Allan Brown's book, Inside The Wicker Man, originally published in 2000 and brought up to date with a second edition in 2010 recalls in fascinating, and sometimes distressing detail the long and tortuous history of the film which began when screenwriter Anthony Shaffer promised to write an intelligent horror film for a despondent Christopher Lee. In his forward for the book Edward Woodward writes that the film was "surrounded by a strange kind of evil" and one is inclined to agree when reading the chapters detailing the film's near ruin at the hands of indifferent financiers, and later, the complex and convoluted circumstances behind the film's revival in America. Fortunately the book reads less like a dry production report, but rather a black comedy of errors. Brown's writing is breezy and irreverent, each chapter kicking off with a humorous summary (e.g. Chapter 5: In which Christopher Lee relates an interminable anecdote concerning golf and a mime artist admits to constant drunkenness) and Brown skillfully wades through some wonderful stories to separate fact from fiction - most of Edward Woodward's tall-tales are given a wide berth, while a few myths about the film are thoroughly dispelled - the shot of the Wicker Man headpiece toppling over to reveal a blazing setting sun was not an accidental gift from the gods but a carefully planned effect, and Rod Stewart's wish to bury the film to protect girlfriend Britt Ekland from the lascivious gaze of the raincoat brigade is completely apocryphal.
Crew preparing The Wicker Man for his appointmentment with Sergeant Howie
Still, parts of the book will make for unpleasant reading for Wicker Man devotees, the film has prompted its fair share of the bitter disputes, chiefly concerning screenwriter Anthony Shaffer and director Robin Hardy, who both claim authorship of the film for themselves. Production designer Seamus Flannery evidently has little regard for Hardy and rarely holds back in his opinion of the director, while Britt Ekland who hated making the film, was in turn hated by the locals after she made a flippant comment to a journalist. And one of the book's final chapters which investigates the disappearance of the original negative is truly heart-breaking stuff. Rounding off the book is a compressive appendix section which sweeps up some stray curios, including a scene-by-scene breakdown of the locations used in the film, Lord Summerisle's introductory speech from Anthony Shaffer’s screenplay, a Wicker Man related excerpt from Christopher Lee's 1977 autobiography Tall Dark and Gruesome, and the spoiler-laden plot synopsis from the back of the Thorn EMI VHS tape released in the UK in 1981.
Inside The Wicker Man is currently out of print for paperback (a kindle edition is available) but thankfully the book will be reprinted for October to tie-in with the Blu-Ray release. Absolutely essential reading.