Review from ShockTillYouDrop / Susan Granger

Exclusive Set Report: The Wicker Tree Grows in Scotland

“What most people don’t realize is that when British Lion Films was sold out from under [the leadership of] Peter Snell, my film, The Wicker Man, was buried,” begins writer-director Robin Hardy, who is hard at work on its long-awaited sequel, The Wicker Tree, shooting outside of Edinburgh in Scotland.

wicker-tree-set1“It was a classic show business ploy for tax purposes, and my gut instinct was to distribute the film in the United States. So I contacted Roger Corman, who was enthusiastic, but he wasn’t offering the $300,000 that [the consortium] could get as a tax shelter if they just dumped it. Soon after, Cinefantastique came out with 37 pages of photos, calling it the ‘Citizen Kane of horror films.’ A group at Tulane University in New Orleans decided to
adopt
The Wicker Man as a project, raising $5-6 million, and Christopher Lee offered to come to the United States and work with me on publicity. We went to film festivals all over the country, bicycling the print from city to city, getting ‘boffo’ kudos from Variety and other critics while, in London, those businessmen were still trying to bury it and discredit me and Peter Snell.”
Eventually, The Wicker Man became a cult classic, but its nasty, confrontational history still rankles Hardy, who openly admits that he’s partly motivated by revenge.

“Factoring in also is that Shepperton Studios lost the original negative, at least that’s what they said. No one really believed that and, through various circuitous channels with the help of the original editor, we were able to obtain 93% of it. Then dear Roger Corman came through for us. He’d kept the print we’d sent him and he’d only screened it once. So, frame-by-frame, we were able to restore the seven minutes that had been lost. That’s what’s in the Director’s Cut DVD, which was released only about eight years ago. All-in-all, I only made 5,000 (British) pounds from The Wicker Man and I don’t think Christopher Lee was ever paid.”

wicker-tree-set2About The Wicker Man remake starring Nicolas Cage, Hardy is openly disdainful, noting, “It was a complete failure. There was nothing enchanting. No fun. They just didn’t get it. There was that pointless transfer of male to female; the music is Muzak, elevator music; and Cage makes a complete fool of himself. Christopher Lee told me that, after the film tanked, Cage happened to meet him in Hungary and he told Lee that they had no idea what went wrong. Frankly, I think [writer] Tony Shaffer cursed them, like the remake of Sleuth, which was an awful, dreadful film.”

Since 1973, Robin Hardy has been involved in many corporate ventures, along with writing books and designing historical theme parks: “My life has not been empty without making films.” He has eight children and has lost three out of five wives to cancer. For the past 10 years, he’s been married to a French Canadian, Victoria Webster, and they maintain homes in Somerset (UK), Corsica (France), Quebec (Canada), along with a flat in London. Since a Vermont family farm, now belonging to his children, is only an hour’s drive from their place across the border in Canada, he visits the USA often.

Yet for nine years, in the back of his mind “a spiritual sequel” has been lurking.

“Right now, the horror film genre is in a complete rut,” he asserts. “People are looking for something different, and the thriller film fantastique is based on the idea that you can incorporate ordinary life – songs, music, humor – where, underneath, something sinister lurks. [German filmmaker] Leni Riefenstahl disguised the horror of the Third Reich in Triumph of the Will (1934), which was commissioned by Hitler to document the Nuremberg Party rally. And we’re doing the same kind of thing again in this new film.”

In The Wicker Tree, Beth is a successful pop music singer and devout member of the “Cowboys for Christ” Protestant church in Texas. She and her fiancé Steve, who wear silver “purity” rings, are dedicating a year of their lives to missionary work among the “heathens” in the small village of Tressock in the lowlands of Scotland. After performing a concert at a local cathedral there, they are befriended by Laird (Lord) Lachlan and his wife Delia, who invite them to join the May Day celebration. Lovely Beth becomes Queen of the May, while Steve is honored as the best-looking, cleverest young man around, known the Laddie. What they don’t realize is that they’ve agreed to become an integral part of a pagan rite worshipping the ancient Celtic goddess Sulis.

“In this film, I want to show how sympathetic characters can unwittingly be drawn into a seemingly friendly, hospitable community in which something frightful is going on underneath the surface. That’s what happened in Germany, of course. They’d all read ‘Mein Kampf,’ yet no one acknowledged what was really going on. Like Hitler, Sir Lachlan Morrison is a dictator with charm and charisma. In this case, there’s religious elitism as well as social elitism.”

