Andy Serkis and Jonathan Cavendish’s The Imaginarium and Urban Myth Films have announced a reimagining of The Wicker Man. The 1973 film, which starred Christopher Lee in one of his signature roles as Lord Summerisle, Edward Woodward, and Britt Ekland, remains a masterpiece of the horror genre and has influenced countless directors and film stars. Instead of a film, the property will now be developed as a television series, with War of the Worlds writer Howard Overman having written the scripts.
However, remaking such an iconic and well-loved horror film is fraught with pitfalls. The makers should be wary of effacing the elements that made the original such an irresistible, compelling, and haunting watch. Here’s what they need to get right.
The Locale Needs to Have the Right Atmosphere
The premise behind The Wicker Man follows a stinking rich Victorian scientist who engineers plants and trees that grow far further north than the climate allows. His descendants maintain his vision, turning the local community away from Christianity and towards paganism in the process. Because of this, it is vital that the locale is correct. Anthony Shaffer’s original drew on elements of Celtic folklore for inspiration, so the setting of a remote island in Scotland’s Outer Hebrides was integral to its success.
Depending on how fast and loose the makers want to be with the premise, any sufficiently remote community will suffice for a remake. The 2006 version of the story was located in America in rural Washington State. But the milieu ought to be one that is both plausible and offers support for the neopagan overtones that lend The Wicker Man its idiosyncratic atmosphere.
The Lead Actor Must Be Right for the Part
The cast for the remake has yet to be announced, but make no mistake: the emotional fulcrum of The Wicker Man is not Lord Summerisle but Howie. He is the upright police sergeant who makes it his business to root out what he sees as the immoral and unethical behavior of Summerisle’s inhabitants. It is crucial that this piece of casting is done right.
The role was originated by Edward Woodward, who is now chiefly remembered for his work as Robert McCall in the classic 1980s spy TV series The Equalizer, which earned him no less than five Emmy nominations. (The series was rebooted for the second time last year, with Queen Latifah in the leading role, and was renewed for its third and fourth seasons this spring.) Woodward’s faultless performance as Howie — equal parts righteous indignation and sexual repression, with a hefty dose of Protestant work ethic thrown in — lent poignancy and feeling to the film’s fateful final scenes.
On the other hand, the makers would do well to steer clear of the sort of treatment adopted in the misfiring 2006 remake, with a miscast Nicolas Cage in the remake’s equivalent of the Howie role. Despite some hefty acting talent, including Academy Award winner Ellen Burstyn (Pieces of a Woman), Frances Conroy (Joker, The Power of the Dog), and Molly Parker (Lost in Space), it received almost uniformly negative reviews.
The film did not fare well upon its release or since, and Cage has claimed that the intention was to make a humorous film. Either way, Cage’s unquestionable talents simply weren’t suitable for the movie, and the makers will need to put some thought into their choice of the leading actor.
Don’t Mess up the Ending
At its heart, The Wicker Man offers a detached meditation on the nature of Christian belief and paganistic sacrifice, ideas that are at odds with each other for much of the film, only to come together in the chilling final act.
It’s a neat dynamic that should be replicated in the TV series. The remake has to stick the landing, and it’s not really about trying to maintain the suspense — people who haven’t seen the original will find it surprisingly easy to get spoilered, given the iconic status of the film’s climax — but about staying true to the storytelling aesthetic of the original.
Anyone with concerns about viewers’ foreknowledge of the ending need go no further than Titanic to see that, if handled well, it hardly matters whether we know how things turn out in the end ahead of time. Moviegoers may watch films for the first time to be surprised, but they watch them again to appreciate them as fully as possible. So it will be with a Wicker Man remake, and the intrigue will surely derive not from what will happen but from the circumstances that will fall into place to get us there. How will the neophyte tiptoeing their way through a group of sexually uninhibited neopagans fare? Time will tell.