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The Wicker Man Cinefantastique Issue – Reclaiming a Folkloric Behemoth: Wanderings 22/26

Although The Wicker Man’s original release and related reviews were limited and patchwork, over the decades it has gained a higher profile and critical appreciation, and since around 2010 it has come to be one of the main reference points for the loose genre of folk horror and wyrd or otherly pastoral culture. A prominent landmark in this process was the publication in America during October 1977 of a special issue largely devoted to The Wicker Man of the science fiction, fantasy and horror film magazine Cinefantastique, which is quoted from in this chapter. This was published just prior to the cinema re-release of the shorter Theatrical version of the film in America, and approximately a year before the premiere, also in America, of a longer version in September 1978, and the issue’s editorial presciently predicts the growth of interest and critical appreciation of The Wicker Man:

“[It’s] reputation can only grow over the years. It gives me a great deal of pleasure to be among the first to champion the film in the United States, for I think the test of time will show that The Wicker Man is the Citizen Kane of horror films.” (Quoted from “Sense of Wonder”, Frederick S. Clarke, Cinefantastique, Volume 6 Number 3, 1977.)

(This reference to Orson Welles’ 1941 film Citizen Kane is notable as it attempts to place The Wicker Man alongside the very height of critically and publicly acclaimed films, as Citizen Kane is considered by many to be the greatest film ever made and has repeatedly topped lists of the best films.)

In this issue The Wicker Man was the only film pictured or mentioned on the front and back cover and of the 46 inner pages 34 were taken up by a long article written by David Bartholomew on The Wicker Man and colour and black and white photographs from the film and its production. Also the index page’s background was a photograph of the wicker man pyre from the film and the text on the editorial page focused on the film.

The main long article was based in part on interviews with the abovementioned director Robin Hardy, Christopher Lee who played Lord Summer Isle, Anthony Shaffer who wrote the screenplay, the soundtrack composer Paul Giovanni, producer Peter Snell and also Stirling Smith and David Blake who were involved in the film’s American distribution.

The article opens with details of the cast and crew and then is split into sections numbered in a Biblical or Roman numeral style. These included I: The Film – a review of the film and overview of its plots; II: Genesis – details of the project’s initial development, the writing of the script and finding a backer; III: Research and Background – details of the research carried out which created the background and underpinning of the script; IV: The Screenplay – Anthony Shaffer’s background and views on the screenplay and the horror film genre; V: Production – details of the actual filming; VI: Lord Summerisle – Christopher Lee and other’s views on his character; VII: The Music – extensive background details on the soundtrack that draw from an interview with Paul Giovanni; VIII: Aftermath – the film’s troubled release and eventual re-release in America.

This extensive article predates and is a forebear to Allan Brown’s book Inside The Wicker Man (2000, 2010), which focused on the film, and the issue was unusual at the time, and in large part still is, due to the way that it dedicated so much space within a magazine to one particular film, and in that sense it anticipates the contemporary trend for one-off “bookazines” released by magazine publishers which focus on a particular musician, area of film etc.

It is also unusual in the way that it gave a (nominally) horror genre film a level of critical appreciation that this area of film was at the time normally precluded from.

The amount of detail and information contained in the magazine is quite astonishing, particularly considering that it was produced prior to internet access, and so to discover details of the company buyouts and the film’s production etc featured in it, if they were not supplied by the interviewees, is likely to have involved a taxing and rigorous process of investigation.

Physical copies are now fairly rare and can cost anything from approximately £8 to over £100, although links to a PDF scan of the entire magazine and a text only transcript of the article can be found at The Wicker Man (1973) Wiki archival fan site. The magazine and article are well worth seeking out as a unique part of the film’s history and rehabilitation, and also for its both concise and in-depth exploration of the background, production, themes and inspiration of the film.

It reveals the depth of research into ancient folklore, traditions and beliefs which underpin The Wicker Man and its world, alongside the experiences of its creators which may have gone on to influence the film. This includes the following quote from its director Robin Hardy which, although not directly referred to in the article, seems to mirror and possibly informed how the islanders’ treatment of Howie is depicted in The Wicker Man:

“[In the later 1960s] we were filming in the Cornwall area, and one evening we went into Padstow for dinner. Now that is a village where these [tradition folk] festivals are still held, and quite by accident we stumbled right on to it. We saw the hobby-horse chasing the girls [as shown in The Wicker Man], everything. But they had seemed to put up a wall of evasion about it. And it was very unpleasant being a stranger in that town on that day.” (Quoted from “The Wicker Man”, David Bartholomew, Cinefantastique, Volume 6 Number 3, 1977.)



Elsewhere at A Year In The Country (well, a few of such things, I expect there are more):


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The Wicker Man – Revisiting a Cultural Behemoth and Casting Aside Convention on Summerisle: Wanderings 12/26

At the A Year In The Country site there have been a fair number of posts that explored the  cultural offshoots from The Wicker Man such as documentaries, different home releases of the film, related books and soundtrack releases etc but I thought it would be good to revisit the actual film.

It is easy to forget just how odd The Wicker Man (1973) is. Even after numerous viewings it retains an ability to shock, intrigue, unsettle and even possibly even beguile and confuse the viewer.

This may in part be due to its mixing of genres and themes; at times it veers towards being a musical, running through the whole film is a crime mystery, at points becomes more an erotic thriller, while it ends on a note of, if not actual horror, then at least terror during its ending. Accompanying all of which it explores complex and morally ambiguous debates around different belief systems and practices, both directly via the characters’ dialogue and indirectly via the results of their actions.

In terms of genres it could be connected with, one of the things that struck me when I recently rewatched it was just how much it includes considerable elements of the con artist movie. More on that later in the post.

I suspect that if you’re reading this you may well already know of the film’s plot etc but just in case, below is a brief synopsis.

Directed by Robin Hardy from a screenplay by Anthony Shaffer and set in contemporary times, the plot focuses around Sergeant Howie, a pious and puritanically Christian police officer who receives a report of a missing child and travels alone via seaplane to the remote Scottish island Summerisle where she lived. The island has an economy largely based around agriculture and the growing of new strains of crops which are able to flourish in the island’s unusually temperate climate.

Sergeant Howie’s investigations are met with recalcitrance and deception by the villagers, and he is repeatedly shocked by them not following the Christian religion, instead having turned to the “old gods” and a form of pagan nature worship, which incorporates an uninhibited attitude towards sex and fertility, and incorporates folkloric rituals and song. Ultimately it is revealed that he has been lead a merry dance by the islanders and their patriarchal leader Lord Summerisle and that the sergeant is intended to be a sacrifice that it is hoped will restore their failed crops, which it is implied has happened due to them being grown in an area where they would not naturally be.

In the final sequence Howie is forcedly placed in a huge wicker man pyre structure, which is set fire to as the islanders serenade his sacrifice with a traditional sun worship song. As the wicker man structure burns, its head falls to one side and reveals the sun setting over the ocean.

(As an aside, looking back the film’s exploration of alternative lifestyles, pagan beliefs and “the old ways” could be considered to interconnect with the “psychic boom” in the 1960s and 1970s, when there was a considerable upsurge of interest in the paranormal, the occult etc which was accompanied by a growth in subcultural and mainstream media coverage of such subjects, alongside an increase in the release of related publications.)

Although the ending and Howie’s sacrifice are not easy viewing, their depiction, the reasons for what has happened and demeanour of those responsible are presented in a way that causes the film to stand apart from the gratuitous or almost nonchalantly callous inclusion of sadism that has become an increasing part of the horror, and other, genres:

“For [Christopher Lee who played Lord Summerisle], this is what sets the film apart from conventional horror movies: ‘The islanders are so sincere. Summerisle says [to Howie], ‘A martyr’s death – the greatest gift we can bestow.’ And everybody’s smiling. You know: what a lucky man you are! Joy, joy, joy. There’s no sadistic delight.'” (Quoted from “A Pagan Place”, Damien Love, Uncut, May 2002.)

The film plays with a sense of reality and fantasy and it opens with text that says:

“The Producer would like to thank The Lord Summerisle and the people of his island off the west coast of Scotland for this privileged insight into their religious practices and for their generous co-operation in the making of this film.”

Having been released at a time before the ease of access to information brought about by the internet, the film’s audience is unlikely to have known that no such community or island existed, nor have been able to quickly look it up.

(There is a similarly named island called Summer Isles off the coast of Scotland but none of The Wicker Man was filmed there.)

The blurring of the lines between fantasy and reality in the film is also increased through it using a considerable number of songs that either draw from traditional folk songs and/or are similar in style and content. Alongside this it features a number of folk traditions, rituals and characters that also draw from real world traditions, and which lend a familiarity and layered grounding in semi-known and half-remembered reality to it, of which the film’s director Robin Hardy has said:

“What we hoped would fascinate people is not that they would think these things are still going on in Europe, but that they would recognize an awful lot of these things as sort of little echoes from either out of childhood stories and nursery rhymes or things they do at various times of the year… But they’re not dead. The thing about these beliefs is that people do these things today and not know why they do them. We call them ‘superstitions’. There are millions of people who know nothing about [ancient trees gods and mythology] who will… ‘touch wood’… [Such things] all have profoundly important and real origins in pagan belief.” (Quoted from “The Wicker Man”, David Bartholomew, Cinefantastique – Volume 6, Number 3, David Bartholomew, 1977.)

The changing use and depiction of music in the film further blurs the sense of reality and unreality. At times it is apparently played and sung by those onscreen in a fairly realist manner and appears to be a diegetic or natural part of the film’s world, such as during a sequence when a bawdy song is sung by the patrons of a pub, the music for which was recorded on location and played by those who appear onscreen. Elsewhere the film becomes more similar to a conventional musical as obviously studio recorded singing and instrumentation play, with at times only the vocals being mimed by the onscreen characters, while at other points both the vocals and the instrumentation are mimed, which blurs the lines between the “real” world of the film and its characters and its more obviously artificially constructed aspects. Also at one point the performance of music in the film possibly briefly breaks the fourth wall, which happens when an islander sings and performs an erotic song and naked wall thumping dance in order to tempt and seduce the puritanical Howie through his bedroom wall. During this she is accompanied by studio recorded non-diegetic instruments on the soundtrack which have no “real” world source in the film and she appears to look directly at and acknowledge the camera. The resultant continuous switching of modes adds a shifting sense of reality to the film’s world and the viewer’s perception of it.

There is also a further blurring of reality in the film due to it being shot in real world locations, meaning that there is an authenticity to them which connects with the film’s deliberately misleading introductory text thanking Lord Summerisle, and also

their appearance is not leant a potentially dated studio bound appearance. This sense of authenticity is added to by many of the islanders being drawn from members of the local public rather than being professional actors, and so subconsciously they seem “right” for their location. However, in contrast with the resulting sense of the film being located and grounded in the real world, although the film was set in contemporary times, many exterior signs of modern life such as street lights and television aerials seem to be largely absent, which adds an atemporal “out of time” aspect to the island.

The film also uses a recurring trope in cinema, that of islands and rural areas as places where it is possible for conventions and norms to be stepped away from, and their populations to be an unknowable or threatening “other” who have their own ways and beliefs that are at odds with wider society. As part of the exploration of this the investigating outsider Howie represents two forms of mainstream or conventional authority, being both a devout Christian and a police officer.

The clash between Howie’s beliefs and authority, and therefore those of the conventional and dominant society, and the islanders’ beliefs and Lord Summerisle’s authority throws up questions about assumptions of moral right and superiority around different forms of religion and authority. Accompanying this the film explores what happens when assumed positions of power and superiority are challenged in various ways, which in this instance involves a society wide lack of compliance and the individual who represents those positions being removed from their supporting infrastructure. When Howie, his investigation and authority are not met with cooperation by the islanders he, at least for much of the film, keeps straightforwardly ploughing on, assuming that somehow he will get to the truth of the matter. This may appear somewhat obtuse, or imply that he is not all that skilled as a detective, but may in fact be due to him being used to operating in a setting and society which respects his authority and the hierarchy and system he represents, and so he is essentially unable to correctly function, or understand how to, when that is no longer the case.

Howie is only on the island for two nights but the islanders’ lack of cooperation quickly has him and his rigorous adherence to the law coming apart at the seams. After exhuming the missing child’s supposed grave he finds only a hare in her coffin, which he had previously been told by the islanders she had transmuted into upon her death. The islander who has helped him in the exhumation just laughs mockingly at him discovering this, and when Howie confronts Lord Summerisle with his finding the response he receives is a knowing and dismissive humouring of him. Thus far in the film whenever in public Howie has been wearing an immaculately kept uniform, in a way that both represents and heightens his own personal sense of authority and also his controlled, buttoned up and even priggish and prissy personality.

(Edward Woodward who played Howie is said to have worn a police uniform two sizes too small in order to enhance the sense and appearance of the character as controlled and overly buttoned up.)

In the above confrontation with Lord Summerisle his tie is loosened and his police jacket undone, which although small things, and even allowing for him having been engaged in the physical labour of digging up a grave, are a notable indicator of just how much he is unravelling.

Rather than attempting to contact the mainland for backup he seems obsessed with solving the case on his own, perhaps because if he can it will prove the continued superiority of his belief systems and authority. He takes it upon himself to set aside the law he represents and effectively carries out acts of breaking and entering as part of his investigation. This is further exacerbated when he does eventually attempt to return to the mainland and finds his seaplane inoperable, most probably due to sabotage by the islanders, after which he becomes a form of vigilante. He knocks a man unconscious in order to steal his masked costume and surreptitiously join the islanders in their May Day parade and hopefully find the missing child, who he now believes will be sacrificed in order to restore the island’s failed crops. While his actions may have a practical legal and moral basis, i.e. the protection of a child to the best of his ability, his actions seem equally those of a man who has come untethered from his own strict moral and legal code. Ironically, and perhaps in part as a form of retribution which reflects his transgressing from his own codes and also possessing a vain pride in his beliefs and authority, this untethering or abandoning becomes the final contributor to his own damnation. As a result of joining the parade he is completing a ritual being enacted by the islanders, and discovers that he has effectively been herded and lead as an unknowing participant in a complex ritualistic game they have been playing with him.

As just suggested there is a hubris, or even arrogance, to Howie and his actions. Until almost the very last moment he does not seem to be able to countenance that his position of legal authority can be defeated. However the strength of his belief in this authority rapidly, and almost instantly, seems to crumble when the islanders surround him and he realises his fate as their sacrifice, and that his authority in the face of overwhelming societal wide non-compliance is now worth little.

