The Wicker Man exposed – tiny budget, bare bums row and 13-hour stripper scene
Cult movie The Wicker Man will be back in cinemas ahead of its 50th anniversary… but the making of the folk horror flick is as wacky as its plot.
The 1973 film told the story of a Christian policeman sent to investigate the disappearance of a girl on a remote Scottish island – only to find it populated by sex-mad pagans.
Soon he is in peril of becoming a human sacrifice himself in a shocking ritual.
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The movie, starring Edward Woodward, Christopher Lee and Britt Ekland, left, is seen by fans and critics as a classic and returns to the big screen for the summer solstice in a new 4k restoration.
But amid fraught filming and rows over bare bums, it’s a miracle The Wicker Man was released at all.
The idea was based around Roman leader Julius Caesar’s claim that ancient druids would burn people and animals alive as sacrifices in a giant wicker statue of a man.
Edward Woodward, who would later star in TV hit The Equalizer, was cast as Sergeant Neil Howie.
The story sees Howie arrive on Summerisle to look for missing child Rowan Morrison.
But as the mystery of her whereabouts unfolds, he is outraged to find the islanders have abandoned Christianity to worship Celtic gods.
Led by Lee’s creepy but suave Lord Summerisle, they cavort in the nude and enjoy sex outdoors.
Swedish beauty and future Bond Girl Ekland plays Willow, the temptress daughter of the island’s innkeeper. When virginal Howie resists her charms, he finds his own life on the line.
But the film-makers were given a tiny budget for the shoot by the struggling studio British Lion and it was only because Lee worked without pay that it went ahead.
Set in spring, but filmed in late autumn, the crew then had to glue blossom and leaves on to trees in the wintry Scottish locations for scenes all actually shot on the mainland.
Co-star Ingrid Pitt said Woodward took to warming his freezing feet between her knees.
Meanwhile, Ekland, who was pregnant at the time, wouldn’t allow shots of her bare bottom in an iconic seduction sequence where her character dances naked.
She was outraged when body doubles were secretly brought in to take the place of her posterior.
Director Robin Hardy even claimed he roped in a Glasgow stripper to pose for the scene, which took 13 hours to film.
Which bum actually made the final cut is still debated while rumours remain unconfirmed that Ekland’s later boyfriend, singer Rod Stewart, tried to buy up the film’s negatives to spare her modesty.
The actress was also annoyed that her speaking lines were dubbed by a Scottish actress Annie Ross.
The movie is famous for its gruesome cliff-top finale where Howie is to be killed inside a burning Wicker Man to appease the Sun god Nuada after a poor harvest.
Woodward’s shock at the size of the 60ft structure and terror at the real flames around him were apparently genuine.
He later said: “It was horrifying. The heat was intense and I felt at times that I was really burning.”
A goat penned in above the star even urinated on him with fright, though the director insisted no animals were hurt.
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Studio bosses hated the movie and briefly demanded a more upbeat ending.
The Wicker Man was released in December 1973 as a B-movie and Lee even had to ring round critics himself to try to get them to go and see it.
Eventually, the film got the recognition it deserved and would go on to inspire a festival and a 2006 remake. Lee himself described it as: “The best film I’ve ever been in."
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