And Robin Hardy knows his subject matter well, having written “Cowboys for Christ,” which was published in the UK.

“There’s a real Cowboys for Christ church outside of Fort Worth, Texas. I visited and listened to what was going on. It was flamboyant and, therefore, fascinating, given that in Britain there’s a strong animosity to evangelism. Brits don’t talk about their faith; it’s a taboo. In translating the novel to a screenplay, I gave back stories to each of the characters, as one would, and the two young Americans are portrayed as very sympathetic but, basically, the plotline is the same, as much as possible.”

After coaxing British Lion chairman and CEO Peter Snell out of retirement to become his producer, Hardy and Snell joined forces with Peter Watson-Wood and his partner, Alastair Gourlay, to bring The Wicker Tree to the screen for a tight $3 million budget. Last year, Hardy shot some exteriors in Texas and had preliminary talks with Christopher Lee and Joan Collins. Then Lee developed back problems when he tripped over a cable on a movie set in Mexico, leaving him unable to tackle the physically demanding role of Lachlan, and Joan Collins made other plans for this summer.

wicker-tree-set3So Hardy chose Scottish actor Graham McTavish (Rambo) who says, “I feel in some ways, a great responsibility to Christopher Lee, to Robin and to the legacy of The Wicker Man. As someone who was inspired by that film, it’s tremendously exciting and challenging to fill the shoes of Christopher Lee – and I only hope I can do it. For an actor, Lachlan is a role you seize with both hands.”

Christopher Lee fans should note, however, that he is planning to appear in The Wicker Tree in a pivotal and instantly recognizable supporting role. And Jacqueline Leonard is Lachlan’s inscrutable wife Delia.

As the twentysomething Americans, Beth and Steve, Hardy cast Brittania Nichol and Henry Garrett.

“My early life in South Carolina was somewhat similar to Beth’s,” muses Brittania, whose aunt (Leslie Nichol) was in the London stage version of “Mamma Mia” and introduced her to musical theater: “I was raised in a very religious household of non-denominational Christians, very close to Baptist. When I read the script, I immediately felt, ‘I know this girl.’ I loved The Wicker Man and my father, who is English, had a major crush on Britt Ekland, so I’m very happy to be a part of Robin’s vision.”

“I can really relate to Steve,” adds Henry. “My mother is from Bristol and lives in Ghana, South Africa, and my father’s family is Dutch. His parents settled in Texas, so I know the territory well. The script is awesome and our staying in Dalhousie Castle in Scotland makes it all seem very real. This morning, I took a run through the forest, pretending I was being chased like the Laddie.”

As uninhibited, seductive Lolly (think of Britt Eckland in The Wicker Man), Hardy picked Honeysuckle Weeks, best known as Samantha Stewart on TV’s “Foyle’s War.”

wicker-tree-set4“This is a very different role for me,” Honeysuckle confesses. “My characters up to this point have been very repressed, barely been kissed. I’ve played a vicar’s daughter for the past eight years, so being Lolly, a child of nature, is a chance to let it all hang out.” (As for her unusual name, she explains the scent of honeysuckle was strong at the time of her birth.)

Scottish actor Clive Russell is Lachlan’s loyal servant, Beame, whose specialty is taxidermy: “As it happens, in Clive Barker’s Book of Blood, my job was to skin people. But in The Wicker Tree, Beame is not an overt menace. He’s simply trying to be a good butler to Sir Lachlan and his wife. For him, skinning people is like peeling a peach, and there’s something quite delightful about the ordinariness of the villagers, as opposed to the macabre undercurrents.”

And for motivational speaker/hypnotist/author/actor James Mapes, the role the Cowboys for Christ church’s tap-dancing, guitar-strumming, mandolin-playing Reverend Moriarty presents “the biggest challenge I’ve ever had and the greatest adventure.” (James Mapes is my husband, which is why I was in Scotland.)

“What most people don’t realize is that there are 30 pieces of music in The Wicker Tree and they’re integral, propelling the story,” notes Robin Hardy. “Keith Easdale, who’s from Glasgow and lives in Italy, has composed 23 vocal numbers and six or seven town band numbers, plus four incidental pieces. They’re part pagan/part Christian with lyrics taken from the great Scottish poet Robert Burns, Shakespeare, T.S. Eliot and the like. When Beth is in the cathedral in Scotland, she’s singing a bluegrassy version of ‘The Magnificat’ and the final song is kind of like ABBA’s ‘I Believe in Angels.’ It’s always been interesting to me how important music is in Judeo-Christian services. But the Islamic religion doesn’t have that; perhaps the Prophet just wasn’t into music.”

