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Chance, Chaos, Confusion and the Marketing of The Wicker Man

Image 1: 1973 British Lion poster.

By Linda Hutcheson.

‘Incredibly, in many European countries, the attitude still exists that a good film shouldn’t really have to be marketed at all, that the public will somehow instinctively find and appreciate artistic quality without the assistance of a vulgar marketing campaign.’ (Puttnam 1997: 314, emphasis in the original)

The study of film to date has predominantly been concerned with the study of film aesthetics, at the expense of other aspects of the industry. This is unfortunate, given the immense wealth of marketing material waiting to be explored by those interested in this area of film. It was only when I began to look into the marketing of the cult hit The Wicker Man(1973) that I truly appreciated how intrinsically the production, distribution and exhibition of the film was linked to its complex marketing. While the history of the film itself is fascinating, it too helps to generate an understanding of why the film was marketed in such a convoluted way. The film was produced by British Lion who at the beginning of the 1970s was facing severe financial difficulties. In April of 1972 British Lion was sold to John Bentley, owner of Barclay Securities who invested £7.5 million in the company. He appointed Peter Snell Managing Director of the organisation. Snell brought with him the script of The Wicker Man. Bentley gave the project the go ahead almost instantaneously as British Lion were keen to begin producing films in order ‘to appease union fears of peremptory asset-stripping’. The Board of Directors did not display the same confidence in the film, but agreed to a location shoot to commence immediately on a small budget of £420,000 (Smith 2005: 124).

The film’s seven weeks shoot in Dumfries and Galloway was plagued with stories of chaos and frustration. Post-production took place at British Lion’s studio in Shepperton in February of 1973, at a time of yet more change at British Lion. The company was expected to be sold to EMI and Peter Snell was replaced by Michael Deeley, who brought in Barry Spikings as his deputy. Though the film had been finished in November, it remained unreleased and, in a now legendary tale, a screening was arranged for both Deeley and Christopher Lee (Lord Summerisle in the film), after which Deeley reportedly named the film amongst the worst he had ever seen (Lee cited in Brown 2000: 104). Immediately before he left British Lion, Snell arranged for the remains of the wicker effigy to be burnt at the Cannes International Film Festival in an attempt to attract the interest of potential distributors. His efforts were successful and Roger Corman, who worked in the independent film sector in North America, offered British Lion $50,000 for the distribution rights (Smith 2005: 128).

A full 102 minute version of the film was given to Corman who requested it be cut to 88 minutes in order to increase its pace. Ultimately the rights went to Beachead, a tax shelter company who offered Deeley more money. A condition for avoiding tax was that Beachead find The Wicker Man a distributor in North America. National General agreed, but were declared bankrupt four days later, after which Warner Brothers acquired the distribution rights (Brown 2000: 127). In Britain the 88 minute version of the film was released as a double bill, which had long since gone out of fashion, with Don’t Look Now (1973). As the film began to receive positive reviews, Snell and the director, Robin Hardy, attempted to locate the original footage, which was said to be in storage at British Lion’s Shepperton Studios. They could not find it, and in a story which now forms part of The Wicker Man’s mythology, the film stock is said to be buried under the M3 motorway, after a clear out of Shepperton Studios. However, in 1979 a restored version of the film was released in North America by a small distributor, Abraxas, after it was discovered a full version of the film was still held by Corman.

As a result of these multiple releases, marketing material was developed by the various distributing agencies. In addition to what might be referred to as official items created by the film’s distributors (posters, pressbook, trailer, television spot and radio spots), there too exists for The Wicker Man unofficial marketing material linked to the film’s cult status (fanzines, conventions and music festivals).

Film Posters and Pressbook

British Lion created a poster and pressbook for the 1973 release of The Wicker Man in Britain, while in North America, Warner Brothers designed a poster for the 1974 distribution and Abraxas another in 1979.