There is also a degree of hubris and possibly arrogance to the islanders’ actions. Their game playing, plotting and hoodwinking of Howie is so convoluted that it is difficult to believe they could ever think it would work, and that it did so may well be more due to chance than design. Them achieving their aims is dependant on the entire population knowing and playing their parts consistently and without constant direct supervision, and Howie also consistently responding in the desired way. In relation to this the film connects with the con artist movie genre, and has more than a little in common with the critically and commercially highly successful period film The Sting, also released in the same year as The Wicker Man, in which a large group of people work together to carry out a complex gambling related con which requires an almost absurd level of organisation, cooperation and secrecy.

(The Wicker Man and The Sting – an alternative early 1970s double bill?)

There are also numerous other practical considerations that could have scuppered the islander’s plans, and which indicate a sense of over confidence in the islanders. For example if the weather had been particularly bad and subject to heavy downpours prior to and on the day of the parade that Howie joins as he unknowingly heads towards his doom, it is likely that the islander’s spirits would have been considerably dampened and their costumes and Lord Summerisle’s make up potentially ruined. This would have made the bizarrely upbeat and celebratory nature of their ritual sacrifice of Howie considerably less easy to achieve, while the wicker man pyre they use in this ritual would possibly not have easily burned.

The Wicker Man is ambiguous on a number of levels and it does not have easily or well defined good versus bad protagonists and sides. While nominally the “goodie” or hero, Howie is difficult to warm to or view as such, due in part to his priggish, close minded and judgemental personality, and also him having and representing a puritanical personal and societal viewpoint. Alongside which Lord Summerisle and the islanders may be acting for what they consider the collective good in sacrificing the sergeant but they are still carrying out an act of murder.

Also, despite presenting itself as being benevolently organised and ruled by Lord Summerisle and containing a contented population there is an ambiguity to the structure and society of Summerisle.

The islanders accepted and embraced Lord Summerisle’s grandfather as their ruler, and subsequently Summerisle’s father and then himself, after their lives of near starvation were drastically improved by Lord Summerisle’s grandfather who, as referred to at the start of the chapter, introduced new strains of crops which were able to flourish in the island’s unusually temperate climate. Accompanying this Lord Summerisle says that his grandfather thought that:

“the best way of… rousing the people from their apathy [was] by giving them back their joyous old gods and [by telling them that] as a result of this worship the barren island would burgeon and bring forth fruit in great abundance.”

Part of this process of worship and creating social cohesion appears to have included the introduction of the aforementioned playful religious and folkloric rituals, and an open-minded acceptance of revelry in the form of sexual freedom, communal singing and drinking. This proved a seductive and efficient mix, and caused the Christian ministers to flee, with the island’s isolation presumably allowing this way of life and beliefs to become deeply embedded.

But all this has a flipside; is Summerisle a sexually uninhibited society which has cast off puritanical strictures, or an amoral and licentiously creepy form of cult and its brainwashed victims? Or perhaps a mixture of both? Accompanying this, although not overtly, the film can also be viewed as a reflection of real world post 1960s hippie-like ideals and free love that are still “happy clappy” but which have corrupted and curdled into something darker and self-deluding.

In essence the Summerisle family’s methods of maintaining control can be seen as a variation on the classic “bread and circuses” concept, which has its origins in Roman times, i.e. the family have kept control over the island’s population through keeping them happily fed and entertained. There is considerable moral complexity and ambiguity to this, as the islanders’ lives have been materially improved and they generally seem quite happy under their benevolent patriarch’s rule, while equally their acceptance may be due to the successful embedding of an imposed belief system, rather than due to acts of free will.

Related to which for the viewer there is a potentially ambiguous and morally confusing sense of sirenish seduction to the life and world of Summerisle as presented in the film. The folkish songs on the soundtrack and which at times are performed by the islanders, in particular “Corn Riggs”, “Willow’s Song” and “Gently Johnny”, are hypnotic lullabies that linger in the memory and draw the viewer in, the islanders appear to have all their practical and spiritual needs taken care of and the island itself is a timeless rural idyll. Accompanying this the ideology and beliefs that underpin the islanders’ way of life are eloquently and logically presented by a charismatic and benevolent leader (albeit who is also slightly pompous and bufoonish), who seems to intellectually out manoeuvre and rationally refute Howie and conventional and/or Christian society’s arguments at every step. All this can create a heady mix which obscures the realities and problematic nature of Summerisle’s society, not least issues around compliance and control, and also the way it is prepared to solve problems relating to agricultural issues and social cohesion in an extreme and unhinged way (i.e. by entrapping and sacrificing an outsider).

In order for the Summerisle society to continue functioning how it does, all outside influences and contact must be kept to a minimum. Connected to which, in terms of how the islanders are kept entertained through their own homegrown forms of entertainment, such as communal singing and folk rituals, Summerisle seems removed from the rest of the world and time. Also, although there are examples of contemporary branded food, alcohol and other consumer items on the island, alongside some electrical appliances such as hairdryers in the salon, there is little evidence of contemporary electronic entertainment media. It is almost as if in some unspoken and undisclosed manner record players, radios and television have largely and quietly been kept off the island. Perhaps this was instituted by the Summerisle family for fear that they would threaten or usurp the more traditional communal forms of entertainment and ritual which bind the islanders together in their pagan beliefs. Or maybe the islanders themselves have had no need for them, preferring their own more homegrown folklore orientated entertainments. Whatever the reasons this aspect of the film can be seen as a reflection of how in the real world sections of society were drawn to traditional, rural and folkloric places and culture in the 1970s as a form of escape from the troubles of contemporary life, and as part of an attempt to find alternative or more authentic forms of experience and ways of life, which is also discussed elsewhere in the book.

To a degree watching the film is to be given a view of the last decades or corner of a particular way of life. The islanders have been able to live how they do due to their isolation, but it is unlikely that this could have been maintained indefinitely in the face of technological advancements, in particular the relentless and all conquering nature of digital technology and internet communications which would gain considerable pace within a few decades of the film’s events. However, although maintaining their isolation in future decades would have been unlikely, it would not have been impossible and such ambiguities about the film’s story and world, and the way they leave space for the imagination to wonder, may well be part of what has led to it having such an ongoing fascination:

“We don’t know if Summerisle’s sacrifice fails – the apples could come tumbling out of the trees that year, but if they don’t, the people will have to have another go next year… But if the apples do return, whether it was because of the sacrifice or by a natural process – it’s not unknown for crops to fail and grow the next year – who knows? It’s not, after all, the continuing story of Summerisle. You have to be left with a certain doubt.” (Anthony Shaffer quoted from “The Wicker Man”, Cinefantastique, as above.)

Existing alongside this sense of “doubt” about the future of Summerisle are the almost myth-like stories around the films production, which include how footage was disposed of and buried in motorway foundations and no “full” version of the film is still known to exist, which creates further imaginative space around the film:

“And this, perhaps, is the final clue to the uncanny hold it has over its admirers – the notion that, even in the longest extant cut, what we’re seeing is not The Wicker Man, not quite. Its ultimate version may never be seen – the lost movie Christopher Lee made decades ago, existing now only in scenes that haunt his memory.” (Quoted from “A Pagan Place”, as above.)

Which seems like an appropriate place to leave this “cultural behemoth”.

Elsewhere at A Year In The Country (well, a few of such things, I expect there are more):


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Magnet and Paul Giovanni’s “Gently Johnny” from The Wicker Man Soundtrack: Songs for A Year In The Country 1/26

It seems rather appropriate to begin this yearly cycle of Songs for A Year In The Country with a visit to Summerisle via this song which conjures a sense of a timeless and atemporal world…




Notes on Songs for A Year In The Country:

This is the first of 26 songs for A Year In The Country, which is a sort of Desert Island Discs but with 26 songs rather than eight, so effectively one posted per fortnight throughout this year.

The selection will include some of the songs that I find myself repeatedly returning to, ones that I’d “save from the waves” or bundle up to take into the storm shelter if a Wizard of Oz-esque twister appeared on the horizon.

Some “rules”:

  1. No songs by or featuring myself or any of the other contributors to the A Year In The Country albums (more on those another time perhaps…)
  2. No TV intro sequence theme tunes etc that haven’t been commercially released on record, CD, streaming services etc.
  3. One song per artist.
  4. Only one version of a song and only one appearance by each performer.
  5. All songs must be available to listen on the various mainstream streaming and download services (Spotify in particular but hopefully they’ll also be available at Apple Music, Deezer etc).
  6. One image per song, which will be the relevant cover art.
  7. Reflecting the cycle/weeks of the year, each post will include no more than 52 words on each song.

For ease and simplicity I will post the links to stream the tracks on Spotify. However, as “they” say, other streaming services are available…


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The Owl Service, The Village of the Damned, The Prisoner, Quatermass, Zardoz, The Wicker Man, The Touchables, Sapphire and Steel, The Nightmare Man, Phase IV, The Tomorrow People and Gone to Earth – A Gathering of a Cathode Ray Library and Rounding the Circle: Wanderings 26/26

For the final post of the year I thought I would gather together some of the film and television novelisations and tie-in novels of some of the recurring reference points and inspirations for A Year In The Country, of which I have previously written:

“Often, when I was young, [novelisation and tie-in novels] were the only access I had to particular films and television shows, particularly in the days before home video releases of things became more ubiquitous, if the films etc were ‘too grown up’ for me to watch (!), I’d missed them at the cinema and so on. Viewed nowadays they can also have a particular period charm to them and can sometimes be almost like mini time capsules of particular eras.”

As I’ve also written about in an earlier post, I’m not sure that novelisations of films and television are quite as prevalent as they once were. Perhaps now that people have easier access to the actual films and television series  there isn’t such a demand for them.

Also possibly with more niche films the number of potential readers and related budget would be too small to make it practical. It’s a shame really. Possibly for similar reasons fotonovels / fumetti adapatations which use stills from their source films don’t seem to be around much any more either , which is also a shame as I’ve always had quite a soft spot for them and they’re a good way of seeing and collecting together images from a film.

Above is the French fumetti adaptation of The Curse of the Crimson Altar featuring Barbara Steele in her horned priestess outfit, which in terms of style is probably the definitive otherly pastoral image of a “baddie”.

The post has “cathode ray” in the title as I think the majority of the related films and series I first saw on television and also, as with say some vintage hardware synthesizers, there’s a certain nostalgic romance and hauntological-like character to cathode ray television images and associated interference, glitches, scan lines and so on.

Collecting the books together also lets me revisit some of those recurring reference points and return to some longstanding cultural “friends”, while also rounding the circle of the year.

As a side note, Fantom Publishing have been reissuing some of the novelisations of ’70s children’s television dramas which have become hauntological and otherly pastoral reference points, including the rural time rift tale Children of the Stones, Arthurian eco fantasy tale Raven and the also Arthurian mystical The Moon Stallion, along with releasing a new novelisation of “the boy who fell to Earth” eco science fiction series Sky. The editions are handsomely presented in a distinctive in-house style that feature silhouette based illustrations inspired by the stories.

Above is The Midwich Cuckoos “Filmed by M.G.M. as The Village of the Damned” tie-in edition book cover. This may well be the definitive novel and film of things going science fictionally awry in the bucolic setting of a British village. The “Midwich Cuckoo” on the left of the book’s cover looks curiously both angelic and threateningly terrifying.

The Owl Service’s tie-in edition book cover does not really reveal or all that much hint at the mystical rural nature of the series, although the press quote on the back cover remedies that somewhat:

“Youth and love and fear in a modern summer, a Welsh valley where an age-old legend still has to live itself out again, generation after generation.”

Time to go and revisit the rather fine opening sequence for the series, which I think is probably one of the definitive otherly pastoral-esque of such things.

And then there is the cover for Nigel Kneale’s novel of the final series of Quatermass which is something of a classic design in all its posterised glory. I suspect finding a copy of this in the bargain book stand of a local newsagent many years ago and the story’s themes of dystopia, mysterious alien contact and stone circles as gathering and possibly reaping places is one of the main wellsprings that eventually led to A Year In The Country.

“Huffity puffity ringstone round…”

Above is John Boorman and Bill Stair’s novel of Zardoz. Problems with immortality, invisible barriers, entropic advanced technological and medieval lifestyles, The Wizard of Oz, a giant flying head…

As I’ve said before, Zardoz is such an odd and peculiar “Quite how did they get away with making that?” film.

And then there’s the novel of the cultural behemoth and folk horror wellspring The Wicker Man. The original novel was published five years after the film was released and the cover in this post is one of the various reissues, which featured a foreword by Allan Brown who wrote Inside The Wicker Man.

The above right images are beind the scenes photographs of the construction of The Wicker Man structure but they could just as easily be images of an attempt to entrap this “creature”.

Above is the cover of Brian Freemantle’s rare and often hard to find novelisation of The Touchables film released in 1968. The film is something of a unique late ’60s psychedelic romp; where else will you find a story set in a huge see-through rurally based and real world life-sized inflatable bubble, complete with fairground attractions and a missing pop star?

And of course, creator of the series Peter J. Hammond’s Sapphire and Steel novel tie-in: “This is the trap. This is nowhere, and it’s forever.” Brrr.

Above is one of the novel tie-ins of The Prisoner. If you have ever visited the real world village resort of Portmeirion where much of the series was filmed you may well think of the series as a dream set within a dream…

And then there is Phase IV. The legendary and long thought lost original psychedelic ending finally had a home release as an extra included with the reissue of the film in 2020, the announcement of which was good to hear. Next step a release of the film with the original ending restored and in pace.

Above is the cover for one of the The Tomorrow People tie-in novels, the opening sequence for which I have previously written that it seems like a mixture of “The Owl Service [opening sequence], The Modern Poets book covers from back when, Mr Julian House’s work tumbling backwards and forwards through time and the audiologica of The Radiophonic Workshop… but all filtered somehow through an almost Woolworths-esque take on such things… Despite that Woolworths-esque filter and the inclusion of a somewhat incongruous sliced pepper in amongst the other more overtly unsettling imagery, I still find it unsettling now.”

In terms of hauntological and/or otherly pastoral reference points it can be filed alongside the likes of the introduction sequences for The Owl Service, Children of the Stones, Noah’s Castle and The Omega Factor.

Then finally there is the 1959 edition of Mary Webb’s Gone to Earth, which features cover art taken from promotional artwork for Powell and Pressburger’s film adaptation released in 1950. Below is text on the book quoted from A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields:

“As a film [Gone to Earth] appears to be a forebear of later culture which would travel amongst the layered, hidden histories of the land and folklore, showing a world where faiths old and new are part of and/or mingle amongst folkloric beliefs and practices. Accompanying which, in the world of Gone to Earth (and it is most definitely its own world) the British landscape is not presented in a realist manner… Rather it has a Wizard of Oz-esque, Hollywood coating of beauty, glamour and quiet surreality which in part is created by the vibrant, rich colours of the Technicolor film process that it shares with that 1939 film… Often cinematic views of the British landscape are quite realist, possibly dour or even bleak in terms of atmosphere and their visual appearance and so Gone to Earth with its high-end Hollywood razzle-dazzle which is contained in its imagery is a precious breath of fresh air… The film’s elements of older folkloric ways and its visual aspects combine to create a subtle magic realism in the film and the world and lives it shows, conjures and presents [and it] creates a bucolic dream of the countryside…”


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The Wicker Man Soundtrack and a Summer Isle Mini-Industry: Wanderings 7/26

A while ago I sat down and listened to the 1998 Trunk Records of The Wicker Man soundtrack back to back with the Silva Screen version that was first released in 2002 and which was also included with the 40th anniversary home release of the film and has had various reissues on CD and vinyl.