Rich in Scottish history, various locations form a unique backdrop for the plot, including the scenic 7,000-acre estate known as Arniston House, owned by descendants of the aristocratic Dundas family who were granted the lands near South Queensferry in the 1160s. Nearby is Dalhousie Castle, dating from the 13th century and inexorably linked with the history of the Ramsay family. The picturesque cathedral where Lachlan hears Beth sing is St. Mary’s Chapel, commissioned in 1843 for the private worship of the Duke of Dalkeith and his Duchess.

“I’ve never been into the film-making infra-structure,” Hardy admits. “What I write doesn’t come across on the page to the average studio executive. So much is in the visuality and the music. What I do breaks the rules. In Hollywood, by the end of the first act, something major must happen. In my scripts, it doesn’t. I like to slowly build dread and suspicion. It isn’t until the end of the second act that you’re certain that something awful is happening. You fear it – but you don’t know what ‘it’ is. It’s not like whodunit but what the ‘dunit’ is going to be. The final act is, as Shakespeare would say, ‘Horror on horror’s head,’ because ‘The Laddie is like a sacrament – the body – the blood.’ As for Beth, another fate awaits her.”

wicker-tree-set5At age 80, Robin Hardy shows no signs of slowing down: “I don’t feel my age particularly. I’ve got several more projects I’m working on, including a third part of the pagan trilogy, ‘The Twilight of the Gods,’ set in Iceland, reaching back to Wagner’s Ring Cycle. The Scandinavians had no written language when they landed in Iceland but they had a great oral tradition, great sagas, and that’s what inspires this, as the country of Iceland becomes a giant theme park under the aegis of a studio like Disney or Universal.”

“It’s not difficult for a conglomerate to take over a land of 300,000 people. Problem is: the Nordic gods don’t like the trivialization of their traditions and people start disappearing,” he continues. “The news is suppressed, of course, and all is denied, just like with the Iraq War, and the studio basically doesn’t care. But Icelanders, even the best educated, believe in fairies, and that fantasy is an extra dimension. You know how – in Wagner – the Rhine River rises and engulfs the stage? In Iceland, there’s a volcano that’s covered by a glacier. Occasionally, it melts on the underside. Basic geology. Huge geysers come up and water engulfs the countryside and the gods get the last word. Like so much, it’s based on truth.”

Quick introduction

Hey everyone, I’m Packard Snell, professional editor and this is the restored official website of one of my favourite movies of all time: The Wicker Tree film series. You can find all the info about ‘The Wicker Tree’ movie in the main menu: Synopsis, Buy the DVD & Trailer. I will also feature in this review section my personal reviews of similar films (in my opinion) worth mentioning. Plus movie reviews from the cast members, production personal etc. If you any questions or suggestions please send me a message through the Contact Form or if you are just looking to read a little more About Me.

Hope you have a blast!

~ Packard

 

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Movie Review: Cuban Fury – The Salsa Amsterdam Scene Unites With London

Welcome back everyone! This morning I woke up still excited from last night as I’ve watched the brilliant movie Cuban Fury (for the fourth time I think already…) about Salsa dancing! I sat down behind the computer and was burning to write a review about it for you guys. The atmosphere, the music, the actors, the humor… Epic combination, loved it till the end every time.

To get everything to make sense I must first include why I’m such a big fan of this salsa movie. I have been living in Amsterdam, the Netherlands for quite some time and I fell madly in love with the Salsa Amsterdam scene during my stay there. The beautiful people, the fast paced music and challenging yourself to learn new moves is just right up my alley.
All right, let’s not bore you with my story any longer and get right to it! ‘The’ Salsa movie of the Decade, Cuban Fury! The movie starts with the streets of Amsterdam where a young boy is practicing his salsa moves together with his sister. After quite some rehearsals they actually become really good and start winning a lot of competition. As happens, especially with youths, people who are or behave differently then the norm are made fun of and after a brutal incident with bullies the young boy instantly stops with his salsa lessons.

Salsa Amsterdam

The Movie fast-forwards 20 years into the future and you see the ex salsa dancer in an office job, pretty much a lot, overweight. His life sucks and his sister keeps encouraging him to change his ways but he’s stuck with a boring life.