British Lion

Writer Anthony Shaffer was allegedly horrified by the design of the British Lion poster (Image 1, above) as he felt it revealed the climax of the film (Brown 2000: 116). This poster, I would suggest, is representative of the disregard with which British Lion came to view the picture. The Wicker Man can be argued to contain elements from many genres. Smith describes the film as ‘a curious mixture of detective story and folk music’ that contains ‘only one genuine moment of terror in the final dénouement’ (2010: 89, emphasis in the original). However this poster aligns the film clearly with the horror genre. The orange colour used in the design references the final scene, during which a shot of a setting orange sun is intercut with Lord Summerisle’s speech, before Detective Howie (Edward Woodward) is sacrificed. The final shot is of the wicker man’s head falling to the ground revealing behind it the bright orange sun, barely above the horizon.

Image 2: Closing shot from The Wicker Man.

The British Lion poster draws on this image and in doing so prepares potential viewers for the rather shocking turn in the film’s narrative. Furthermore, the silhouette of the wicker man makes clear the meaning of the rather ambiguous film title. The colours used also draw on conventions of the horror genre; the black outline of the wicker man and cliff top contrasts with the pale sky and ocean, connoting a rather simplistic good/evil or heaven/hell divide, upon which horror films often draw.

The billing of the actors also associates The Wicker Man with this genre. At the time of its release, Lee was known for his role as Dracula in the Hammer horror films of the mid fifties and sixties, and Ingrid Pitt too starred in Hammer’s Vampire Lovers (1970) and Countess Dracula (1971). As Woodward received the most screentime, it is his name billed first. Britt Ekland, Diane Cilento and Pitt are then listed; each played a relatively small part in the film. I would suggest that this was done to add a degree of desirability and glamour to the picture, a motivation Shaffer admits influenced casting decisions (Brown 2000: 84-85). Lee’s name is then given last, encased in a border which also cites the name of his character, thus positioning him as the star vehicle of the film. However, Lee’s character in The Wicker Man plays against the image of him generated through his work with Hammer. By not featuring him on the poster design, British Lion retained in the minds of potential viewers associations with his previous work in the Horror genre. Images 3 and 4 below highlight the extent of the difference in appearance between Dracula and Lord Summerisle.

Image 3: Lee as Count Dracula in Dracula (1958).

Shaffer’s name is also a strong feature in the poster, he is credited twice; once at the top and again below producer Snell and director Hardy. Interestingly, positioned at the poster’s head is the following: ‘From the writer of “Frenzy & Sleuth” Anthony Shaffer’s incredible occult thriller’. The citation of the film as a thriller suggests confusion in British Lion’s otherwise strong desire to position the film as horror. British Lion clearly wished to capitalise on the success of Sleuth and Frenzy, both released in 1972, and both in keeping with the traditions of thriller films.

British Lion’s pressbook for the film is not particularly lavish, likely because it was made two decades after the ‘pressbook era’ had come to

Image 4: Lee as Lord Summerisle in The Wicker Man.

a close. A grand pressbook was no longer considered a necessary marketing expense. It contains only a story synopsis, a piece about the production of the film, cast and crew biographies, some photos of scenes from the film and a section of press blocks. The cover of the pressbook employs the same image as that of British Lion’s poster. There is too a disorganised tone to the synopsis which gives away more of the story than those involved in the film’s production would have liked. Additionally, what is conveyed in the pressbook is the acknowledgement that the film lacks a specific genre, but rather than using this to the film’s advantage, what is shown by British Lion is bewilderment:

The Wicker Man is a very unusual film indeed – so unusual that it defies conventional classification. If one had to give it a label perhaps ‘a black thriller’ would be a fair description, for if comedy can be black why not thrills?’

This text reinforces the stance that British Lion did not know how to market the film and what is evident is a perplexed need to define the genre to which the film belongs, without any real success. Ekland’s sex appeal is also referenced on several occasions. Her character is described as the ‘delectable daughter Willow […] who so casually offers herself to him [Sergeant Howie]’. While on the actress the following is written:

‘Think of Swedish girls and you think of blonde hair and blue eyes plus the luscious figure and complexion that comes from a healthy diet and plenty of open air exercise. In others words you think Britt Ekland.’

Thus, it can be said that British Lion wanted to capitalise on Ekland’s beauty and the public’s perception of her as a sex symbol.

Warner Brothers

Image 5: 1974 Warner Brothers poster.