As you may well know if you are reading this the soundtrack was composed and arranged by Paul Giovanni and performed by him and the band Magnet, which was formed in order to record the soundtrack and was assembled by the film’s associate musical director Gary Carpenter.

It is easy to forget just how odd and unique the soundtrack is. It feels very much like part of older British traditional music even though only a small part of it is directly traditional in origin.

The Trunk Records release is described as “The original motion picture soundtrack music and effects” and is not a conventional soundtrack album where each song is presented as an isolated whole, possibly with snippets of dialogue from the film between the tracks. On this album the songs, effects and so on are sequenced into one another and at points fragments of earlier songs reappear and fade in and out:

“The original music and effects tapes were found and carefully copied, and the LP release is an identical copy of the sounds found on these tapes.” (Quoted from the Trunk Records site.)

(Above: the 1998 Trunk Records release of the soundtrack which included a map of Summer Isle.)

It isn’t purely a straightforward edited recording of the film’s audio… it’s more like it takes you a journey through the atmosphere of the film, one which evokes a sense memory of its story rather than telling it in full and it captures the “otherly” character of the film.

Something which struck me when you sit down and listen to the lyrics is their obsession with fecundity. They are more than bawdy, more a sort of overwhelming sleazyness masked by a connection to nature. They become akin to a form of propaganda intended to convince the listener/islanders that this is the correct and natural way of being and there is a sort of overpowering enforcement of conformity to them, disguised as a form of liberal paganism.

The current interest and critical appreciation of The Wicker Man can in part be traced back to the Trunk Records release of the soundtrack; at the time of its release the film was not overly referenced and the release was one of the sparks (apologies for the accidental sort of pun) that started its rehabilitation.

My copy of the CD still has the HMV price sticker on the back and cost £14.95, which allowing for inflation since the late ’90s means it probable cost the contemporary equivalent of £25. Blimey (!)

The Silva Screen edition of the soundtrack is more conventionally presented and features isolated complete songs accompanied by some snippets of the film’s dialogue and at times it seems almost curiously showbiz-like in comparison to the Trunk Records edition. It isn’t sequenced in the order that the music appears on the album but rather is front loaded with the “hits” – Corn Rigs, The Landlord’s Daughter and Gently Johnny.

Both versions of the soundtrack have their champions and pros and cons and they complement one another in a manner which is in keeping with the film’s history in the sense of there not being a definitive, complete and final version of the film known to still be in existence.

Interest in The Wicker Man only seems to grow as the years pass, as do the number of releases and reissues of books, DVDs, Blu-rays, posters, zines, documentaries, trading cards, soundtracks etc related to it. As I’ve commented before the film has inspired a mini-industry all unto itself.

I suppose collecting multiple releases of a film, alongside related merchandise, is not all that different to say following a band and buying different versions of their singles back in the ’80s and 90s, which sometimes varied only slightly in content and at times it was only the cover art that was different. However, if you were to attempt to be a completist Wicker Man collector you would probably need a fair few pounds and also a fair amount of shelf space.

In this post I gather together some of the output (very bountiful harvest?) from the Summer Isle mini-industry…

The first more full length (well, sort of, this is The Wicker Man after all) and archival “proper” home UK release of the film.

The Quest for The Wicker Man, Constructing The Wicker Man and the two editions of Allan Brown’s Inside The Wicker Man non-fiction books.

One of the many and varied poster designs.

A title graphic which accompanied the BFI’s Sing Cuckoo: The Story of The Wicker Man Soundtrack documentary, which featured amongst others Stephen Cracknell of The Memory Band and Jonny Trunk of Trunk Records.

Covers to two issues of Nuada – “The Wicker Man journal” from the late 90s.

Artwork which accompanies Stephen Applebaum’s eBook of conversations with Robin Hardy, Anthony Shaffer and Edward Woodward.

The first edition of The Wicker Man novel and a reissue.

The Wicker Man The Complete Piano Songbook.

Images from The Wicker Man press book.

More images from The Wicker Man press book and a collection of images from The Wicker Man trading cards.

The DVD of The Wicker Man given away free with The Guardian newspaper – and for completist purposes as in its early days The Wicker Man shared a double bill with it, the DVD of Don’t Look Now that was given away free with The Observer newspaper.

More images from The Wicker Man trading cards, including various “chase”-able collectibles such as original print blocks, signed cards etc.

The Wicker Man Collage-A Year In The Country-1080

Various DVD, VHS, poster, novel and soundtrack covers etc (including a revisit to the Trunk Records edition). No laser disc I notice, which I don’t think the film was released on…

…but talking of rarer formats, above are two Betamax versions.

The limited edition Record Store Day seven-inch single of Willow’s Song and Gently Johnny released by Silva Screen in 2012.

One of the various VHS covers.

The limited edition poster released in 2013 to accompany the Silva Screen limited edition reissue of the soundtrack and another trading card printing block and I think one of the collectible “chase” trading cards.

The issue of Sight & Sound magazine with The Wicker Man as the cover feature and Vic Pratt’s Long Arm of the Lore article from the magazine and the The Films of Old, Weird Britain issue with cover art partly inspired by The Wicker Man.

And last but definitely not least… one of the places where the current interest in and critical acceptance of The Wicker Man can be traced to; Volume 6 Number 3 of Cinefantastique that was published in 1977, which was an issue of the magazine that largely focused on The Wicker Man.




Elsewhere at A Year In The Country (well, a few of such things, I expect there are more):


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Constructing The Wicker Man and Explorations of the Bright, Beautiful and Serene Anti-Horror of Summerisle from Back When: Wanderings 44/52

Constructing The Wicker Man (2005) is a collection of essays that explore The Wicker Man, edited by Jonathan Murray, Lesley Stevenson, Stephen Harper and Benjamin Franks and based around contributions to an academic conference on the film that took place at the University of Glasgow in 2003.

It was the first time that such an event had focused on The Wicker Man at a point when the film was still going through something of a period of growing critical and cult appreciation. It also forebears more recent academic conferences which focus on flipside of folklore related culture, including A Fiend in the Furrows at Queen’s University in 2014, Child Be Strange: A Symposium on Penda’s Fen at the BFI in 2017,  the various Alchemical Landscape related events at Cambridge University which began in 2015, the Centre for Contemporary Legend’s Folklore on Screen conference at Sheffield Hallam University in 2019, The Geographies of Folk Horror: from the Strange Rural to the Urban Wyrd conference at the Royal Geographic Society in 2019, Folk Horror in the 21st Century conference at Falmouth University in 2019 and the upcoming Contemporary Folk Horror in Film and Media Conference at Leeds Beckett University in 2020.

(I have written about those various events at A Year In The Country previously – see links below.)

The book is particularly rare and in terms of books I’ve sought out during the A Year In The Country wanderings that have been hard to find I would put it next to Brian Freemantle’s novelisation of the 1968 film The Touchables and Filming The Owl Service. Second hand copies of Constructing The Wicker Man do appear online from time to time but often there aren’t any to be found.

In 2006 there was a companion book to it published called The Quest for The Wicker Man that drew from the same conference and was edited by the same people which, while it is currently out of print, seems to have had a wider release and copies can still more frequently be found online and generally at a lower price than Constructing The Wicker Man.

Both books could also be seen as companions to the editions of Allan Brown’s more pop culture orientated exploration of the film Inside The Wicker Man.

There is a link below to an in-depth exploration and analysis of Constructing The Wicker Man at the Offscreen website – one of the few pieces of writing about it I can find. That article ends with a still from The Wicker Man captioned with “Bright, Beautiful and Serene: Anti-horror?”, which quite succinctly captures one of the intriguing and curious contradictions of folk horror and related work; the way that rural areas are often places of beauty, respite and so on – sometimes in the real world, sometimes in the films etc which have been labelled as folk horror – but how within such work this sense of the bucolic has an unsettled flipside.

The Wicker Man’s director and co-writer of the novelisation Robin Hardy also provides writing for both Constructing The Wicker Man and The Quest for The Wicker Man books; a short Foreword in Constructing…, where he describes the film’s now well known stilted and staggered release and slow accumulation towards cult and critical appreciation and a longer piece called The Genesis of The Wicker Man in The Quest… in which he discusses the inspirations and development of the film. Robin Hardy is also interviewed later in the book and Gary Carpenter, who was an arranger-orchestrator on the soundtrack, also contributes an article, all of which adds a nice extra touch of direct connection with those who worked on the film.

Curiously my copy of Quest For The Wicker Man is signed. It was bought as a used item and I’m not sure who it was signed by, as it was not mentioned by the seller. The signature is fairly abstract but I think that it begins with an R, so it may be Robin Hardy.





Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:


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The Wicker Man, Edge of Darkness and Village of the Damned – The “Tricky” Cult Remake: Wanderings, Explorations and Signposts 29/52

Village of the Damned-John Carpenter-1995-film still 5

Remaking a much-loved and cult classic seems like a tricky path to choose in cinema and to a degree television drama: the film/programme you are making will often have a certain pre-existing recognition factor but that is also a double-edged sword as you are essentially pitting yourself against, well, the love of and for a cult classic.

Along which lines it is also a potentially odd and tricky thing for a director to do to attempt to make a semi “in the spirit of” sequel to his own much-loved cult classic (see The Wicker Tree).

Along which lines, three such films and programmes which have been remade that I have previously written about at A Year In The Country are The Wicker Man, The Village of the Damned and Edge of Darkness.

Now, although I thought it was an odd thing to do, to attempt to remake The Wicker Man, I tried to go into watching the 2006 version with an open mind and without being overly prejudiced against it – as a cultural behemoth the original version of The Wicker Man casts a long and imposing shadow.

It’s a fair while ago since I watched the remake and despite my trepidation in watching it, one of the main things that struck me was rather than thinking it was inherently bad, that it was essentially just another film, almost workmanlike, in contrast to the fantastical/fantasia like multi-layered cultural and aesthetic aspects of the original.

(The original film version of The Wicker Man’s troubled and intriguing production and release history has also come to be fairly inherently intertwined with those cultural aspects – adding a further layering which makes it shadow all the longer and more imposing on any remake.)

All of which brings me to the 2010 film adaptation/remake of Edge of Darkness.

It seems like both a tricky and odd path for a director to remake his own much-loved, not so much cult but widely and critically acclaimed classic but that is what Martin Campbell did (he also directed the 1985 television original).

For myself the original of Edge of Darkness is so rooted in my psyche and also the time, place and historical context of when it was made that I think I am too wary to watch the remake removed from that context and to possibly dispel my appreciation of the original, even out of curiousity about what the remake is like.

Village of the Damned-John Carpenter-1995-film still

Which brings me to John Carpenter’s 1995 adaptation of The Village of the Damned (originally adapted from John Wyndham’s novel The Midwich Cuckoos), here remade as Village of the Damned.

(There was also a British made sequel to The Village of the Damned made in 1964 called Children of the Damned.)

John Carpenter is known for holding British science fiction/fantasy writer Nigel Kneale in high regard (as I have mentioned before, in homage to Nigel Kneales’s Work, his Prince of Darkness film is credited to Martin Quatermass and he commissioned Kneale to work on the script for Halloween III which John Carpenter co-produced and co-scored) and it’s not much of a jump from Nigel Kneale’s intelligent take on British science fiction etc to John Wyndham’s.

Halloween III-John Carpenter-Tommy Lee Wallace-Alan Howarth-Nigel Kneale-1982-5
(Although not directed by the same person, the above still from Village of the Damned shares something of a similarity or two with the below still from Halloween III and both have a somewhat classic John Carpenter-esque “empty/isolated streets” dread.)

The 1995 remake of Village of the Damned is an odd film texturally: it has the look and feel of a made-for-television movie, although it had a budget of $22 million (approximately $36 million today allowing for inflation), which is hardly small change.

That look and feel may be in part due to the period aesthetics of when it was made, related film stock and/or the DVD transfer process.

It could also possibly be a side effect of the way in which when viewed now 1990s and turn of the millennium film and television can have a sense of not yet being old enough to have gained a retro fetishistic aspect, more just still rooted to the period of its production and a little out of step with modern tastes and expectations.

In this remake the story is moved from the English countryside to a smallish Northern Californian American town.

While the village in the 1960 version is peopled largely by the middle classes with terrribly good diction, alongside working class and labourer types, in John Carpenter’s version at the start the town seems to be largely populated by male hunks and styled female blondes.

The film also features a number of lead actors who previously starred in various well-known and market-leading science fiction/fantasy franchises (Mark Hamill – Star Wars, Christopher Reeves – Superman, Kirstie Alley – Star Trek).

Village of the Damned-John Carpenter-1995-film still 2

The government/authorities’ response to essentially the town’s women being impregnated by a possibly alien race seems curiously unofficial/ramshackle – particularly viewed today in an era of heightened security measures.

Here the problem seems to be tackled by say the kind of grungey, underfunded, self-directed groups or organisations that would perhaps be found in David Cronenberg’s Videodrome.

As I have mentioned before sections of John Carpenter’s work, particularly his earlier films in the 1970s and during parts of the 1980s, contained a kind of ragged, tight, almost street energy to them, a possibly more fun, less arthouse parallel to David Cronenberg’s earlier films.

There is still some kind of left-of-centre cinema feel to this version of Village of the Damned and elements of that tighness or energy but it feels less focused or to not have quite the same energy of some of his other work:

“I’m really not passionate about Village of the Damned. I was getting rid of a contractual assignment, although I will say that it has a very good performance from Christopher Reeve, so there’s some value in it.” (John Carpenter in an interview at Vulture website.)

Possibly that lack of a sense of lean example of cinema could also be a result of the translation and remaking of an earlier piece of work and the way in which during that process some of the original energy or “magic”, that indefinable something can sometimes be lost along the way.

However, as I say, it’s a tricky proposition attempting to remake a much loved cult classic and the creators of the new version may well find themselves treading on what some may consider culturally hallowed ground. Taking on such a task could be considered something of a double edged sword in many ways; you have the pre-existing recognition factor and possibly proven appeal of the story etc of the earlier version but then there are also a whole host of expectations and comparing with its forebear to contend with.

