Interview: Robin Hardy, director of The Wicker Tree

Robin Hardy, director of the cult classic The Wicker Man, shared his thoughts with Next Projection in a Q&A about his newest film The Wicker Tree.

Craig Stewart: Like the original Wicker Man, this film seems to have a lot to say. Why now? Is there something in the current cultural climate, perhaps in pop culture that prompted this story?

Robin Hardy: My motives for making this film are fairly complex and involve topics that I discuss at greater length and depth in my novel Cowboys for Christ on which The Wicker Tree is based. In the years that the fame of The Wicker Man has grown I have wondered why no other filmmaker has been interested in the genre of the film itself. Christopher Lee said it all in his review of the book: ” It is comic, erotic, romantic and horrific enough to loosen the bowels of a bronze statue.” If you add terrific songs and beguiling scenery what have you got? A beautiful, black comedy. Remaking the plot and throwing out everything else was a disaster for that talented character actor Nicolas Cage. So I decided to repeat the genre and use a new story, new jokes, different eroticism, some genuine but tragic romance and, for those with imagination, a truly horrific ending.

CS: Music plays a big part in the film. Why the emphasis on song, do you think music holds that kind of power over us?

RH: Religion needs music. Always has. From the Gregorian chant to “Amazing Grace” to “Summer is a Cumin In”, religion needs mood music, joyous, profound, blood pounding rhythms - they all contribute. The Wicker films use the Pagan versions and the Christian ones contrapuntally. And yes I think music does hold power over us. Go to an African American gospel service and you cannot doubt it. Listen to Handel’s Messiah in St Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin for which it was written and it is hard not to join in the Hallelluyas.

CS: Religion mixed with sexuality is something most films would shy away from. Here you have two different religions, one repressing and the other celebrating sexuality. Are you trying to make a positive argument for one side or the other?

RH: No I am definitely agnostic. But traditional Hinduism, the most populous pantheistic (some would call pagan) faith in the world had a strong sexual element where the male worshiper could communicate with the Goddess through the body of a temple dancer. Sex, as a God (s) given thing, was part of many religions. It even appears in many Christian wedding services ” With my body I thee…”

CS: Would you consider both The Wicker Tree and The Wicker Man to be entirely anti-religious films?

RH: Neither are anti religious. They might be described, when it comes to religion: “You pay your money and you take your choice.” The background inspiration/religious research to both films is Frazer’s Golden Bough. It appears on the table in front of Marlon Brando at the very end of Apocalypse Now. Tony Shaffer and I were interested in playing a treasure hunt - the clues hidden in plain sight - game in The Wicker Man. The clues tell you again and again you are in a pagan society. I have done the same thing in The Wicker Tree. The cowboy Steve, more worldly wise than Beth, senses early on that there is something wrong. She, the Pop Star used to an artificial world of adulation and 5 Star hotels, walks straight into the trap.

CS: Have you kept up with modern horror and how do you think The Wicker Tree would fit into that classification?

RH: Yes I have. And no I don’t.

CS: As the story was originally envisioned in book form, how was the transition from page to screen?

RH: I think I have been quite faithful to the book in the screenplay. The exception is that in the book, the Cop was a much more important figure.

CS: All these years later, how was it working with Christopher Lee again?

RH: He and I have been friends over the intervening years. I wrote the role of Lachlan for him. Tragically, he injured his back very badly while appearing in a film in Mexico and could not have taken on what is quite a physically onerous role. So I wrote a vignette role for him, which I think works very well.

The Wicker Man has a realistic vibe, almost like a bizarre documentary. This film seems more like a grotesque fairytale. Was it a conscious choice to stray from total realism?

RH: I disagree that I have strayed from reality in the second film. The Atomic power station scene and its disastrous leakage has happened several times in The United Kingdom. The Border Ridings featuring a young man being hunted by an entire community happens in seven different townships along the border with England every year and has done so for untold centuries. The Beltane celebration leading to The Wicker Tree happens every year in the centre of Edinburgh. Those you saw on the hill were last year’s celebrants dressed or undressed as they were in front of an audience of around twenty thousand. No human sacrifice has, as far as I am aware, actually taken place after The Border Ridings, as they are called.

Although I admit I invented The Wicker Tree itself.

The Wicker Tree opens in limited release on Friday January 27, 2012. Here is our review.

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Horror Film Critic. Am I obsessed? Maybe. I prefer the term “passionate”; it has a less creepy stalker kind of vibe. Not that I have anything against creepy stalkers being that my genre of choice is and forever will be the depraved, demented and deranged dwelling of horror. If you're looking for films that don’t sugarcoat things, that reveal people at their ugliest, that aren’t afraid to spill a little blood and have fun doing it, then look no further!

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