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Feature: The Wicker Man

Relight My Fire

Burning issues

We meet acclaimed director Neil LaBute to talk about his remake of the classic pagan Horror movie

Director Robin Hardy has expressed great concern over the remake of his ill-fated 1973 classic. And original star Christopher Lee thinks making any comment would dignify the new version. However Edward Woodward, doomed Sergeant Howie in the unique pagan chiller, liked the quality of the updated script so much he considered playing a cameo part. It seems any Horror remake these days is bound to face widespread disapproval before the final product is ever seen, while a few are willing to keep an open mind. But surely you take on a film of The Wicker Man’s stature at your peril? Judged one of the finest British Horror films of all-time and showcasing what Chris Lee himself deems his best performance as Lord Summerisle, why would anyone want to take on this poisoned chalice?

“Good question!” laughs writer/director Neil LaBute, the man responsible for committing the ultimate heresy. “It’s an interesting situation to be in. Here I’m approaching a film people either knew nothing about at all or they are the most rabid fan and know everything. Whether the final film is good or bad, the latter brigade will cut you no slack because they are so unhappy with the fact you are even doing it. So there is a risk in terms of an audience shutting off completely before they even go near the material you’ve created.”

“Of course, I thought the entire project through carefully,” points out the director of the art-house hits In the Company of Men, Nurse Betty and Your Friends and Neighbours. “Why am I going to spend a year of my life working on something everyone seems to be so against? Because I loved the original film as much as anyone but it is a singular experience and remains that. I legitimately felt there was another place I could take the story. When you adapt anyone else’s work there are considerations. It’s like adapting a novel to the film medium and I’ve done that before, oddly enough in a similar realm, with the British novel Possession. It was never like I was just going to take Anthony Shaffer’s screenplay, slap it into the United States, get a Hollywood star, and voila! I had to audition along with the cast to get the role of writer/director.”

LaBute explains. “British producer Joanne Sellar had grown up with the film and loved it. [Woodward’s then boyfriend, future Interview with the Vampire producer Stephen Woolley, would programme it often at the Scala Cinema.] It was the same deal with Nicolas Cage. They heard I was interested in their plans for a remake and wanted to hear my take on the story. I told them honestly that I didn’t think I could make it any better, just different. That the original would remain unsullied by the fact someone had come along and done something else with the same basic concept. That seemed to work and I climbed aboard with everyone’s blessing.”

by Alan Jones

Read the full interview in
Shivers #129

Images © Warner Bros
Feature © Visual Imagination 2006. Not for reproduction

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Shivers #129
Sept 2006
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