Village of the Damned-John Carpenter-1995-film still 4

The Wicker Man 1973 / The Wicker Man 2006
Edge of Darkness 1985Edge of Darkness 2010
The Village of the Damned 1960 / Village of the Damned 1995
John Carpenter at the Vulture website

Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:
1) Day #173/365: “Douglas I’m scared”; celluloid cuckoos and the village as anything but idyll…
2) Wanderings, Explorations and Signposts 4/52a: Halloween III: Season of the Witch – A Curious Slice of Culture and Collisions with the Past
3) Wanderings, Explorations and Signposts 22/52: John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness Part 1 – The Sleeper Awakens
4) Wanderings, Explorations and Signposts 23/52: John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness Part 2 – “This is not a dream”
5) Wanderings, Explorations and Signposts 24/52: John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness Part 3 – Quatermass-esque Non Bebop Filmmaking
6) Wanderings, Explorations and Signposts 8/52: In The Morning I’ll Be Gone, Orkney Twilight, GB84 and Edge of Darkness – Hinterland Tales Of Myths, Dark Forces and Hidden Histories Part 2
7) The Wicker Man: well, that would be in a fair few “Elsewhere at A Year In The Country”


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The Wicker Man – Notes on a Cultural Behemoth: Chapter 10 Book Images

 The Wickerman-rating

“The Wicker Man… has become something of a towering cult celluloid behemoth. This is particularly the case amongst all things on the flipside of folkloric, as well as within areas of culture that have come to be known as folk horror…

At its heart, The Wicker Man could be viewed as a mystery thriller, although in actuality it is a film which defies categorisation, mixing elements of fantasy, horror and musical.

Within its enclosed rural setting it intertwines folkloric practices, pagan rituals, reimagined and reinterpreted traditional and folk music, unfettered sexuality and an older religious faith in conflict with a more contemporary Christian belief system.

These elements, along with a background of its at-times troubled production and distribution, have come to create a heady mixture, which includes imagery and a soundtrack that have gained iconic status and the creation of an almost myth-like set of stories and reference points which surround it and that have reverberated throughout wider culture.” 

The Wicker Man-Dan Mumford poster-A Year In The Country 

“In 2013 a ’40th Anniversary’ – possibly misleadingly named – Final Cut of the film, running at 91 minutes, was released cinematically as well as on DVD and Blu-ray.

This was not a complete, cinematic quality version of the film but rather an intermediate director-approved version which, as with earlier restored versions, featured segments which had varying levels of reproduction due to original source materials not being available.

In one sense, the sections where the quality varies are appealing; the shift in quality can give these scenes a slightly surreal, almost parallel plains of 3D or cutout look, similar to the effect that viewing a faded set of images through a Viewmaster children’s toy might do.

It would be interesting to see the entire film represented in this manner, to step away from the ongoing quest for a picture perfect representation of the tales of The Wicker Man and to embrace its otherworldliness more overtly with regards to its visual presentation.”

 The Wicker Man Collage-A Year In The Country-1080 

Day 16-Willows Songs b-Finders Keepers-A Year In The Country Day 16-Willows Songs back-Finders Keepers-A Year In The Country

The Wickerman-Trading cards-A Year In The Country-9The Wickerman-Unstoppable Trading Cards-Binder-A Year In The Country

The Wickerman-trading card collection 1-A Year In The Country

The Wickerman-RBeckettWickerman-A Year In The Countrynuada-wicker-man-journal-issues

The Wicker Man book collection

“While waiting for an actual final complete version there have been an ever-proliferating number of re-releases of the film and its soundtrack that have been released on video tape, DVD, Blu-ray, CD and vinyl, alongside period and modern associated posters, trading cards, books, zines, magazine articles and so forth.

The resulting releases have become part of a whole not-so-mini industry that could keep industrious collectors busy but there are a few related items of particular interest.

One is Willow’s Songs: an album released in 2009 by unearthers of rare and sometimes previously lost recordings Finders Keepers Records and which aims to showcase the British folk songs that inspired the soundtrack to The Wicker Man…

Its lyrics tell a tale of agricultural dispossession and intriguingly it is not credited to a performer on the album, which in these times of instant knowledge about almost everything via online searches adds a certain appealing mystique that this author is loath to puncture.”

 The Wicker Man OST soundtrack-Jonny Trunk-Trunk Records-A Year In The CountryThe Wickerman Willows Songs Gently Johnny 7 vinyl Record Store Day-Silva Screen International-A Year In The Country 2

“One of the curious things with The Wicker Man soundtrack (and indeed the film itself ) is that this is a case of where something authentic has been created from an inauthentic or commercially-orientated premise.

The soundtrack has come to feel as though it features songs which have belonged to these isles for centuries: ones which are deeply rooted in the land, its folklore and history, when in fact a number of them were written and all were recorded especially for the film.”

 Ritual-David Pinner-First Edition-Finders Keepers Edition

“Finders Keepers Records also reissued Ritual in 2011, which is the 1967 book by David Pinner, the basic idea and structure of which was in part the inspiration for what became The Wicker Man after David Pinner sold the film rights of the book to future Wicker Man cast member Christopher Lee in 1971.

In both, a police officer attempts to investigate reports of a missing child in an enclosed rural area and has to deal with psychological trickery, seduction, ancient religious and ritualistic practices.

The Finders Keepers reissue contains an introduction by writer and musician Bob Stanley called “A Note On Ritual”, which serves as an overview of and background to this very particular slice of literature which deals with pastoral otherlyness, the flipside and undercurrents of bucolia and folklore:

‘…be warned, like The Wicker Man, it is quite likely to test your dreams of leaving the city for a shady nook by a babbling brook.’ (Bob Stanley on Ritual from the introduction.)” 

Inside The Wicker Man-Allan Brown-1st edition and revised edition The Wicker Man book-Allan Brown-A Year In The Country 2Your Face Here-Ali Catterall-Simon Wells-The Wicker Man

The Wicker Man has been extensively written about over the years, both online and in print, including Allan Brown’s entertaining and extensive unearthing and researching of the background and myths that surround the film in his book Inside The Wicker Man: How Not to Make a Cult Classic…

A concise and revealing look at the film is also included in the 2002 book Your Face Here by Ali Catterall and Simon Wells…

There is a rigour to the research in the book without it stepping into the sometimes drier grounds of academia and the text reflects a genuine love for and appreciation of these films…

…the chapter now reflects a sense of the ongoing and growing story of this now quite well harvested in one form or another film, albeit one which through its ongoing appreciation and cultural inspirations/reverberations still occupies apparently quite fertile and not yet completely unearthed or unburied ground.” 

Sight & Sound-2013-The Wickerman-2010-The Films Of Old Weird Britain

Sight & Sound-2013-The Wickerman-2010-The Films Of Old Weird Britain-2

“Of the reams of writing on The Wicker Man, Vic Pratt’s article “Long Arm of the Lore” from the October 2013 issue of the BFI’s Sight & Sound magazine is well worth seeking out…

The article intertwines the cultural and historical context of the film, the romance of analogue recording techniques and the inner and wider myth and folkloric aspects of it…

In it Vic Pratt places The Wicker Man in its period cultural context of changing times and mores, considering how the children of the 1960s had grown up and taken their place in respectable society and sometimes the media, bringing or infiltrating their countercultural interests with them, possibly having lost some of their political fervour while also looking for the more authentic or spiritually fulfilling but not via traditional avenues.

The article describes how accompanying this was a sense of folk custom, witchcraft and the occult no longer being quite such marginalised or extreme interests; they had become the stuff of relatively mainstream film, television, music and publishing and a reflection of this can be seen in the themes of The Wicker Man…

In many ways, both this and the issue of the magazine could be seen as a companion to the August 2010 Sight & Sound issue, which has as its cover strapline “The Films of Old, Weird Britain”, accompanied by a Wicker Man-like, landscape myths and folk horror-esque illustration and features “The Pattern Under the Plough” article by Rob Young as its main feature.

That article delves beneath the topsoil of British cinema to find a rich seam of films and television which take the landscape, rural ways, folklore (of the traditional and reimagined varieties) or ‘the matter of Britain’ as their starting point…”

Winstanley-1975-Kevin Brownlow-Andrew Mollo-A Year In The Country 10Akenfield film 1974sleep furiously-Gideon Koppel-Aphex Twin-A Year In The Country

Derek Jarman-Journey to Avebury-still Patrick Keiller-Robinson in Space-film still Chris Petit-London Orbital-film still

Quatermass and the Pit-Nigel Kneale-bluray cover artPendas Fen-David Rudkin-A Year In The Country 3

“(Rob Young’s The Pattern Under the Plough article) further contextualises The Wicker Man, placing it alongside other such folk horror films as Witchfinder General. It then goes on to consider an interrelated loose grouping of films and television which in part explore those flipside Albionic cracks in the landscape.

These include Winstanley (1975) and its dramatising of historical English Civil War era searching for an earthly paradise, the journey through a rural year of Akenfield (1974), the almost straight documentary that also seems to quietly explore the undercurrents of the land Sleep Furiously (2008)…

It also includes considerations of and connects the above with the art film experiments and psychogeography (a form of explorative wandering) of Derek Jarman’s Journey to Avesbury (1971), Patrick Keiller’s Robinson in Space (1997) and Chris Petit’s London Orbital (2002), the atavistic memories of Quatermass and the Pit (1967) and the layered spectral rural history tales of Penda’s Fen (1974).

 The Sneaker Pimps-How Do-Willows Song-Becoming X-Spin Spin Sugar-Kelli Ali-The Wicker Man 

“The Wicker Man has also acted as a wider source of musical inspiration and influence, branching out into more mainstream and even chart music. The band Sneaker Pimps recorded a song called “How Do”, which is a version of “Willow’s Song” from The Wicker Man soundtrack and includes samples from the film…

It was a curious thing for a quite pop orientated band, even if a more left-of-centre one, back then to include a song from The Wicker Man soundtrack. At the time of How Do’s release The Wicker Man was a known film but its extended and ever growing cultdom had not really started to gather pace yet and Trunk Records’ release of the soundtrack was still a couple of years away, so information about the film was probably still relatively thin on the ground.”

 Kelli Ali-Rocking Horse and Butterfly

“In a possible further example of the ongoing influence of the film, in 2008 Kelli Ali, who was the singer with Sneaker Pimps at the time of Becoming X, released a pastoral folk inflected album called Rocking Horse on record label One Little Indian, which was produced by Max Richter…

(On her album) Butterfly there is also another version of Willow’s Song, which takes it back nearer to its purely imagined folkloric roots and although being her own interpretation it is closer to how the song was performed for The Wicker Man’s soundtrack than the Sneaker Pimps version and indeed would not seem all that out of place if heard amongst the other music in the film.”

Pulp-We Love Life-CD-back of cover-2001 Pulp-The Trees-Sunrise-CD singleForge Dam-Sheffield-Pulp-The Wicker Man-1Kill List-Ben Wheatley-A Year In The Country-4

“In a further Wicker Man connection with one time chartbound bands, Pulp included a song called “Wickerman” on their 2001 album, We Love Life.

The song is a multi-layered piece of culture, one that interweaves samples from the original The Wicker Man film soundtrack recording and hence otherly folkloric concerns, alongside a sense of urban exploration, the true life history of the band, spoken word, a certain grandiosity in its production (possibly courtesy of producer Scott Walker), the social history of Sheffield and surrounding areas and a yearning, wistful love story…

…members of Pulp went on an expedition through tunnels beneath Sheffield that were used for sluicing industrial run off… that journey became increasingly dangerous feeling and… it inspired the Pulp song Wickerman…

…what the real life story of the band wandering through those tunnels also brings to mind is the underground tunnel sequence in Ben Wheatley’s 2011 film Kill List, and its related occult vision of folkloric machinations; lines from which could be connected backwards to The Wicker Man and its flipside views, expressions and interpretations of folklore and an unsettled take on pastoralism.”

 The Wicker Man-construction-production photograph The Wicker Man-1973-Production notes The Wickerman-lost scene in hairdressersWillow Umbrella-Christopher Lee-The Wicker Man-1973

“Along with the above books, articles and records which explore and/or draw inspiration from The Wicker Man there are an extensive number of websites and documentaries which focus on the film.

One of the most in depth of such websites is The Wicker Man (1973) Wikia site which on a recent visit had 138 different pages related to the film…

Of particular note are the images of the construction of The Wicker Man structure used in the film and also the numbered on-set and press photographs taken from contact sheets.

Even though they are on a public site these seem to offer a semi-hidden view or a glance behind the curtain of the film.

However, despite this they do not diminish the mystique or myths of the film, which can sometimes be the case with such photographs or “How We Made the Film” documentaries and DVD extras.

This is possibly because The Wicker Man has such a multi-layered set of myths around it, some of which are intrinsically connected and interwoven with the production of the film itself and related backstories, all of which have become part and parcel of its intriguing nature.”

 The Wicker Man BBC Scotland On Screen 2009 

The Wicker Man-Cast And Crew-BBC 4-2005-b2

The Wicker Man-Cast And Crew-BBC 4-2005

The Wicker Man-Cast And Crew-BBC 4-2005-2

“Further behind the scenes views and discussion can be found in a now quite considerable number of The Wicker Man documentaries, including those on the various DVD/Blu-ray releases of the film and also in documentaries which were originally broadcast on television.

These include:

1) The Wicker Man/BBC Scotland on Screen (2009), in which actor Alan Cumming wanders around the film’s locations, with how they are today segueing into scenes from the film…

This features… the woman who runs the gallery where the sweet shop scene was filmed (who says something along the lines of some visiting tourists thinking that those who live in the area actually are pagans).

2) The Wicker Man episode of the BBC 4 series Cast and Crew (2005), which hosts a round table discussion of the film.

(Which includes) cast members Christopher Lee, Ingrid Pitt being her delightfully eccentric and expressive self (slightly embarrassing/ awkward for more reserved British sensibilities to know how to cope with this)…

Sing Cuckoo- The Story and Influence of The Wicker Man Soundtrack-Gothic-The Dark Heart Of Film-BFIPlayer-BFI

Sing Cuckoo- The Story and Influence of The Wicker Man Soundtrack-Gothic-The Dark Heart Of Film-BFIPlayer-BFI-Jonny Trunk

(Another Wicker Man related documentary is) Sing Cuckoo: The Story and Influence of The Wicker Man Sound track… 

(Which features) the musicians Stephen Cracknell of The Memory Band and Mike Lindsay of Tuung (who have both created and released The Wicker Man-related work) and Jonny Trunk who is variously an archival record researcher, collector, writer and was responsible for the release of the first commercial edition of The Wicker Man’s soundtrack via his label Trunk Records…

There is something very evocative and moving about this particular documentary and it has a certain classiness to it, a sense of a deep respect for the film both by those shown in it and from behind the camera.

