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More Than A Movie, The Wicker Man

“The Wicker Man” (1973), a famed British dark fantasy based on Anthony Shaffer’s book and long unavailable in a complete version, has arrived in what’s referred to as a “final” form.

“The Wicker Man: The Final Cut” ($19.99, Blu-ray Disc; Tuesday) tells the haunting story of a rigidly religious policeman, Sgt. Howie (the late Edward Woodward of TV’s “The Equalizer”), who travels from the mainland to a remote Scottish island to find a missing young girl. Once there, the sexually repressed official witnesses pagan behavior that shocks and intrigues him, and he ultimately realizes the danger represented by the group’s charismatic leader, Lord Summerisle (Christopher Lee of “Horror of Dracula”).

The R-rated British import, directed by Robin Hardy (“The Wicker Tree”), is a highly intense work, one fantasy magazine Cinefantastique described as “the Citizen Kane of horror films.”

In the making-of book “Inside The Wicker Man: The Morbid Ingenuities” (1999) by Allan Brown, Woodward talks about his objection to the cinematic work being described as a horror title.

Woodward says in the book: “I have never considered ‘The Wicker Man’ to have been a horror film, although I know many people still do: the subject matter, bizarre admittedly, was treated with dignity, the belief systems of both men, Sergeant Neil Howie and Lord Summerisle, were given equal weight and in the end it was a very realistic story, a there-but-for-the-grace-of- God story, about a man who did not deserve his fate, no matter how weird or priggish were his beliefs.”

The legendary Lee was most famous for his role as Dracula in a classic series of movies from England’s Hammer Films. In the Volume 6, No. 3 issue of Cinefantastique, Lee expressed his support for the film, saying: “I doubt if anyone will ever write a more remarkable script for a film.”

Originally, “The Wicker Man” was sold as a B-movie, snubbed by the public and quickly disappeared from theaters. This arrival of the “Final Cut” Blu-ray Disc suggests that the compelling import won’t be dismissed so easily ever again.