Monday, October 15, 2012

The Wicker Tree

The 1973 movie The Wicker Man is probably one of the more beloved cult movies of the horror genre. It had a very spotty distribution record outside of the U.K., and in some places only made it to the screen after 10 years or more.) The story of an upright, religious, and sexually repressed policeman who investigates the case of a missing girl in the Hebrides and has his faith challenged and his life taken by the pagan locals was very daring for its time. Home video increased its notoriety, and for years the original writer-director, Robin Hardy, has struggled to make a sequel. A big-budget remake was released in 2006 that has become legendary for how awful it is. Look for youtube clips of Nicholas Cage wearing a bear suit and screaming “Oh no! Not the bees!” if you dare.

In 2010, Hardy finally succeeded in filming a sequel, entitled The Wicker Tree, adapted from a novel he wrote called Cowboys for Christ. Was it worth the wait? Let’s just saying I was really missing those bees before the end.

Steve and Beth (Brittania Nicol and Henry Garret) are two sincere young Christians living in Texas, where all the men wear cowboy hats and everyone speaks with an exaggerated Southern accent. Beth used to be a successful country singer with songs about drinkin’ and whores (like all good country songs) but she saw the light and now sings turgid religious songs. Steve and Beth are engaged and wear silver rings as a promise they won’t have sex until they are married. They are the people you hope you won’t have to sit next to at the company picnic, but end up having to do so anyway.

Scotland, it seems, has a chronic shortage of evangelical Christians, so there is a Lend-Lease type program called Cowboys for Christ that sends Protestant missionaries over to witness to the heathens. It’s a shame Scotland doesn’t have Protestant churches of their own. They could even call their church The Church of Scotland if they wanted to. But, I digress. Beth and Steve arrive in Tressock, Scotland and begin preaching and singing to those sinners. They learn the locals worship Sulis, a version of Minerva, and accept it calmly, rather than freaking the hell out like real evangelicals would. A Scottish hussy flashes her boobs at Steve, his chastity ring flies off at the speed of light, and he begins the forbidden boning. He could have remained pure if he hadn’t traveled to Scotland, the land where women have breasts.

A tender, romantic moment

It turns out the pagan-ness is the result of some manipulation by the local bigwig. He owns the local nuclear power plant, which has been leaking a peculiar kind of radiation which apparently makes men sterile without any other effects. Lest the townsfolk turn against the power plant since they can’t have children, he has convinced them to wear silly masks and practice cannibalism and human sacrifice to restore their fertility. Groundskeeper Willy would be offended by this depiction of the Scots. In due course Beth gets her bare butt buttered (!), Steve is part of a very special meal celebration, a tree gets torched, and Beth has a chance to escape if she’s smart enough to do so. I’ll leave you to guess how that turns out.

This is a terrible movie, and it’s hard to believe the same person who made the first one is responsible for this as well. The stereotypes of Texans and Scots are painful to watch, and it has the depth of a puddle. The original presented the culture clash of an authentically religious Christian against true pagans, but here, no one really seems to be much of a believer. You know all along where this is heading, and the only suspense is how they get there. Hardy is supposedly working on a third film in the series, but my expectations are now low.

Christopher Lee was supposed to be one of the leads in The Wicker Tree just as in the earlier film, but an injury restricted him to a completely unnecessary cameo.

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