Part of that is the way it is divided into titled chapters that connect with the themes of the film and its influence; Creation, Isolation, Resurrection, Inspiration and Resolution…”

 Sing Cuckoo- The Story and Influence of The Wicker Man Soundtrack-Gothic-The Dark Heart Of Film-BFIPlayer-BFI-Stephen Cracknell-Mike Lindsay 

“In terms of some of the reasons for the ongoing and expanding appeal of the film and its soundtrack, Stephen Cracknell makes an incisive point about how the songs have become like folk standards for young indie-folk musicians and says:

“I think it will go on influencing people by giving them this idea of ‘Wow, you can be playful and sexy and daring and scary, not just reverential with old music and make it new and vibrant’. It stands like a beacon for that really.”


Online images to accompany Chapter 10 of the A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields book, alongside some text extracts from the chapter:

Details of the A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields book and the collection of its accompanying online images can be found at the Book’s Page, which will be added to throughout the year.


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Sing Cuckoo: The Story and Influence of The Wicker Man Soundtrack and Other Partly-Archived Summerisle Discussions: Audio Visual Transmission Guide #51/52a

The Wicker Man-Cast And Crew-BBC 4-2005-2

During this year of A Year In The Country I’ve visited the fictional world of Summerisle / The Wicker Man a number of times…

…and now that the year is drawing to a close, I thought I would visit it once more.

A while ago I came across a bevy of Wicker Man documentaries that I didn’t know about.

I had watched various ones previously, the ones included on the DVD releases etc but then one day I stumbled on more online (the magic of the ever-archiving internet and all that).

Now, I would’ve thought that I would be a bit overloaded with all things Wicker Man-esque but I actually thoroughly enjoyed watching the documentaries or sections of documentaries I found in various ways – it seems that this is the isle that just keeps giving it seems.

The Wicker Man BBC Scotland On Screen 2009

The ones in question were:

One titled online as The Wicker Man BBC Scotland On Screen 2009, in which actor Alan Cumming (with a somewhat artfully arranged fringe) wanders around the locations of The Wicker Man, with how they are today segueing into scenes from the film.

It features him meeting with the likes of the film’s director Robin Hardy, Britt Ekland’s body double, one of the public house musicians who played in the film and the woman who runs the gallery where the sweet shop scene was filmed (who says something along the lines of some visiting tourists thinking that those who live in the area actually are pagans).

Alongside which Allan Brown, author of Inside The Wicker Man, film critic/broadcaster Andrew Collins, novelist Christopher Brookmyre and Edward Woodward all appear and comment on the film and its surrounding myths and intrigues.

The Wicker Man-Cast And Crew-BBC 4-2005-b2

Then I watched The Wicker Man episode of the BBC 4 series Cast and Crew from 2005, which hosts a round table discussion of the film, featuring Christopher Lee, Ingrid Pitt being her delightfully eccentric and expressive self (slightly embarrassing/awkward for more reserved British sensibilities to know how to cope with that it has always seemed when I have watched such appearances), director Robin Hardy again, art director Seamus Flannery, associate music director Gary Carpenter and again Edward Woodward (who was filmed separately from the other participants).

The Wicker Man-Cast And Crew-BBC 4-2005

One of the pieces of information that stuck in my mind from this documentary was Seamus Flannery saying how the actual Wicker Man sculpture in the film was built from pre-woven panels that were designed to be used as wind baffles in fields for sheep to shelter behind and which they bought very cheaply wholesale for just a few pounds each.

Robin Hardy also briefly mentions the successor to The Wicker Man that he was planning at the time called May Day (which Christopher Lee was set to appear in and is at baritone, strident pains to make clear that it was not a sequel) and which I assume eventually became The Wicker Tree which was released in 2011.

Sing Cuckoo- The Story and Influence of The Wicker Man Soundtrack-Gothic-The Dark Heart Of Film-BFIPlayer-BFI

The one that really caught my eye and mind though was Sing Cuckoo: The Story and Influence of The Wicker Man Soundtrack, which is available to watch on the BFI Player (which I have mentioned a few times previously around these parts) and was recorded around the time of the BFI season Gothic: The Dark Heart of Film in 2014.

This does what it says on the can and again features Robin Hardy and Gary Carpenter, alongside the musicians Stephen Cracknell of The Memory Band and Mike Lindsay of Tuung (who have both created/released Wicker Man related work), all discussing the soundtrack of the film, its influences, inspirations etc.

There is something very evocative and moving about this particular documentary and it has a certain classiness to it, a sense of a deep respect for the film both by those shown in it and from behind the camera.

Part of that is the way it is divided into titled chapters that connect with the themes of the film and its influence; Creation, Isolation, Resurrection, Inspiration and Resolution.

Sing Cuckoo- The Story and Influence of The Wicker Man Soundtrack-Gothic-The Dark Heart Of Film-BFIPlayer-BFI-Jonny Trunk

I don’t know if it was a deliberate but those directly involved in the film – Robin Hardy and Gary Carpenter – are filmed  against a featureless black background, whereas Jonny Trunk, Stephen Cracknell and Mike Lindsay are filmed set against tools of their trades (shelves of vinyl records and banks of modular synthesisers).

There is a touching moment when Jonny Trunk talks about how it is a shame that the soundtrack’s author Paul Giovanni passed away before he could see how it had gone on to gain such an extensive following and possibly even played it live.

Connected to that, there is a poignancy to all these documentaries; as the years have passed few of the principal participants featured are still alive, with Christopher Lee, Ingrid Pitt, Robin Hardy and Edward Woodward all since having passed away.

In terms of some of the reasons for the ongoing and expanding appeal of the film and its soundtrack, Stephen Cracknell makes some interesting points about how the songs have become like folk standards for young indie-folk musicians and says:

“I think it will go on influencing people by giving them this idea of “Wow, you can be playful and sexy and daring and scary, not just reverential with old music and make it new and vibrant”. It stands like a beacon for that really.”

Sing Cuckoo- The Story and Influence of The Wicker Man Soundtrack-Gothic-The Dark Heart Of Film-BFIPlayer-BFI-Stephen Cracknell-Mike Lindsay

(File Post Under: Cathode Ray & Cinematic Explorations, Radiowave Resonations & Audiological Investigations)

Audio Visual Transmission Guide #1:
Sing Cuckoo: The Story and Influence of The Wicker Man Soundtrack at the BFIPlayer

More samizdat transmissions:
The Wicker Man BBC Scotland On Screen 2009
Cast And Crew – The Wicker Man

Local Broadcasts:
Well, that would be a fair few but here’s a starter or two – The Wicker Man Around These Parts


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The Wicker Man – Summer Isle Books, Bindings, Pounds, Shillings And Pence: Ether Signposts #46/52a

The Wicker Man book collection

A fair old while ago, back in the first year of A Year In The Country one of the posts included a consideration of various DVD etc editions of The Wicker Man.

In a similar spirit, I thought I would bring together a gathering of some of the various Wicker Man related books that have been published…

…there have now been enough to warrant their own section within a library.

There are other related books and editions out in the world as well as the ones below but that library section could well include:

The Quest For The Wicker Man-Benjamin Franks-bookFirst off there is The Quest For The Wicker Man: History, Folklore And Pagan Perspectives by Benjamin Franks, Stephen Harper, Jonathan Murray and Lesley Stevenson, which is a more academic take on the film.

There is a somewhat rarer book that accompanies this called Constructing The Wickerman, which includes work by some of the same authors and which was published to coincide with the first academic conference on the film in Glasgow in 2003.

Studying The Wicker Man-Andy Murray Lorraine RolstonThen there is Studying The Wicker Man from 2017, which is a shorter academic book by Andy Murray and Lorraine Rolston…
Inside The Wicker Man-Allan Brown-1st edition and revised editionHow Not To Make A Cult Classic – Inside The Wicker Man by Allan Brown, which if memory serves correctly is a good factual and also behind the scenes intrigues view of the film. It was originally published in 2000 (the first book on The Wicker Man?) and reissued in 2010 as a newer revised edition post the US remake.
Ritual-David Pinner-First Edition-Finders Keepers Edition

Ritual by David Pinner, which is seen as a forebear and possible influence on The Wicker Man. Originally published in 1967 as a hardback, in paperback in 1968 by Arrow Books with a more overtly possibly exploitation cover image and text and it was republished in 2011 by Finders Keepers Records.

First editions of the 1967 version now fetch upwards of £400 (blimey etc)… and I like the background info at Finders Keepers site on their new edition and before they republished it how Andy Votel was about to pay a fair few pounds for an original copy and then he thought “I’ll just check the local library catalogue”… and there it was.

Ah, the good old library system.

The Finders Keepers edition also features an interesting introduction by Bob Stanley which in an earlier post at A Year In The Country I said this:

“The introduction opens with a sense of how nature can come to almost dwarf you, how our sense of urban/modern security can easily be dismissed by the ways and whiles of nature.”

(As an aside, although it was released in conjunction with David Pinner and reproduced from his copy, I like the way the Finders Keepers edition is listed by them as being “Finders Keepers Forgery Number One”.)

The Wicker Man-The Complete Piano Songbook-with sheet music

For the 40th anniversary of the film in 2013, alongside the various Bluray/DVD and soundtrack reissues, there was also The Wicker Man – The Complete Piano Songbook published by Summer Isle Songs, with arrangements by Christopher Hussey.

Alongside the sheet music, it also includes an introduction by film’s Associate Musical Directory Gary Carpenter and various stills from the film.

The Wicker Man-1st edition and new edition book-Robin Hardy-Anthony Shaffer-foreword Allan BrownThe Wicker Man novel, which curiously was originally published in 1978, five years after the release of the film (and also slightly curiously was released in the US first).

The novel was written by Robin Hardy, the director of The Wicker Man but is credited as being co-authored by Anthony Shaffer, the writer of the film’s screenplay, as it re-uses much of the screenplay’s dialogue.

It was republished in 2000, the same year as Allan Brown’s Inside The Wicker Man, with this new edition also  featuring a foreword by him.

The Wicker Man-Conversations with Robin Hardy, Anthony Shaffer & Edward Woodward-Stephen ApplebaumAlthough only available as an eBook, The Wicker Man: Conversations with Robin Hardy, Anthony Shaffer & Edward Woodward, published in 2012 collects 46 pages of interviews by Stephen Applebaum…

I’m hoping that at some point it will appear as a physically printed book.

Also of note…
Your Face Here-Ali Catterall-Simon Wells-The Wicker ManYour Face Here: British Cult Movies Since the Sixties by Ali Caterall and Simon Wells from 2001, which is a fine and very readable collection that focuses on various cult films, with one chapter being specifically about The Wicker Man.

I’ve written about this book before at A Year In The Country and said:

“…there is a rigour to the research… the text reflects a genuine love for and appreciation of these films… This isn’t something that is written by rote or which just trots out well visited stories in a cut and paste manner. The authors have put the footwork in, visiting locations, interviewing all kinds of associated folk and bringing forth something of a wealth of new information and connections.”

nuada-wicker-man-journal-issues…and finally there is Nuada, which was a journal/zine about The Wicker Man which had three editions published in 1999-2000 (a busy period for such things it seems).

…so, all in all, there have been a fair few Summer Isle related books and bindings (and as mentioned earlier, the above is not a complete list of books and editions)… something of a measure of just how it’s influence and inspiration has grown over the years…

…and somewhat impressive for a film that took $58,341 in US box office receipts on it’s first release.

Adjusting that for inflation, it would today mean it had taken $321,575.85 or using the exchange rates back in 1973, £137,185.79.

So, no small potatoes (or other appropriate harvest crops).

However as a point of reference, the Top 10 US ranking films back then (The Sting, The Exorcist, American Graffiti, Papilion, The Way We Were, Magnum Force, Last Tango In Paris, Live and Let Die, Robin Hood and Paper Moon) took between $156,000,000 and $30,933,473.

Which, again, adjusted for inflation today would be $859,872,702.70 to $170,505,442.52.

Or £366,825,785.39 to £72,738,432.87 in modern day Blighty pounds, shillings and pence.


The Wicker Man Collage-A Year In The Country-1080

(File post under: Other Pathway Pointers And Markers)

Directions and Destinations:
The Quest For The Wicker Man
Studying The Wicker Man
Inside The Wicker Man
Ritual at Finders Keepers
The Wicker Man Song Book
The Wicker Man novel
The Wicker Man: Conversations with Robin Hardy, Anthony Shaffer & Edward Woodward
Your Face Here
Nuada journal

Local Places Of Interest:
Day #237/365: Your Face Here; peering down into the landfill – a now historical perspective on the stories of The Wicker Man
Day #90/365: The Wickerman – the future lost vessels and artifacts of modern folklore
Day #101/365: Gently Johnny, Sproatly Smith, The Woodbine & Ivy band and lilting intentions…
Week #25/52: Fractures Signals #4; A Behemoth Comes Once More A Knocking…
Ether Signposts #24/52a: The Wicker Man / Don’t Look Now Double Bill And Media Disseminations From What Now Seem A Long Long Time Ago
Ether Signposts #25/52a: 138 Layers And Gatherings Of The Wicker Man


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The Wicker Man Revisited / Refreshed – The Long Arm Of The Lore: Wanderings #36/52a

Sight & Sound-2013-The Wickerman-2010-The Films Of Old Weird Britain

Now, there has been an ever increasing amount written about The Wicker Man and it could be possible to be a tad oversaturated with more considerations of the film…

…but I recently(ish) read Vic Pratt’s article Long Arm Of The Lore about the film in a 2013 edition of Sight & Sound, at the time of one of the DVD/Bluray brush’n’scrub ups of The Wicker Man…

And actually, it was a refreshingly calm, considered, reflective, contextual piece that made me pause for thought, consider and re-appreciate the film and its own stories and myths once again.

In many ways it and the issue of the magazine could be a companion to the 2010 Sight & Sound with The Films Of Old, Weird Britain cover and The Pattern Under The Plough article Rob Young (and leading on from that, that article could also be seen as a companion to his Electric Eden book).

Both articles explore a sense of an otherly Albion, of the undercurrents and layers of folk tales, customs and histories and their reflections within film, television, culture and music at various points in time.

Sight & Sound-2013-The Wickerman-2010-The Films Of Old Weird Britain-2

Vic Pratt’s article is particularly good at placing The Wicker Man in the context of the early 1970s, the what-happened-next of 1960s utopianism and a yearning to return to more authentic, rooted ways – the interest in variations on folk culture being an aspect of such things.

