Since the mid-1990s, the pop culture status of Robin Hardy's 1973 film The Wicker Man has swollen to such monstrous proportions that it is now difficult to remember a time when this modest, low budget shocker was not widely regarded as a huge cult classic of cinema, and one of the greatest movies ever produced in Britain. Effectively offbeat, literate, and featuring excellent performances from leads Edward Woodward and Christopher Lee, the movie is nevertheless chronically overrated by fans and critics, as it is also technically nondescript, filled with contrivances and silly plot holes, features some quite awful supporting turns from actresses who really shouldn't have been cast at all (the key females are the Australian Diane Cilento, the Swedish Britt Ekland, and the Polish Ingrid Pitt, all playing supposedly Scottish women), and has some pretty uninspired direction from Hardy himself (it was his first movie, and he has made little of note in the decades since). Mauled in the editing room by British Lion's head-honcho Michael Deeley and seen for many years only in an abridged version designed to be a supporting feature for Don't Look Now, the original `vision' of Hardy and screenwriter Anthony Shaffer is today widely available on DVD in the form of a re-assembled 99 minute cut. Now that the style and content of The Wicker Man have been thoroughly aped in remakes (2007's dire Nicolas Cage version is one of the worst films of the last ten years), rip-offs (1996's unremarkable Darklands), and even TV comedies (The League of Gentlemen's entire premise is arguably based on it), it seems a little odd that the movie's original creator would produce an `official' follow-up; however, it appears that Hardy was intent on re-establishing his ownership of The Wicker Man when he produced 2011's `semi-sequel' The Wicker Tree (an adaptation of his lousy 2006 novel Cowboys for Christ).
Running along similar lines to the Shaffer / Hardy original, this story again sees hard-core Christians lured to a remote spot by a Pagan community with more on their minds than just chanting and eating blackberries from canal towpaths. This time, it is a pair of young Americans in the shape of a world-famous pop star-turned born again bible basher and her cowboy boyfriend who fall afoul of the Scottish cultists, their seemingly innocent invitation to join in the May Day celebrations inevitably leading them towards a similar fate to that which befell Woodward's unfortunate Sgt. Howie. Despite the contemporary setting and references, it is the almost verbatim repeat of the 1973 movie's plot which proves the new film's biggest problem; the only amendment Hardy has made to its premise is in the method by which these innocents are made to `play the game', with the final twist obvious to anyone to who has seen the original (which is just about everybody). The initial, idiotic idea of a fictional Britney Spears spreading `The Word of the Lord' in the unemployment-riddled hell hole that is modern-day Glasgow will seem ridiculous to many viewers, and even if you can get past this, it remains a very tiresome story; as the creator of The Wicker Man, Hardy might feel that he has the right to play strictly within the confines of the `crafty, bloodthirsty heathens trap gullible victim' plot he himself invented, but this doesn't alter the fact that such a set-up is now so familiar that it has totally lost its sting.
Personally, I wish Hardy had left well alone in his efforts to milk the myth of The Wicker Man once again, but in the director's defence, it is ironic (and incomprehensible) that those in the movie industry clearly thought that there was enough mileage in its legacy to assign a multi-million dollar budget, an A-list (in theory at least) star, and a worldwide release to Neil LaBute's awful 2007 remake, yet the director of the original's own follow-up has had to be produced on a shoestring with a largely unknown cast (apart from Lee in a blink-and-you'll-miss-it cameo, Foyle's War's Honeysuckle Weeks is the biggest name in the film), and which has gone straight to DVD in the UK. Paired here with the umpteenth re-issue of the Deeley-approved shorter version of the first movie (which, in what some will regard as a heresy, I actually prefer to the bloated 99 minute edit), it's worth seeing as a curiosity, but if you already own either version of the 1973 film, I'd suggest renting a copy of the new one rather than buying it.