The Wicker Man first received a limited release in North America by Warner Brothers in 1974, at select drive-in theatres in Atlanta (Brown 2000: 129-130). Similar to British Lion’s distribution approach, Warner Brothers did not hold the product in high esteem and it was given only a minimal marketing campaign.

There are many similarities between the poster created by British Lion and that by Warner Brothers. The design shown above makes use of, and enhances, many aspects of the British Lion campaign. Again the focus is on the film’s climatic scene. This poster is even less ambiguous than the previous as it actually shows Sergeant Howie burning in the wicker man. The text at the top (‘Flesh to touch… Flesh to burn! Don’t keep the Wicker Man waiting!’) also reinforces this reading. This amplifies the horror aspects of the film, but also present is a desire to market the film as controversial in content. This is done in the text to the right of the effigy (‘A totally corrupt shocker from the author of “Sleuth” and “Frenzy!”’), which seems out of place given the otherwise symmetrical design of the poster.

The description of the film as a ‘corrupt shocker’ supports the stance that Warner Brothers attempted to market the shock value of The Wicker Man. This poster deviates from the previous one as it features images of the characters and it is Ekland to which the viewers’ attention is drawn foremost. She, along with the visual of the wicker man, is the focus of the poster, with the other actors, including Lee, positioned in a manner which draws the viewer’s gaze only on a prolonged viewing. The descending transition from dark orange to yellow also highlights both the wicker man and Ekland, the former shown near the top end of the orange spectrum, while the latter is shown against a striking yellow. Consequently, this deems the elements contained in the middle of the spectrum less noticeable. The picture of Ekland, taken from her character Willow’s naked dance sequence, positions her as an object of sexual desire and communicates that the film will be a ‘corrupt shocker’ in terms of its sexual content as well as its horror elements. The credits are given at the bottom of the page in an insubstantial manner. Placed against a white border they become an afterthought of the design. While the actors were given prominent billing in the British Lion poster, here they are not seen as primary agents in selling the film in the. This is likely because they would not have had the same name recognition abroad.

Abraxas

Image 6: 1979 Abraxas poster.

A Sharp contrast between the above two posters and the one designed by Abraxas for the film’s 1979 theatrical re-release is evident. Unlike the previous two posters, the primary selling point is not the final moments of the film, but rather an image of the sun god Nuada is the focus of the design. It is concluded in Defining Cult Movies that in order for a film to be defined as such, it is essential that it be positioned in opposition to the mainstream (Jancovich et al 2003: 1). The visual of Nuada, in combination with the silhouette of the Summerislanders wearing antlers, does not communicate mainstream cinema. Unlike the previous posters, the film’s relationship to the horror genre is conveyed as ambiguous at best and furthermore, very little of the film’s subject matter can be inferred from this design. As Marich asserts, posters are often the first marketing material released and function as a means of generating a general awareness of the production (2009: 17). In this instance, very little of the film’s narrative is communicated in this design and this differentiates it from the previous two posters. A final point to note is that the praise for the film, given by Bruce McCabe of The Boston Globe, conveys assurance that the film is one of quality and that, unlike British Lion and Warner Brothers, the distributor Abraxas had confidence in the picture.

Theatrical Trailer, Television Spot and Radio Spots

In terms of audiovisual marketing, there exists for The Wicker Man’s British distribution a theatrical trailer. For the North American market, Abraxas compiled a television spot and a series of radio spots. It is important to note the difference in terminology between theatrical trailer and television spot. Kernan defines a film trailer ‘as a brief film text that usually displays images from a specific feature film […] created for the purpose of projecting in theatres to promote a film’s theatrical release’ (2004: 1). When at the cinema, an audience is presented with a series of film trailers before the main feature, which they have chosen and paid to watch, thus, distributors have at their disposal a captive audience who are in an ideal environment to view their trailer (Kerrigan 2010: 142-143). Theatrical trailers are an important part of a marketing campaign and are typically released after print advertisements, which in theory will have created a general recognition of the picture (Marich 2009: 17). While the general aim of theatrical trailers is understood to be to appeal to as large an audience as possible, television spots offer the marketer a chance to target a more segmented audience, often by emphasising subplots (Marich 2009: 22). Finally, radio advertising also allows marketers the opportunity to target niche audiences. In order for this form of advertising to be effective, it must be generated specifically for the medium and not merely consist of the audio from the television spot (Marich 2009: 81).