I particularly liked this sequence, its analogies and the way it intertwines folk, the romance of analogue recording techniques and the myths of The Wicker Man itself:

“The archivists among us surely long to see a fully restored version of the film derived from 35mm elements, and the new Final Cut should almost provide that, bar a few mainland minutes. Yet folklorists must surely enjoy the flawed long version; that old variation in quality, the sudden grainy sequences, are textural scars that remind us of a checkered past. The multigenerational flaws of decades-old transfer technologies are embedded in the images. Forever incomplete, with something added, something removed, like an old folk ditty with lyrics honed and melodies reshaped by time, The Wicker Man remains splendidly imperfect, the perfect folk film artefact.”

The article is available to read online but I must admit I enjoyed being able to stop a moment and read it in its original printed form (although it seems to be one of the more hard to find back issues of Sight & Sound, not unsuprisingly considering the cult status of The Wicker Man).

(File under: Trails and Influences / Year 3 Wanderings)


Intertwined wanderings around these parts:
Day #4/365: Electric Eden; a researching, unearthing and drawing of lines between the stories of Britain’s visionary music

Day #80/365: The Films Of Old Weird Britain… celluloid flickerings from an otherly Albion…

Day #90/365: The Wicker Man – the future lost vessels and artifacts of modern folklore

Week #25/52: Fractures Signals #4; A Behemoth Comes Once More A Knocking…

Elsewhere in the ether:
Read the article here (which also includes an interview with director Robin Hardy).


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Constructing The Wicker Man: Ether Signposts #26/52a

The Wicker Man-construction-production photograph

I was recently wandering around the  The Wicker Man (1973) Wikia website and posted about its multi-layered archiving of The Wicker Man related material…

The Wicker Man-cherry picker-under construction-2

Some of the images I was particularly struck by were those that showed the literal construction of the film’s Wickerman structure/s.

The Wicker Man-under construction

The Wicker Man-1973-production notes-sketchAnd quite simply I wanted to post some of them online as well, it gives me a chance to peruse them again myself.

Also because as I mentioned in my previous post about the related Wikia site, I don’t find seeing such “behind the scenes” images takes away from the myth and mystique of the film, rather that they more seem like part of the layered myths and stories that surround The Wickerman – of which the production of the film, its intrigues and tales are an intrinsic part.

(File post under: Other Pathway Pointers And Markers)

Directions and Destinations:
The Wicker Man (1973) Wikia (introduction page)
Behind The Scenes (still pictures)


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138 Layers And Gatherings Of The Wicker Man: Ether Signposts #25/52a

The Wicker Man 1973-US press book

I recently went a-wandering to have a look-see if I could fine the original press book for The Wickerman – as I’ve mentioned around these parts before I have something of a softspot for press booklets from back.

As far as I can see there were two main ones back in 1973; one for the US and one for the UK.

Despite the cult and collectible nature of the film you can still occasionally find them, although they’re not necessarily cheap; the two I found were priced at/sold for around £26.00 and £325 (ahem!).

Anyways, as I was having a potter around online I found a site called The Wicker Man (1973) Wikia…

…and just when you think you know a fair bit about the film, have read a related book or two and seen a documentary or few etc…

…well, you realise you’re just scratching the surface.

The Wickerman-rating

The Wicker Man (1973) Wikia site has 138 different pages on the film, which may not sound like all that many but some of those have literally dozens of photographs, hundreds of pieces of information etc: maps, autographs, scripts, newspaper articles, behind the scenes photographs by the dozen, location photographs then and now, scripts, production notes, floor plans, reunion photographs, memoirs from cast and crew, images from missing scenes, fanzines, construction plans…

…and that’s to mention just a few of the things that can be found there.

The Wickerman-lost scene in hairdressers

Some of my favourite parts of the site are the Behind The Scenes page, in particular the images of the construction of The Wicker Man itself and also the numbered on-set and press photographs taken from contact sheets.

The Wicker Man-1973-UK press bookThose two parts of the site seem, even though they are on a public site, to offer a semi-hidden view or a glance behind the curtain at it were.

And interestingly, I don’t find that they ruin the mystique or myths of the film for me, which I can do sometimes with such photographs or “How We Made The Film” documentaries and DVD extras.

That’s possibly because The Wicker Man has such a multi-layered set of myths around it, some of which are intrinsically connected and interwoven with the production of the film itself and related backstories.

The Wicker Man-1973-Production notesWillow Umbrella-Christopher Lee-The Wicker Man-1973

The site is a real labour of love that put me in mind of the Kate Bush Clippings site that I wrote about a while ago, on which there are hundreds or more scans of related magazine etc articles.

The two sites may well also be interconnected in that both Kate Bush and The Wickerman seem to have come to represent, have spun or exist within some kind of world and myths all of their own; ones that connect with some kind of sense of arcane, layered stories, history and fantasia from this part of the world.

Because of the vast nature of the site and the way that it is built (and possibly because of my initial sense of “must try and read and see it all”) it can be a bit overwhelming, so I thought a few initial pointers towards starting points and pages that caught my eye might be helpful…

Directions and Destinations:
The Wicker Man (1973) Wikia (introduction page)
All Pages (you may be there a while…)
Behind The Scenes (still pictures)
Negative numbers (for on-set and press photographs)
Images (all images on the site)
Missing Scenes

Kate Bush Clippings Site (and around these parts)


(File post under: Other Pathway Pointers And Markers)

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The Wicker Man / Don’t Look Now Double Bill And Media Disseminations From What Now Seem A Long Long Time Ago: Ether Signposts #24/52a

The Wicker Man-Dont Look Now-double bill-The Guardian and The Observer DVDs

Fairly recently I was in a charity shop and on the counter they had a box full of the DVDs and CDs that used to come free with newspapers…

That time now seems long, long ago, before the advent and popularity of online streaming services for films.

The Wicker Man-Dont Look Now-double bill-The Guardian and The Observer DVDs-2

Anyways, a while after I got home I realised that two of the DVDs I had gotten from the shop were effectively the original double bill cinema release of The Wicker Man and Don’t Look Now.

The version of The Wickerman on the DVD is one of the shorter ones with a runtime of 84 minutes but nonetheless I suppose for Wickerman collectors and completists this would still be something to look out for.

Finding them also made me curious if there had ever been one of those double bill cinema posters for the two films.

They were once quite popular and now seem to often capture previous era’s styles and aesthetics.

The Wicker Man and Dont Look Now-double bill adverts

However, despite quite a search for one of those double bill posters I couldn’t find one, only a couple of newspaper/magazine adverts.

So in lieu of an actual double-bill poster I thought I would repost a double page spread from a copy of Film Review magazine back in 1974, showing The Wicker Man side-by-side with its cinematic partner:

The Wicker Man-Dont Look Now-Film Review Magazine-A Year In The Country-1200

Directions and Destinations:
Day #90/365: The Wickerman – the future lost vessels and artifacts of modern folklore
For Summer Isle completists: The Wickerman and Don’t Look Now


(File post under: Other Pathway Pointers And Markers)

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Day #237/365: Your Face Here; peering down into the landfill – a now historical perspective on the stories of The Wicker Man

The Wicker Man-Your Face Here-Ali Catterall-Simon Wells-A Year In The CountryFile under: Trails and Influences.
Other Pathways. Case #39/52.

And while we’re talking about semi-lost celluloid (see Day #235/365)…

Although there has been much written about The Wicker Man over the years and across the ether, I tend to be quietly pleased when I come across writing about it on the printed page and in particular in the bound sheafs of books…

Your Face Here is one of my favourite film books. It was published just after the turn of the millennium. I read it a reasonable number of years ago now but it has stuck in my mind and stayed with me since.

It is a book which takes a wander through British cult films since the 1960s and has a good old gander and consider of amongst others Blow Up, If…, Performance, Get Carter, Clockwork Orange, Quadrophenia, Withnail & I and The Wicker Man itself, dedicating a chapter to each.

All fine and/or intriguing films in their own various ways and while that list may seem like a fairly obvious selection of cult films, an almost accepted canon of such things, there are other things at play that make this a thoroughly enjoyable, informative and engrossing read. I can’t quite put my finger on what those things might be but in part I expect it is that there is a rigour to the research without it stepping into the drier grounds of academia and the text reflects a genuine love for and appreciation of these films.

The Wicker Man-Your Face Here-Ali Catterall-Simon Wells-A Year In The CountryThis isn’t something that is written by rote or which just trots out well visited stories in a cut and paste manner. The authors (Ali Caterall and Simon Wells) have put the footwork in, visiting locations, interviewing all kinds of associated folk and bringing forth something of a wealth of new information and connections.

If you don’t feel like or haven’t the time to read a full book on The Wickerman, say one of the versions of Allan Brown’s Inside The Wicker Man, then the chapter here acts as a fine precis of the story of the themes, production, loss and part-refinding of The Wicker Man. That story is vastly entertaining in itself and as I type it brings forth images of a good narrative film romp that could well lend itself to being made…

…plus when re-reading the chapter, it has gained an interesting historical perspective as it was written before the more recent longer versions of the film were made available on various shiny digital discs, the Hollywood remake or the sort of follow-up were sent out into the world. Also the book was published not all that long after Trunk Records made the soundtrack available for the first time and at a point when the films long march towards cultural rehabilitation and inspiration had just started to gather pace.

In that sense, the chapter now reflects a sense of the ongoing and growing story of this still not completely yet unearthed or unburied film (literally so, if the stories of its negatives being used as motorway landfill are historical fact).

The Wickerman-Your Face Here-Ali Catterall & Simon Wells-A Year In The Country

In case you’re wandering the full title of the book in question is Your Face Here: British Cult Movies Since The Sixties. It was written by Ali Catterall and documenter of butterflies on wheels Simon Wells.

The book is currently out of print but can be found for but a few pennies. Well worth a look-see and those few pennies.

Future lost artifacts from said story here. Pathways that lead to the soundtrack here.


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Day #90/365: The Wicker Man – the future lost vessels and artifacts of modern folklore

The Wicker Man Collage-A Year In The Country-1080File under:
Trails and Influences: Other Pathways. Case #12/52.

I suppose there was a certain inevitability that The Wicker Man would come knocking at the door of A Year In The Country one morning…

Over the years it seems to have become such a touchstone and point of reference for people and there seems to be an exponentially increasing amount of text, articles, referencing and so on which shows no sign of dwindling even a touch.

Via storage and dissemination through various mediums and artifacts, such celluloid and (once) cathode ray stories could now be considered to be our modern-day folklore or folktales, allowing for a common cultural language in days when people no longer live and share such things with their geographic neighbours to as large a degree as in the past.

The Wicker Man-Hessian Bag Edition-Insert-A Year In The Country-2The title of the page mentions “future lost vessels”. Why you may ask? Well, one day in years to come it is quite likely that some of the physical artifacts, the digital discs and ferrous cassettes, that have been used to pass on our folk tales from the 1970s onwards may well still exist as objects but will the stories that they contain still be readable by all but a few? The current machines for such things will have more than likely returned once more to the ground from whence they originally came. The stories themselves may well have been re-recorded and transferred to other mediums but the original artifacts will quite possibly just have become symbols or ornaments that represent them…

But who knows what may happen in the future and what the future story may be of a tale which is already possibly partly buried beneath passing cars (see here about half way down the page for more details).


And so, this page is a document of some my favourite (or at least the ones I find the most interesting) of the vessels and artifacts of this particular slice of modern day folklore…

(In memory of possible future lost vessels, only the casing that contains the discs and tapes are shown below, I’ve included a touch of actual vinyl as such things have proved a certain longevity).

Here goes…

I think one of my favourite of such things is the hessian bag release of the DVD… it just seems to fit…

The Wicker Man-Hessian Bag Edition-A Year In The Country 2 The Wicker Man-Hessian Bag Edition-DVD-A Year In The Country

One of the Dan Mumford poster designs for the 40th Anniversary re-issue of the film…
The Wicker Man-Dan Mumford poster-A Year In The Country
…and some variations on the poster via Dark City Gallery
The Wicker Man-Dan Mumford poster detail-A Year In The Country
Below on the left is what seems to be one of the rarer DVD issues of the film, featuring part of a still that seems to be something of a favourite out in the world (and which has been used by contemporary pastoral-psych-folk band Sproatly Smith, who also released a 7″ single of Gently Johnny)…

Nice rarer paperback cover on the right below… well, when I saw nice, it’s in the context of somebody being thrown onto the altar so that people can grow some mildly exotic apples…
The Wicker Man-The Cult Classic Film Series-A Year In The Country The Wicker Man-Pocker Fiction paperback-A Year In The Country


Ah, the days of VHS (was this ever released on Betamax? Video 2000?)…
The Wicker Man-1973 1972-VHS Thorn EMI-Pick Of The Flicks-A Year In The Country copy
Now, I should really love the hinged wooden box edition of the film but there’s something just slightly off or maybe unloved about it…
The Wicker Man-Wooden Box Edition-DVD-A Year In The Country
Something which may well have been responsible for some of the increase in interest over the last decade or so… The Trunk Records vinyl release of the soundtrack album, the first time it had been commercially available…
The Wicker Man OST soundtrack-Jonny Trunk-Trunk Records-A Year In The Country
If you should wish to read about how film cults came about in part because of the siren call of ladies in metal bath tubs to the cigar chomping folk behind the scenes…
The Wicker Man book-Allan Brown-A Year In The CountryThe Wicker Man book-Allan Brown-A Year In The Country 2
…and a return to VHS, this time with a slightly more sober cover (and more giving away of the plot)…The Wicker Man-VHS video cover-A Year In The Country
Now this seems to be one of the rarer artifacts out in the world… the 2012 Record Store Day 7″ single release of Willow’s Song/Gently Johnny…
The Wickerman Willows Songs Gently Johnny 7 vinyl Record Store Day-Silva Screen International-A Year In The Country 2The Wickerman Willows Songs Gently Johnny 7 vinyl Record Store Day-Silva Screen International-A Year In The Country
…and (almost) finally, Richard Beckett’s poster for the 40th Anniversary (as seen on t-shirts, the aforementioned posters and a new differently edited version of the soundtrack)…

…plus one of the lesser seen DVD releases. I like the simplicity of this one.
The Wicker Man-Richard Beckett poster-silver hair variant-A Year In The Country

The Wicker Man-Studio Canal DVD-A Year In The Country

So, 12 artifacts to accompany A Year In The Country seems quite an appropriate number.

I know what, let’s make it a baker’s dozen as I quite like the story behind that phrase…

A double page spread from a copy of Film Review magazine back in 1974, showing The Wicker Man side-by-side with its cinematic partner Don’t Look Now:

The Wicker Man-Dont Look Now-Film Review Magazine-A Year In The Country-1200

(In case you’re curious the cover of that issue featured Sid James, Babs Windsor, Margaret Nolan and Valerie Leon in Carry On Girls… something of a favourite in the Carry On cannon round these parts, a point when the films began to change and reflect a country “gone to the dogs” but before the films just became seedy shams. Anyway, I digress…).

