of its clumsy and half-hearted initial release.
My own personal obsession with Hardy’s work began when I saw (the theatrical version of) The Wicker Man at a special screening at Glastonbury’s Library of Avalon. A discussion followed the screening of the film about its pagan themes, and I was well and truly hooked.
Those were the early days of VHS video and I managed to track down an alternate cut of the film on a yellowy, fifth-generation pirate copy from Australia. This was later cleaned up using the best possible source materials and released on DVD as The Director’s Cut of the film.
Years later, with the advent of home-HD and the Blu-Ray format, The Wicker Man – The Final Cut arrived, providing a fitting epitaph to Robin Hardy’s life and career as he finally got to release the version of the film that he deemed closest to his original vision.
In 2011 I was very lucky to meet Robin Hardy, for a brief “Hello!”, in person at FrightFest, London. Mr Hardy was there to present the premiere of his sequel The Wicker Tree, adapted from his novel Cowboys For Christ. He was a true gentleman and eccentric – very warm and wickedly funny. (Read my capsule review of the rather wobbly, but joyously bonkers, sequel The Wicker Tree here.)
One unsung hero in the whole Wicker saga is Anthony Shaffer’s brilliant script, which really is one of a kind. The basic storyline was based on Ritual, a novel by David Pinner, which has recently been republished. The novelisation of the film (also written by Shaffer & Hardy) is well worth tracking down (a new edition was published by Tor in 2000) – with some lovely embellishments to the screen story, not least its haunting and ambiguous ending, it provides yet another version of The Wicker Man for us all to enjoy.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, it is time to “keep my appointment with The Wicker Man.”
R.I.P. Robin Hardy, 1929-2016