British Lion Theatrical Trailer

Image 7: Opening shot from The Wicker Man theatrical trailer.

British Lion’s theatrical trailer runs for two minutes and thirteen seconds. It opens with the sound of a beating drum, which strikes twice over a close-up of a sun with a silhouette of a branch in front, the camera shifts focus so that this becomes blurred and a voiceover begins:

‘I could a tale unfold whose lightest word would harrow up thy soul, freeze thy young blood.’

As is the case with the majority of trailers, a male voiceover is used (Kerrigan 2010: 143). These lines are taken from Shakespeare’s Hamlet (Act 1, Scene 5, Lines 15-16) and therefore establishes from the outset themes of moral corruption, death, sexual desire and the

Image 8: Film title shown at numerous points throughout the theatrical trailer.

impossibility of certain truth. They too act as a lead into both the narrative of the trailer and through this, the film. The reference to ‘a tale unfold’ positions the film as a mystery, while ‘harrow up thy soul, freeze thy young blood’ draws associations with the horror genre.

Visually, the trailer comprises of around a hundred shots, averaging at a shot a second. Although the editing of film trailers is typically quicker than that of a film, this is, nonetheless, extremely fast paced.  Such a quick succession of visuals requires an attentive audience and would struggle to maintain such effectiveness outside the cinema setting. From the outset, images of the three female characters, played by Ekland, Cilento and Pitt, are shown interacting with the Summerislanders at the May Day parade. Similar to the Warner

Image 9: The final shot before the distributor’s credit appears on screen.

Brothers poster, Ekland is shown on numerous occasions naked, emphasising the film’s sexual content. It is not until twenty seconds in that Sergeant Howie features, although it is his character that provides any narrative to the trailer. As Kernan asserts, film trailers construct through ‘combination and abbreviation of scenes […] a new trailer logic, differing from (yet, obviously, related to) the narrative logic of the film’ ((2004: 10, emphasis in the original). In this instance, shots of Sergeant Howie running down the street, intercut with Summerislanders looking out windows while wearing animal masks, are placed before shots of him entering the pub, creating the impression that he has run through the streets and through the pub door. This is not in fact what takes place in the film, indeed the shots of Howie running occur after the scene in the pub. Nevertheless, the point I wish to call attention to is that through creating this, as Kernan termed, ‘trailer logic’, what is conveyed to the audience is that the film is a mystery, or police drama. Furthermore, by intercutting shots of Howie with that of the islanders, the trailer places these two entities in opposition to one and other. The dialogue taken from the film, which is used in the trailer, reinforces this interpretation: ‘I am here to investigate the disappearance of a young girl’ and ‘I suspect murder’ are amongst the lines used, both of which are repeated on numerous instances. Again this illuminates inconsistencies in British Lion’s marketing, which in the material discussed previously, neglected to position the film as a police drama.

Similar to the poster created by British Lion, their theatrical trailer also reveals the climax of the film. Throughout the two minutes the film’s title, placed against a close up of a vibrant sun, is shown numerous times. It flashes on screen for only a second but provides a link between the opening visual and the final moments of the trailer. Sergeant Howie is revealed to be on the cliff top, he shouts ‘Oh my God!’, and a reverse shot depicts the Summerislanders holding burning torches, standing next to the wicker man. The outline of the wicker man fades to a black silhouette against the same close-up of a sun. Through repetition of image this brings the viewer full circle, but it too reveals the meaning of ‘the wicker man’ and gives away the climax of the film. The images below illustrate this point.

Interestingly, Lee is not featured, either by name or visually, thus reinforcing my stance that British Lion felt that his image in The Wicker Man deviated too far from his association with the horror genre generated through his participation in Hammer horror films.