As an (actual) final note: don’t watch The Wicker Man with an older relative, suggesting a viewing as your mind seems to have momentarily selectively remembered it as a bit of a knockabout light-hearted folkloric musical…

Ah, we live and learn.

A few trails and pathways: The appeal for lost Wicker Man materials here and at The Art Shelf here. Corn(flake) rigs via Johnny Trunk at Feuilleton, at Fuel and at Mr Trunk’s home in the electronic ether. A whole slew of Wicker soundtracks here. Richey Beckett’s hand of glory here. An interesting “behind-the-scenes” on the creation of the artwork for the 2012 Record Store Day Willow’s Song/Gently Johnny 7″ here and here. Sproatly Smith and the Woodbine & Ivy band split version of Gently Johnny (something of a favourite) at purveyor of vinyl artifacts Picadilly Records and Static Caravan.

A baker’s or devil’s dozen here.


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E4’s “Wicker Man” Ident and an Albion in the Overgrowth Portal View Into a World Unto Itself: Wanderings 16/26

Over the years in the A Year In The Country books and at the website I’ve discussed various television series and trailers which could be considered as offering glimpses of Albion in the overgrowth, i.e. mainstream television which to various degrees explores, utilises and expresses a “wyrd” or otherly pastoral sense of rural and folk culture, while also at times variously containing elements of and/or intertwining with folk horror.

Some previous examples I have written about include amongst others: the unsettling “pastoral spook” drama series Requiem (2018); the supernatural folk horror-ish drama series The Living and the Dead (2016); the gently melancholic comic drama series Detectorists (2014-2017) that centres around two rural treasure hunting metal detectorists; the reimagining of Roman history in the drama series Britannia (2018-); the folk horror related themes in some of the episodes of the 2000-2001 remake of the supernatural detective series Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) (1969-1970); and the “Savage Party” trailer released in 2012 for the Channel 4 soap opera Hollyoaks, which has a playful and almost dreamlike rural temporary autonomous zone aesthetic.

In terms of “Albion in the overgrowth”, the 2018 “Wicker Man” ident for the British television channel E4 could well be grouped amongst the above series and trailer, and in some ways is odder than all of them.

It is an animated short film used as a link between programmes, and seems to variously be channeling 1960s or 1970s British children’s television animated series, some lost Eastern European animation series from an indefinable earlier decade, bucolic calm, folk rituals, folk art and folk horror – in particular The Wicker Man (1973) – all in a brief 30 seconds or so. It’s the kind of thing that you could imagine being part of some semi-forgotten children’s television series originally broadcast back when that Finders Keepers Records would release the soundtrack to.

The animation and figures that appear in the ident are at a notable remove from polished contemporary CGI based work, appearing (I assume) to have been done my hand and have a pleasingly handcrafted folk art-ish feel, and seem to be made from materials such as fabric, wood etc. In terms of their aesthetic and animation style they recall the 1960s and 1970s Smallfilms work by Oliver Postgate and Peter Firmin, such as Bagpuss (1974) and The Clangers (1969-1974), and like those series the ident also seems to offer a glimpse or portal viewing of a magical self-contained world unto itself.

The ident opens on a view over a neatly recently harvested looking field, taking a viewpoint from the uncultivated edges of the field which is where events take place, as though to show that they are at a remove from the norms and orderliness of civilisation. Initially a lone king-like figure walks onto the screen, wearing a cape and holding a flower by its stem as though it is a sceptre. He is vaguely human-like in shape but without facial features, has long thin bendy pipe cleaner-esque limbs and his body/fabric skin are green.

He is soon joined by other figures and creatures, who to varying degrees often have anthropomorphic human characteristics, and they begin folk ritual-esque revels and dancing. The other revellers include, amongst others, two frolicking corn dollies, a sheep that walks on its hind legs and is carrying a flag standard that bears the E4 logo, a strange folk ritual-like pyramidical stag headed creature, a cockerel that only seems to consist of a blue head and unnaturally long stilt-like orange legs, a staring eyed blue headed rabbit and a black and white creature, possibly a cow, made from layered wooden sections with a squared head. The soundtrack during this section mixes the stomp of the king walking, rural field recordings of birdsong etc and a free form seeming acoustic folk tune (loosely) played by the revellers.

A fox wearing human style clothing which also walks on its hind legs and some kind of clown, that is reminiscent of an unsettling skewed memory of a Victorian child’s toy, wheel on a cart that contains a folk art-esque wicker structure that forms the E4 logo. Once this is in place at the centre of the revellers the day darkens and the fox sets fire to the wicker logo, and it is at this point that the ident begins to take a darker turn, and marking this the soundtrack quickly and briefly changes to some form of choral drone.

NIght suddenly descends, the folk music resumes and the revels continue but now there is something, if not bacchanalian, then at least subtly frenzied about it as the participants dance around the burning wicker structure; the king sets light to one of the wicker dollies, which continues merrily dancing, and the clown also seems to be on fire but not making any attempt to halt this. The ident ends but there is a sense that the revels and their transgressions will continue.

What it brings to mind is Mackenzie Crook’s 2018 reimagining of the rural magic realism children’s television series Worzel Gummidge (1979-1989), which in the newer version features a living scarecrow who befriends two visiting children and via preternatural means and with the assistance of his fellow scarecrows helps to mend the seasons which have gone out of joint, and of which I have written:

“Worzel Gummidge is light-hearted, humorous and tender but also at times feels like a friendly nightmare, and it has an air of unsettling unpredictableness, which is heightened by the scarecrows often having a chaotic and unfettered by convention character, particularly when they are gathered together.”

E4’s Wicker Man ident has a not dissimilar sense of both playfulness and an unsettling  air, and as in the end of the 1973 The Wicker Man film, which it seems to fairly directly draw from and interconnect with, there is a sense of a folkloric ritual orientated rural community having come adrift.

What both Mackenzie Crook’s Worzel Gummidge and E4’s “Wicker Man” ident both also bring to mind is the (possibly) accidental at times surprisingly dark or unsettling atmospheres of some sections of late 1960s and 1970s British children and young adult orientated rurally set television drama series that have become hauntological and wyrd rural cultural mainstays – such as the drama series The Changes (1975), Children of the Stones (1976), The Owl Service (1969-1970) and also possibly some public information films from that time – with the “Wicker Man” ident sharing with them a sort of head shaking “What? What was that?” aspect.


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Summerisle In (Sort Of) Pop #1 – Pulp’s Wickerman: Audio Visual Transmission Guide #31/52a

Forge Dam-Sheffield-Pulp-The Wicker Man-1

A while ago I read Freak Out The Squares, which is former Pulp member Russel Senior’s autobiography of his time with the band.

In it there is a section where he talks about a time where pre their fame he and former members of Pulp went on an expedition through underground tunnels beneath Sheffield that were used for sluicing industrial run off, how that journey became increasingly dangerous feeling and that it inspired the Pulp song Wickerman (which was recorded after he left).

I most probably listened to the song when We Love Life, the album it was on, came out but hadn’t remembered it until then.

Listening to it now it struck me as a curious piece of culture, one that interweaves samples from the original The Wicker Man film soundtrack recording and hence otherly folkloric concerns, alongside a sense of urban exploration, the true history of the band, spoken word, a certain grandiosity in its production (courtesy of producer Scott Walker?), the social history of Sheffield and surrounding areas and a yearning, wistful love story.

Here are a selection of the lyrics:

Just behind the station, before you reach the traffic island, a river runs through a concrete channel. 
I took you there once; I think it was after the Leadmill. 
The water was dirty & smelt of industrialisation
Little mesters coughing their lungs up & globules the colour of tomato ketchup. 
But it flows…
Underneath the city through dirty brickwork conduits
Connecting white witches on the Moor with pre-Raphaelites down in Broomhall. 
Beneath the old Trebor factory that burnt down in the early seventies…
And the river flows on…
And it finally comes above ground again at Forge Dam: the place where we first met.


Jarvis Cocker, who I assume wrote the lyrics, said that he used to live on The Wicker which is a street in Sheffield and so I guess that’s where the title in part comes from.

In a further connection with otherly folklore, what the real life story of the band wandering through these tunnels also put me in mind of was the underground tunnel sequence in Ben Wheatley’s The Kill List.

But I won’t talk too much of that as I want to sleep tonight.

Pulp-The Trees-Sunrise-CD singleThe album We Love Life seems to have been a mixture of classic Pulp-like kitchen sink-esque observation and an interest/attempt to connect with the basics of a more natural life, particularly so in related artwork and on songs such as Trees and Sunrise, alongside which the band played a series of concerts in forests to support its release.

(File Post Under: Cathode Ray & Cinematic Explorations, Radiowave Resonations & Audiological Investigations)

Audio Visual Transmission Guide: Pulp’s Wickerman


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Excalibur – John Boorman’s Creation of an Otherworldly Arthurian Dream: Wanderings 1/26

The John Boorman directed film Excalibur (1981) draws from Arthurian myth and legend, taking in its complete story cycle from the conception of the “once and future” King Arthur until his death (or slumber across the ages).

King Arthur is said to have been a British leader who lead the defence of Britain against Saxon invaders in the late 5th and early 6th centuries. The stories that are associated with Arthur are mainly drawn from folklore and literary invention, with modern historians debating and disputing these and also Arthur’s existence. Excalibur includes iconic and archetypal stories and characters connected with Arthur such as the wizard Merlin, Arthur pulling the mystical sword Excalibur from a stone, the forming of The Knights of the Round table and their quest for the Grail and the love triangle between the king, his wife Guinevere and his greatest knight Lancelot. Boorman co-wrote the screenplay with Rospo Pallenberg and it is based in part on Le Morte d’Arthur, written by Thomas Mallory and first published in 1485, which reworked existing stories and folklore about King Arthur and has since become one of the best known works of Arthurian literature.

Excalibur is far removed from being a straightforward mainstream piece of cinema, despite having had an at the time relatively high budget of approximately £30 million, if adjusted for inflation, being the number one film during its opening weekend in the United States and listed at 18th in the 1981 US box office takings.

Excalibur also forbears and stands apart from the trend for more purely escapist swords and sorcery and fantasy films in the 1980s, being nearer to an arthouse film cloaked in the trappings of blockbuster spectacle. It is a uniquely distinctive take on Arthurian myth that is unflinchingly full of sweat, stench, mud, blood, lust and primal desires but is far from being a realist, gritty or conventional depiction of King Arthur’s story:

[On its release] the film was a hit, but its reputation feels more cult-like, perhaps thanks to Boorman’s commitment to creating [its] otherworldly, mythic reality: it’s strange, lavish, and dream-like.” (Quoted from “A dream to some, a nightmare to others: sex, magic and myth on the set of Excalibur”, Tom Fordy,, 18th Feb 2019.)

Mainly taking place in forest, castle and rural landscape and waterside locations, Excalibur is set in an unnamed British isles and what is described as the Dark Ages, and creates a form of Medieval never-never land that incorporates elements from around the 6th to 12th centuries.

Throughout the story there is a sense that Arthur’s reign is becoming a myth even while he is still alive and he says at one point “I was not born to live a man’s life but to be the stuff of future memory.” Alongside this, and underlying the entire story, is a warning of the doom that lies in wait when mankind, or an individual, loses touch with nature, or breaks natural laws and cycles, as was the cause of Arthur’s enfeeblement. Related to this, as discussed by John Boorman in his first autobiography, the film can be seen as a metaphor for the stages of mankind’s development:

“[While developing Excalibur] I began to formulate the idea that the Grail cycle was a metaphor for the past, present and future of humanity. In the early chapters, the Uther Pendragon period, man is emerging. He still has an unconscious magical connection with nature, both its violence and its harmony. That could be said to represent the deep past. [Merlin’s summoning of Excalibur from the lake focuses] the chaotic unconscious that lie beneath the surface. [After Uther abuses Excalibur’s power, violence and anarchy reign and so Merlin arranges that the sword passes to Uther’s son, Arthur] and its power allows him to impose his rule and make peace. As law and order are imposed, Arthur gradually forfeits his connection with nature. Camelot is established, a place of learning and science and order. Man becomes the master of the world. He pillages the earth. He cuts down the sacred forest. He loses his way… [Which] feels like our present. What of the future? What was once profusion becomes a wasteland. The King is sick from a wound that will not heal. The only way to cure the King and save the land is to find the Grail, the feminine symbol of wholeness and harmony, to find again a oneness with nature.” (Quoted from Adventures of a Suburban Boy, John Boorman, 2003.)

While in Excalibur Arthur builds the gleaming silver Camelot with good intentions, as suggested in the above quote, its construction has a potentially darker portentous flipside. It is the cause and expression of Arthur’s detachment from nature and the land and it could possibly also be seen as an attempt to tame not just nature but also an early stage in clearing away more problematic, less easily governable woodland etc settlements and their beliefs in the old nature based gods. Alongside which, when viewed today, Morgana’s use of magic to defy the natural process of ageing, and the way this brings about her demise, seems like a prescient comment on a contemporary expression of breaking natural cycles, that of plastic surgery and related attempts to prevent (but actually merely semi-hide or obscure) the physical signs of ageing.

Similar, at times Arthurian, themes of the corrupting effects of trying to break the cycle of ageing and problematic issues around creating a “civilised” elite haven which sequesters its inhabitants from the natural world are explored in Boorman’s dystopian science fiction film Zardoz (1974). In that an elite, who live in an impenetrable dome that separates and protects them from the wastelands and suffering in the wider world, have broken the cycle of nature through the scientific attaining of immortality and everlasting youth. However due to this immortality they have become effete and the men impotent, and their lives are filled with an overprivileged ennui, which sometimes finds a literal physical expression in that some of their number fall into a permanent catatonic state. They and their world are eventually destroyed by one of the enforcers the elite relies on to control and exploit the resources of the wastelands, who infiltrates the dome and brings about their destruction. The birth of this enforcer has similarities with the transgressive creation of Arthur and Morgana’s illegitimate son Mordred and him therefore being a bringer of destruction due to his birth breaking natural laws; the enforcer was genetically engineered through a selective breeding process by one of the elite, in order that he would bring about the destruction of their enclosed world and end mankind’s stagnation.

Although Boorman continued to make films after Excalibur, there is a sense in the 2013 documentary Behind the Sword in the Stone (aka Excalibur: Behind the Movie) that after making this film he felt that his work in general was done having, as is said in the documentary’s introduction, turned “a legend into a light for all to see”:

“It had been a lifelong ambition of mine to make this film, and when I saw [the final scene’s] shot of Arthur in the ship going out into the horizon, I felt that I’d completed my work.” (Quoted from Behind the Sword in the Stone, as above)

As with Zardoz, a number of Boorman’s other films have contained elements of, or that have parallels with, Arthurian legend and questing, the mythology of which he has been drawn to since an early age:

“Boorman, as he often mentions in interviews, has been gripped by myth and legend from early childhood, and mythic elements have found their way into virtually all his films… [many of his films prior to Excalibur] are premonitions, or half-submerged echoes, of the central myth that has obsessed him: the cycle of Arthurian legends… that he finally brought to the screen in Excalibur.” (Quoted from “Gone to Earth”, Philip Kemp, Sight and Sound, January 2001.)

