My hope is that some of you are familiar with The Wicker Man from the 1973 movie starring Christopher Lee. My fear is that most of you are familiar with The Wicker Man from the 2006 movie starring Nicolas Cage. Horror fans praise the original as a cult classic, but critics detest the remake, which holds a 14% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and was nominated for five Razzie Awards.
Robin Hardy, the 82-year old director (and uncredited author) of the original, sued to have his name removed from the remake, but has been working for several years on two additional movies related to his version. Envisioned not as sequels or remakes, rather as part of a “thematic trilogy”, the second movie in this series, The Wicker Tree, was released for home video earlier this month. I hate to say it, but I think it’s worse than the Nicolas Cage remake.
I really like the potential of The Wicker Tree, especially when referred to by its original name, Cowboys for Christ. Although I didn’t realize Scotland was an area starving for missionaries from the United States, it’s an interesting setting for naïve young Christians to stumble into a bloodthirsty pagan community. Better executed, it could be a clever commentary about religious hypocrisy; unfortunately, such originality is only suggested in a couple of fleeting moments. In most other parts, silliness, bad acting and ridiculous dialogue prevail.
Beth Boothby (how’s that for a name?), played by newcomer Brittania Nicol, is a former soft core porn actress turned Christian country singer who drags her cowboy boyfriend, Steve (Henry Garrett) with her to Scotland, sporting their chastity rings. At Beth’s first rejection of horny Steve’s sexual advances, you know he’s going to be tempted by the country’s free-spirited beauties. In fact, it happens so quickly and with so little regret, it’s milked for no drama at all.
Their obvious fates, telegraphed by their unbelievable naivety, couldn’t come soon enough. I couldn’t wait for one or both of them to go up in flames in the May Day sacrifice. I will say, though, there’s a slight switch of the ritual that provides a fresh concept, and there’s a welcome downbeat ending. Since they occur in the conclusion, there’s no possible way to squander them; that is, unless they tacked on a post-credits scene. I doubt it, but I didn’t stick around to find out.
There is one mildly interesting character, a crazed taxidermist. Like all interesting things in The Wicker Tree, though, he’s squandered. This time, the impact is lessened as his character goes comedic, almost slapstick. Even wackier is the point of view shot from a raven that is used, not once, but over and over again. If this angle is supposed to represent something, it’s lost on me.
A final warning: don’t believe that the appearance of Christopher Lee is at all a selling point. He does show up, but only for a couple sentences of dialogue in a brief, fuzzy flashback. I didn’t expect a large role from the aging horror legend; however, I expected it to have more significance. He’s neither the same character he played in The Wicker Man nor even particularly relevant to the new story.
Ultimately, The Wicker Tree plays like a badly modernized version of The Wicker Man, even though that’s supposedly not its intention. But maybe its failure proves there are some movies that should be left alone. I mean, if Nicolas Cage couldn’t do it six years ago, who possibly could?