Abraxas Television Spot

Brown writes that when Abraxas acquired the North American distribution rights for The Wicker Man, they wrote to EMI requesting the marketing material made by British Lion (2000: 134). While British Lion’s poster was not drawn upon for inspiration, Abraxas’s audiovisual advertisements bear the markings of British Lion. A thirty second television spot was created by Abraxas for the second North American release and it can be seen to employ some of the same tactics as the theatrical trailer discussed previously, but with notable deviations. As television is viewed in an environment which encourages less attentive viewing than that of the cinema, the editing is far less rapid. The first third of the advertisement is given to a close-up shot of Sergeant Howie in which he says: ‘Well what kind of mother are you? That would stand by and see her own child be slaughtered?’, this is followed by an image of a young girl falling from a cupboard he has opened. Although the detective element of the film is established, it is done so to a lesser extent than is the case with the British Lion trailer, instead, what is conveyed are notions of the uncanny, of death and murder. The remainder of the advert does feature rapid editing, though this is interspersed with longer shots of dialogue. Similar shots of Ekland banging on Sergeant Howie’s wall again highlight the sexual aspects of the film. Where this television spot differentiates is that it highlights Lee, suggesting that Abraxas viewed him as a selling point of the film. Finally, this advertisement reveals the dénouement and does not exhibit the same tact for which Brown praised their poster.

The television spot uses a voiceover done by an American man, which states:

The Wicker Man. Christopher Lee and Britt Ekland star in Anthony Shaffer’s tale of the ancient gods. A fable of unclean deeds and unholy places. The winner grand prize at the Festival of Fantasy and Science Fiction Films in Paris. The Wicker Man.’

The use of an American voiceover is illustrative of Abraxas’s desire to make the film more accessible to a North American audience. Furthermore, by singling out Lee and Ekland they are positioned as the film’s stars. Finally, and perhaps most significantly, the reference to the Festival of Fantasy and Science Fiction in Paris, where The Wicker Man won the Grand Prix and was labeled ‘The Citizen Kane of the horror genre’, aligns the film with art-house cinema.

Abraxas Radio Spot

In addition to the television spot, there are also six radio spots made by Abraxas. These advertisements emphasise different aspects of the film, but are united in their intention to market the film as controversial. The radio spots evidently form part of a cohesive marketing strategy, and each focus on a different aspect touched upon in the television spot. In some instances the voiceover, recorded by the same man who did the television advert, uses lines also featured in the TV spot. This provides an element of consistency across the various marketing channels and reinforces the film’s primary selling point, the controversial nature of the film, communicated through reference to: religious sacrifice, sexual deviation, climatic terror and fertility rights. Lee too lends his voice in two of the spots. The fact that Lee did not get paid for his role in the film, yet still participated in extensive publicity, is indicative of his dedication to the role.

Unofficial Marketing

Thus far I have concentrated on official marketing material, that is items generated by the distributor for the purpose of marketing the film, however, linked with the film’s cult status is the role fans played in establishing its legacy.

From Film Magazine to Fanzines

It is important to acknowledge the difference between a fan magazine and a fanzine. While fan magazines refer to professionally published magazines on a given film, television show, or even a genre (usually horror or science fiction), fanzines are typically amateur publications produced by individuals (Sanjek 1999: 151). This requires a certain degree of commitment to the topic of the publication on the part of the publisher, which similarly enthusiastic fans will then purchase at a minimal cost (Knepper 1951: 351). As De Kosnik notes, fanzines are nearing a ‘sugarhill moment’ where corporations are beginning to capitalise on the market for such publications (for example the television show Doctor Who [2005-present] has an accompanying magazine as well as a comic book) (2009: 119-120).

In conjunction with the Abraxas re-release of The Wicker Man, an edition of the American film magazine Cinefantastique was devoted to the film, covering many aspects of its history, including the script development, its complex production, character analysis and discussion of the music in the film. The detailed treatment of The Wicker Man in this reputable publication undoubtedly enhanced the film’s reputation as one of quality, whilst simultaneously increasing the awareness of the film amongst a group of readers who might not otherwise have known about its release. By providing readers with extensive detail about the convoluted and thorny history of the film it also encouraged a growing cult following.

