Ignoring Crap Remakes

OnDVD: The Wicker Man (1973): Collector's Edition

Except for those rare cases (Carpenter's The Thing, Cronenberg's The Fly) in which a film remake surpasses the original, there is inevitable fall-out. Everyone's going to have an opinion on the new film's worth—for example, Neil LaBute's remake of The Wicker Man earlier this year, for which most opinions ranged near "It's rubbish"—or who is responsible for the film's success or failure. (In LaBute's case, most fingers pointed directly at him, a talented filmmaker whose temerity with the source material wound up remarkably nonexistent and whose female villains did his on/off reputation as a misogynist no favors.) If there's any merit to LaBute's film, it's that its DVD release is being tied in to a definitive set of Robin Hardy's original, spectacular 1973 version of The Wicker Man from those stalwarts of home-entertainment goodness, Anchor Bay.

By making the pagan cult at the center of the story a matriarchal society against whom Nicolas Cage's insipid cop is pitted, LaBute succeeded in giving his version a twist yet failed miserably at matching the conflicts of faith that made Hardy's vision of Anthony Shaffer's literate, mysterious thriller tick. Charged with solving the disappearance of a young girl on a remote Scottish isle, a deeply devout Christian policeman (Edward Woodward, in his most riveting performance) is shaken to his core when confronted with the pagan society led by Lord Summerisle (the genially sinister Christopher Lee). Denials, bizarre occurrences and a few naked people (including Britt Ekland, whose seduction ritual is a show-stopper despite the fact that she used a stunt butt) later, the dread escalates to a climax that condenses terror to its purest form; if you've ever wanted to know what it's like to cringe for a full 10 minutes, here's your chance. Though Anchor Bay released a single-disc print of The Wicker Man earlier this year, this two-disc reissue trumps it by including both the theatrical cut and an extended version with 11 added minutes; there's also a brand-new commentary with Hardy, Woodward and Lee moderated by British film critic Mark Kermode. Upgrading DVDs may be a bitch, but this one's mandatory.

Also recommended this week: The Illustrated Man; Police Story: Special Edition; Presenting Lily Mars; A Scanner Darkly; The Simpsons: Season 9; When the Levees Broke.

 
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