I love The Wicker Man, absolutely love it. It remains as powerful a movie today as it must have been when released almost 40 years ago. I'll admit that I was even able to see the humour in the justifiably derided remake. It's terrible but it's hilariously terrible. It must have been about 5 years ago that I read Cowboys For Christ, a novel by Robin Hardy that took elements from The Wicker Man and then used them to develop a new story that was thematically and atmospherically linked to its predecessor. I enjoyed the book and was pleased to hear the news that a movie was being developed. It took longer than expected and was critically bashed when released but I kept hope in my heart that I would get some enjoyment out of it. It didn't take long for the movie to beat that hope to a pulp and then leave it in a dumpster to die, metaphorically speaking.
The story is all about a beautiful young American singer (Beth Boothby, played by Brittania Nicol) who heads over to the small village of Tressock in Scotland with her beau (Steve Thomson, played by Henry Garrett) and is determined to convert them from their heathen ways. Beth and Steve preach the good word of The Bible and live chaste lives - yeah, they're basically missionaries. Their days are made all the better if they are able to save a soul or two while they spread their message but the local residents might be a bit of a tougher challenge than they expected.
Yes, the plot sounds pretty dire when summarised like that but I assure you that it didn't seem that dire when I read the source novel. It wasn't a complete success but it certainly felt like an enjoyable follow-up to The Wicker Man and that kept me happy enough. The movie, however, takes the flaws from the novel and magnifies them tenfold. It's almost constantly cringeworthy.
A lot of the blame should go to Hardy, who was probably too close to the material and too intent on getting something, anything, onscreen after so many delays and problems. Considering the way that The Wicker Man was treated I don't begrudge him his attempt to create something fresh but familiar in an attempt to both reward the fans who have stood by the movie for years and to reward himself after his original vision was given short shrift by many and even, according to a number of people, sabotaged. Yet that is no excuse for him being so close to the material that he failed to see it mutate and become a monstrous embarrassment. He's like the doting father who keeps insisting on showing off photos of a very ugly baby. Hey, everyone thinks that they have the most beautiful baby in the world when a child is born but the fact is that not everyone can be right and some parents are WAY off.
As director and writer, adapting his novel, Hardy takes everything and seems to make the worst decision possible at every turn. Of course, he may have envisioned the whole thing as a warped comedy but it doesn't work in that regard. It's not actually funny. Then we have the drama and horror elements that aren't dramatic or scary. The conclusion is obvious. No matter what Hardy was aiming for, he fails.
That failure is made up of many individual aspects but one thing that must be mentioned is the poor acting from almost everyone involved. Even those who try to do better - Graham McTavish, Jacqueline Leonard and, especially, Clive Russell - end up looking bad thanks to the awful material they have to work with while Brittania Nicol and Honeysuckle Weeks end up looking bad because they're bad. Henry Garrett is lucky enough to get a few good moments but, as with the others already mentioned, the bad still far outweighs the good.
Make sure that you keep your copy of The Wicker Man, allow yourself to pick up the remake if you see it cheap enough and appreciate the laughs but I urge you to stay as far away from this abomination as possible. It gets points for sometimes looking nice and for the performance of Clive Russell but that's all.