In addition to this, two fanzines have been produced for The Wicker Man, Summerisle News which began in 1980 and, more recently, Nuada in 1998. Neither is currently in publication (Brown 2000: 169-170). Gail Ashurst, publisher of Nuada, stated in an email to the author, dated 15 July 2010, that the motivation behind the publication was to research the fan base of The Wicker Man, consequently Nuada differs from the majority of fanzines. Three issues were produced and Ashurt estimates the readership to be about 2,500. The majority of readers were British, but orders also came from the USA, Germany, France, Australia and New Zealand. Most interestingly, she states that:

‘The fanzine was largely intended for fans of the film, though I often had the more general film buff in mind when I selected material for inclusion in each edition. Some readers were collectors, who weren’t necessarily film fans, whilst others might be more generally interested in, say, 1970s British film and television. Quite a few of my readers were ardent fans of the cult series The Prisoner [1967-1968], and it was clear in these instances that The Wicker Man was admired at a distance for its similarities to the former rather than anything intrinsic to the film itself.’ (Ashurst 2010, interview with author)

What is evident from this is the extent to which cult communities can feed into each other. While it might have been expected that the readership of Nuada would consist solely of those fans devoted to the film, what is apparent is that it did in fact extend beyond this. It would be a far reach to suggest that this publication would appeal to a mass audience, however it can be said that Nuada helped to maintain a level of awareness amongst existing fans (or to employ the marketing term, consumer base), while simultaneously extending its reach beyond this to those with related interests. Furthermore, by rejuvenating interest in the film, Nuada also functioned as a means of increasing sales of items such as video sales, cinema tickets and soundtracks, and in this respect generates additional revenue.

Convention and Music Festival

In her study of The Wicker Man’s relationship to tourism, Stevenson writes that although the film was never used in conjunction with official tourism bodies (the film was even absent from the British Tourist Authority’s map of movie locations in the United Kingdom), the Ellangowan Hotel in Creetown (which doubles as The Green Man Inn, the fictional pub in the film) has become the site of an annual fan gathering around May Day each year (2005: 115). This provides fans of the film with the opportunity to meet and discuss The Wicker Man, contributing still to the film’s cult label and rejuvenating interest in the production. There is also an annual Wickerman music festival, which began in 2001 and takes place at Kirkcudbright in Dumfries and Galloway, the area in which much of The Wicker Man was filmed. The festival draws on an awareness of both the film and its soundtrack, which has generated much attention. Ultimately, despite the initial release of the film by both British Lion and Warner Brothers which all but buried it, there remains almost forty years on a fascination with the film. The music festival has become a reputable event which introduces a younger audience to the film in a more mainstream context and as a result extends the film’s audience, something that the fanzines and convention fail to achieve on a large scale.

The Wicker Tree

It seems appropriate to round off this piece by saying a few words on Hardy’s follow up to The Wicker Man; The Wicker Tree (yet to be released). The film is based on Hardy’s own 2006 novel Cowboys for Christand while it is not a direct sequel to the film, nor is it a remake, the two films share a similar plot construction and character setup. The film was also produced by British Lion, after Peter Snell purchased the company from Thorn-EMI (Thorn Electrical Industries merged with EMI in 1979). Thus, like its predecessor, The Wicker Tree was produced by Snell and directed by Hardy, and even stars Lee in a small role. While the official website for the film was launched in early 2010 and gives a release date of 2010, the film has yet to be distributed.

Image 10: The Wicker Tree promotional image.

Image 10 shows the image currently used in conjunction with marketing efforts, on the film’s website, IMDd page and Facebook profile. The decision to alter the title of the film, from Cowboys for Christ to The Wicker Tree, suggests a deliberate attempt on the part of British Lion to link the film’s release to that of The Wicker Man. This too is reinforced through the text, which reads ‘British Lion Presents’ and by the inclusion of Hardy’s name above the film’s title. However as Williams insightfully notes, by doing this, British Lion run the risk of drawing associations with the 2006 remake of the film staring Nicolas Cage, which was both a critical and commercial failure (2010). The figures of the trees shown in the image, resemble human form and are positioned in an erotic stance, which is reminiscent of a cult-like ritual, communicating to those aware of The Wicker Man, that this film will share similar themes.

This tactic is also employed in the trailer. Lasting only thirty-eight seconds, it can be described as a teaser trailer, the objective of which Marich describes as, ‘to create awareness […] and pique interest so that audiences will want more information later’ (2009: 17). However, in order for this method to be effective the teaser trailer has to be followed by more information, usually in the form of a poster campaign and a more extensive theatrical trailer. Such material has yet to be released by British Lion, and this, coupled with the uncertainty of the film’s distribution date, suggests that this is the most fans will see for the time being. This is unfortunate, as the impact of the teaser trailer will lessen the longer it has to stand alone as principal marketing material for the film. Having said this, die hard fans who are aware of the original film and particularly those who know of the circumstances surrounding its production, distribution and exhibition, will unlikely be deterred.