Read today the above article on Excalibur is an early gathering together and linking of a number of the themes, films, television dramas etc which have become part of, and points of reference for, contemporary wyrd rural or otherly pastoral and folk horror orientated culture. To a degree the article presages, by almost a decade, the growth of interest in such culture that began to gather pace from approximately 2010 onwards, and through its discussion of related work it places Excalibur in a loosely interconnected lineage of post-war British mythic rural orientated cinema and television:

“In the 1940s and 50s the lush romanticism of such films as Canterbury Tale and Gone to Earth, [were] rooted in loving depictions of rural landscapes and a deeply felt quasi-pagan notion of Englishness… Nigel Kneale explored the interface between folk-myth and science fiction in his Quatermass cycle, as did (mainly for television) the playwright David Rudkin, whose Penda’s Fen… combines visions of such legendary figures as King Penda, the last pagan ruler of England, with a quasi-mystical view of the English landscape… Robin Hardy’s The Wicker Man… gleefully pitted puritanism against paganism in the Scottish isles…” (Quoted from “Gone to Earth”, as above.)

The article comments on how Excalibur is something of an exception in “the realism-obsessed canon of British cinema” in its exploration of the “kind of myth and legend “that have haunted the British imagination in both art and literature for generations”but that “it tends to be left to children’s movies… to put us back in touch with the magical”. Similar could be said for children or young adult orientated British television, particularly in the decade or so that preceded Excalibur’s production, when, for example, Arthurian related myth and magic was more likely to be explored in the likes of the young adult television drama series such as The Changes (1975), Raven (1977), Moon Stallion (1978) and some episodes of the anthology series Shadows (1975-1978), rather than adult orientated dramas.

As with Excalibur, these are productions which seem to stand aside from an almost stereotypical British reserve and embarrassment in the country’s national adult orientated cinema and television, particularly in less genre orientated work, in relation to magical and mythical themes. That such young adult orientated television drama from previous decades as that listed above, and its often surprisingly left of centre and multilayered mystical themes, has become of cultural interest to adults drawn to wyrd rural, hauntological etc culture is perhaps, in part, a reflection of adult orientated television work often not providing all that much space in which mythical and magical themes are explored, or if they are, it is often in a fairly conventional or genre friendly manner. This may also be one of the factors which explain the ongoing and growing interest in the likes of The Wicker Man (1973) and its decidedly adult, heavily layered and research underpinned exploration of mythical folklore.

Boorman has spoken of how he did not set out to create an historically accurate tale but rather intended to set Excalibur in a more imaginary world:

“If there was ever an Arthur… he’s sited in about the sixth century. But the date is the least important thing really. I think of the story, the history, as a myth. The film has to do with mythical truth, not historical truth… So [when making the film] the first trap to avoid is to start worrying about when or whether Arthur existed… [I set] it in a world, a period, of the imagination… trying to suggest a kind of Middle Earth, in Tolkien terms. It’s a contiguous world; it’s like ours but different.” (Quoted from “Excalibur: John Boorman – In Interview”, as above.)

In the above interview, and as also quoted earlier, Boorman says Excalibur’s story is about “man taking over the world on his own terms for the first time”. It is set on the cusp of when the old ways, magic, nature based belief systems, druids etc were receding, when Christianity became dominant and mankind becomes ever more reliant on technology. As Merlin says in the film:

“The days of our kind [i.e. wizards] are numbered. The one God comes to drive out the many gods. The spirit of wood and stream grows silent. It’s the way of things. Yes. It’s a time for men and their ways.”

Bearing this in mind, when famine and pestilence ravage the land in Excalibur it may seem slightly unexpected that it is not to agricultural etc techniques and technology that Arthur turns (although admittedly these would not have been all that advanced in the periods the film draws from) but rather he sends his Knights on a quest for the Grail. However, there is a sense at the end of the film, when he is mortally wounded and undertakes his mystical sea journey, that this quest was the last “hurrah” and reliance on magic, and his departure marks the completion of a changeover into the new ways and beliefs.

At the beginning of this post I described how Excalibur was commercially successful but far removedfrom conventional mainstream blockbuster cinema and had an otherworldly quality. Part of this is its use of mythical and magical themes and tropes but also due to its visual character, which, as also referred to earlier, give it a lavish, unreal, dreamlike quality:

“Excalibur still looks incredible – all sparkling emerald greens and shimmering silver armour. The Excalibur sword itself glows… Boorman and his cinematographer Alex Thomson achieved the effect with green filters over the lighting and even shone [green] lights onto moss to give the film ‘a kind of luminosity… so it felt like a myth rather than a reality,’ Boorman [says in documentary] Excalibur: Behind the Movie. ‘That’s what we were consciously trying to achieve, a kind of mystery magical feeling about it that it was another world.’ (Quoted from “A dream to some, a nightmare to others: sex, magic and myth on the set of Excalibur”, as above.)

As also commented on by Boorman in Excalibur: Behind the Movie, the unreal nature created by the extensive use of coloured lighting was added to by the on location weather during the film’s shoot; it rained almost every day of filming and this meant that there was constant moisture in the air, which refracted the light and gave it a kind of softness. The resulting imagery in the film often creates a sense that you are viewing events through the subtle haze of a dream.

Accompanying these light related characteristics, there is an almost magical sense of the passing of time. At one point Morgana kisses her young son and as their heads part you see that a decade or so has passed and Mordred is now a young man; when Uther thrusts Excalibur into the stone and dies the film cuts straight to the same scene but almost two decades later, the season has changed from winter to spring and the trees have their leaves, and as the camera pans it reveals that a settlement has sprung up around the sword and stone.

Related to the sense of Excalibur creating and exploring an unreal and mystical world, is the previously discussed way in which the film stands apart from the tendency towards realism in adult orientated British cinema through its exploration of myth and magic. Connected to this, the film also stands at a remove from much of British cinema in the abovementioned use of non-realist lighting, the ambitious nature of its costume and set design and the general epic scale of the film and its story. In relation to some aspects of this, its creation of a mythical, dream-like world in the British landscape shares some similarities with Powell and Pressburger’s film Gone to Earth (1950), which was referred to in a previous quote about a loosely interconnected mythic rural strand in British cinema and television:

“[Gone to Earth] has a Wizard of Oz-esque, Hollywood coating of beauty, glamour and quiet surreality which in part is created by the vibrant, rich colours of the Technicolor film process that it shares with that 1939 film… Often cinematic views of the British landscape are quite realist, possibly dour or even bleak in terms of atmosphere and their visual appearance and so Gone to Earth with its high end Hollywood razzle-dazzle which is contained in its imagery is a precious breath of fresh air.” (Quoted from A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields.)

There is a further intertwining of Gone to Earth and Excalibur in their depiction of worlds where the old ways, beliefs and magic still exist but are being removed from view by new beliefs etc, as Gone to Earth centres around a free spirited young woman who is still very much steeped in older rural ways of life and folkloric spells and charms.

The epic scale and sense of a heightened or imaginary reality in Excalibur’s story and the world it creates is added to by the film’s use of music. The soundtrack includes

multiple instances of composer Richard Wagner’s often highly dramatic music, whose vast four opera Ring cycle, written from 1848-1874, Boorman says in his Adventures of a Suburban Boy biography that he went to see as part of his preparations for making Excalibur:

“[The Ring cycle’s] Germanic myth has many elements in common with the Grail legend. Wagner’s music… inspired my writing and eventually insinuated its way into the movie.” (Quoted from Adventures of a Suburban Boy, as above.)

The soundtrack also includes Carl Orff’s distinctive and both ominous and darkly uplifting choral work “O Fortuna” from his cantata Carmina Burana, which he composed in 1935-1936. This particular piece is based on a collection of 24 medieval poems, and in a possibly serendipitous manner with Excalibur’s story, the lyrics are a complaint about Fortuna, the goddess of fortune and personification of luck in Roman and Greek mythology, and the inexorable fate that rules both gods and mortals.

“O Fortuna” was first used in cinema on Excalibur’s soundtrack and has since gone on to be widely known after being used in dozen’s of films, television programmes, video games etc, alongside being extensively sampled. In Excalibur it rousingly soundtrack’s the revitalised Arthur and his Knights on horse back as they ride over Camelot’s drawbridge and then through a surreally heavily white blossomed corridor of trees on the way towards Arthur’s final battle with his son Mordred’s army.



Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:


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The Nightmare Man Part 1 – Cold War Paranoia, The Island as Restorative Balm and Unsettling “Other”: Wanderings 42/52

The Nightmare Man is a British science fiction horror tinged four part mini-series originally broadcast in 1981, adapted from David Wiltshire’s 1978 novel Child of Vodyanoi.

It is set on a small-ish remote Scottish island where the inhabitants start to be attacked and murdered by an unknown assailant with the beyond human strength to literally tear their victims apart and non-human characteristics and for a while during the series there is various debate about whether the attacker could be of alien origin or even a previously undiscovered sea creature or monster.

As the series progresses the island becomes almost completely isolated from the outside world and any possible external help as a heavy fog descends making nagivation to or from it impossible. Radio signals appear to possibly be jammed and the phone lines are cut; as is often the case in fantastical horror orientated work remote rural areas are shown as being the “other” and detached from civilisation and its extensive infrastructure and support of the forces of law and order, something which is further enhanced in the series in a Wicker Man-esque manner by the island location.

Four local police officers are left to try and contain and capture the killer on 35 miles of largely rural landscape made inaccessible due to the inclement weather conditions, although there does appear to be a curious amount of near-military and armed support for them; the local dentist is an ex army-partrooper, one of the local holiday makers is a military man, the local coastguard are armed and their hunt for the attacker the police are able to collect together and lead bands of nearly forty locals who possess their own firearms.

In the UK the ownership of firearms has traditionally been largely heavily restricted and limited, particularly in urban areas but the fact that so many of the locals in this rural coastal area have easy access to them subconsciously provides a further sense of remove from more mainstream mainland society; although the ownership of such weapons is likely to have been largely due to sport and/or agricultural pest control reasons, this is not made implicit in the series and so the viewer is left with a sense of such areas being almost frontier like places where normal societal restrictions and expectations do not hold such a sway as in urban areas.

Shot largely on location and recorded on video the series’ imagery and colour palette has a murky, low definition appearance and is all subdued greys and greens that are distinctive of a large proportion of drama from the 1970s and 1980s; also much of the series is shot at night, in daytime shadowed underlit locations and/or through heavy fog and it is often difficult to fully make out what is happening onscreen. This is accompanied by the viewer being kept in the dark about the attacker’s origins, rationale or even what it is and for a large part of the series the attacker is also not shown onscreen which adds to the sense of menace and tension.

Further heightening this when the attacker does appear the viewer is shown the scene from its viewpoint and the image becomes heavily tinted with a red haze, accompanied by laboured, heavy and unnatural sounding breathing.

This is a technically simple device that is far removed from today’s CGI-heavy large budget special effects and although the physical aspects and dismembering are referred to by the characters there is little onscreen violence and no gore but the presence of the attacker still creates a strong sense of threat and terror utilising minimal resources and without the use of overly explicit graphic imagery.

Although the rural coastal landscape is presented in a somewhat bleak or dour manner this is still the type of area associated with calm, rest, a steady way of life and vacations, which is referred to in the series in particular by one of the lead characters who has returned to live there after London and says that she knows she will live on the island forever as it is home and where she belongs. The contrast with such day-to-day calm and normal expectations and the sudden almost alien seeming appearance of the attacker’s red hazed vision makes for shocking and unsettling viewing.

The contrasting aspects of the restorative nature of the landscape and the events that take place there is given further expression in the closing sections and credits; the ends of the first three episodes freeze on a still of these red hazed attacks, the discovery of a victim and the fear of an onlooker seeing an attack who is also a potential victim, all of which then fade into the gentle waves of a grey misty rural cliff top coastline as the credits roll. Once the theme music fades out there are a few brief seconds where the only noise is a very lonely and isolated seeming recording of the wind.

Later on in the series the attacker’s origins are discovered to be rooted in the international tensions and arms technology research of the time, which adds a plausible period aspect of Cold War related paranoia and also layers the sense of threat in the series with real world worries and fears; it is explained that a NATO submarine was trailing a Soviet submarine and there was a collision and a nuclear accident, the fallout from which caused the malfunction of a small Soviet experimental craft called a Vodyanoid and the irradiation of its pilot, who has been genetically modified to increase his strength and was cybernetically connected via a brain implant with his craft.

The Vodyanoid’s pilot had made an emergency landing on the island; it is explained in the plot that disconnecting from the Vodyanoid normally required skilled handlers, who because of the situation are not present and so when the pilot disembarks he literally leaves part of his brain in the craft’s cybernetics, with him being left as a deranged madman operating only on a remaining instinct to kill that has been honed and enhanced over years of military training.

This is told by the holidaying military man who after attempting to present himself as a British military leader and placing the island under martial law in an attempt to control the situation is ultimately revealed to be the leader of a specialised Soviet military unit, which comes to the island in order to reclaim the Vodyanoid craft and hopefully avoid an international incident. The craft is revealed to be carrying a biological warfare weapon which has leaked and the Soviets supply the local population with an antidote.

This aspect of the plot further heightens the series’ connection with Cold War paranoia; the “nobody wins” aspects of suspected biological warfare and the sense of hidden subterranean international activity by the Soviets, alongside which UK national sovereignty is invaded with impunity and without effective resistance by a a Soviet military taskforce. Also the pilot of the Vodyanoid leaves a radioactive trail due to his being caught in the blast from the nuclear submarine collision and when in the series a geiger counter is activated by his presence there is a sense of the nuclear dangers of the Cold War coming into contact with the day-to-day world…

To be continued in Part 2 (which, depending on when you are reading this, may not yet be online).



  1. The Nightmare Man DVD
  2. A very particular period snapshot: the opening and closing continuity announcements for the opening episode of BBC1’s 1981 thriller series “The Nightmare Man”, posted by The TV Museum


Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:

  1. The Nightmare Man Part 2 – Frankenstein-like Meddling, Vodaynoid Myths and Exploratory Portals: Wanderings 43/52
  2. Day #183/365: Steam engine time and remnants of transmissions before the flood
  3. Day #212/365: With but a tap and a swoosh; the loss of loss and paper encapturings of once fleeting televisual flickerings…