 

Then one day everything changes as a new woman starts at work, which he falls madly in love with and what do you know! She’s a salsa dancer. Kind of corny but in the movie it works out pretty good. He starts taking his salsa lessons in his favorite Amsterdam dance school again to impress her in Cuban Fury. If it works I’m not going to tell, guess you will have to see the money for your self.

 

Hope you enjoyed this article about my Salsa experiences in Amsterdam and catch you later!

 

Movie Review: Beat Kings Documentary – The Birth of Hip Hop & Drum Samples

Hey everyone. This week I wanted to post a review I did a couple of years ago on a documentary that made a big impression on me called: Beat Kings Documentary – The Birth of Hip Hop & Drum Samples

 Hip Hop Drum Samples

Personal experiences with Hip Hop growing up

Now I must admit I have not ‘strictly’ limited myself to movies, I’m a crazy Hip Hop junkie as well. When I found out this documentary was coming out in 2007, my heart skipped a beat. A little embarrassed looking back but when I was growing up in London, I tried my luck at rapping a couple of years. Can you imagine that?! Haha! A little pimple faced white kid trying to rap. I really had no talent for it unfortunately but I kept at it for a couple years determined not to give in to racial stereotypes and release my inner creative person.

Career as Producer

I gradually started to realize I was not very good at and switched to music production, trying to create some Hip Hop beats. I still remember to this day downloading my first drum sample from the realdrumsamples site and starting up my computer eager to change the music scene in London. As you can guess that didn’t really pan out but it never stopped me from gathering quite the collection of hip hop drum samples. I still have them stashed away on some dustry hard drive in my mom’s basement. Good times!

The Documentary

 When the documentary starts it focuses on iconic hip hop heavyweights (who’s drum samples collections far outweigh mine, as they’ve been at it for 20+ years) such as DJ Premier, Marley Marl and Easy Mo Be. The impact that these ‘cats’ as referenced to in Hip Hop is fundamental, as they really paved the way for so many current Hip Hop artists and producers.

Keynote Speakers

 After introducing all the keynote speakers such as Kanye West and Swizz Beats they move on to production techniques, where to find free drum samples and production equipment. All kinds of old beats rise to the stage such as the infamous Akai MPC 3000 and MPC 60 MK 2. It’s crazy to think how much genius went into those machines and it has become almost impossible to find spare parts as the devices have been used all up in those old dusty production studios.

Ending

 The third and last part focuses more on the current climate of the hip hop production scene and the evolution of the best drum samples, because the drum sounds nowadays have changed quite a bit since their inception in 1970. It still blows my mind to think of the time and effort it took how to make beats, its incredible! The reason I wanted to tell everyone about this documentary might be a little selfish, simply because it just brings up so many good memories. But if you are not familiar with the Hip hop Genre or have not even ever heard about drum samples or even know what Hip Hop drum samples are I would highly recommend watching it. Don’t quote me on this but you can even watch the full thing on YouTube online for free.

 Why not try something different and expand your horizon on this right. Dive into a new world of grimey New York street in the 1980’s and 1990’s and be amazed by the genius and tips & tricks that these producers had to go through to record their drum samples from vinyl records and spend days in a dirty basement.

 Have a great one!

Cheers!
Packard

 

Movie Info:

  • Actors: Various Artists
  • Directors: Beat Kings
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Color, NTSC
  • Language: English
  • Aspect Ratio:33:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: NR (Not Rated)
  • Studio: Nature Sounds
  • DVD Release Date: January 23, 2007
  • Run Time: 66 minutes

 

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Review from Dread Central

Dread CentralFinally fans who are eagerly anticipating the official follow-up film to Robin Hardy’s classic The Wicker Man, entitled The Wicker Tree, have a place to go online and worship!

That’s right, kids! Quicker than you can chant “PHALLIC SYMBOL”, you can now visit the official The Wicker Tree website by clicking on the snazzy image you see below.

The Wicker Tree reunites the director with legendary actor Christopher Lee for a story “in the style of” the 1973 film. Keep in mind this is NOT a direct sequel, but it does explore similar themes.

The plot for the film centers on Beth and Steve, a gospel singer and her cowboy boyfriend, both Christian members of a no-sex-before-marriage pact they call ‘the silver ring thing’, leave Texas to preach door-to-door in Scotland. When, after initial abuse, they are welcomed with joy and elation to Tressock, the border fiefdom of the sinister Lachlan Morrison, they assume their hosts want to simply hear more about Jesus. How innocent and wrong they are.

Review taken (and layout slightly altered) from DreadCentral.com

See also the review from ShockTillYouDrop HERE