As stated previously, the teaser trailer draws on many of the principles also featured in the publicity image. It is the prominent feature of the film’s website and is remarkably different from the trailer for the 1973 film. The editing is very slow paced and the shots are edited together using a series of fades. A male voiceover provides initial continuity to the shots. He makes reference to the gods of various religions before stating that it is the religion of the Celts that is followed in Tressock (presumably the small Scottish community standing in for Summerisle). After an initial black screen with white text reading, ‘From the makers of the cult classic… The Wicker Man’, a series of images appear fading into one another. These shots are of rolling clouds, tribes of people wearing animal masks, burning flames and statues of the wicker figures used in Image 10, and all encourage the film to be viewed in line with The Wicker Man. On top of the shot of the wicker figures text appears, again in white, reading: ‘British Lion presents…A Robin Hardy Film’, thus once more making viewers firmly aware of the united production team behind the picture. This voiceover then gives way to that of another, this time a Scottish male, who speaks of religious sacrifice. This is initially placed over the image of a woman, who closely resembles Ekland, running through a field, emphasising once again the presence of a female character with plenty allure. The male character to whom the voiceover belongs is then shown onscreen, before a cut to black. Then the name of the film appears on screen followed by the tagline ‘Burning soon…’.

Ultimately, I would suggest that the marketing material created for The Wicker Tree, is primarily designed to appeal to those familiar with The Wicker Man. While the release date given on the film’s official Facebook page was previously 2010, it has now (18 January 2011) been changed to the non-committal tagline ‘Burning soon’. Whether the film will inspire a similar cult following as the original, despite its delayed production and release, remains to be seen, but as Allan Brown, author of Inside the Wickerman, said in a recent interview with Jonathan Melville:

Cowboys for Christ […] struck me as an anagram of the film, and it’s such a shame: there but for the grace of God go we, that we only ever do one thing that people like and that we have to keep redoing the same thing, like Lulu with Shout.’

Linda Hutcheson is a PhD student at Stirling University, Scotland.

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References

Bartholomew, D. (1977), Cinefantastique, vol. 6, no. 3.

Brown, A. (2000), Inside ‘The Wicker Man’: The Morbid IngenuitiesLondon: Sidgwick and Jackson.

De Kosnik, A. (2009), ‘Fandom and feminism: Should fan fiction be free?’, Cinema Journal, vol. 48, no. 4, pp. 118-124.

Hardy, R. (2006), Cowboys for Christ, Edinburgh: Luath Press Ltd.

Jancovich, M., Lazaro Reboll, A., Stringer, J. & Willis, A. (2003), ‘Introduction’ in Defining Cult Movies: The Cultural Politics of Oppositional Tasteeds. M. Jancovich, A. Lazaro Reboll, J. Stringer & A. Willis, Manchester: Manchester University Press, pp. 1-13.

Kernan, L. (2004), Coming Attractions: Reading American Movie TrailersAustin: University of Texas Press.

Kerrigan, F. (2010), Film MarketingOxford: Elsevier.

Knepper, M. (1951), ‘Motion Picture’, Sight and Sound, vol. 19, no. 9, pp. 359-362.

Marich, R. (2009), Marketing to Moviegoers: A Handbook of Strategies and Tactics2nd edn, Oxford: Elsevier.

Puttnam, D. (1997), The Undeclared War: The Struggle for Control of the World’s Film IndustryLondon: HarperCollins, London.

Sanjek, D. (1990), ‘Fans’ Notes: The Horror Film Fanzine’, Literature/Film Quarterly, vol. 18, no. 3, pp. 150-159.

Shakespeare, W. (1982), Hamlet, London: Methuen.

Smith, J. (2005), ‘Things that go Clunk in the Cult Film Text: Nodes and Interstices in The Wicker Man’ in Constructing ‘The Wicker Man’: Film and Cultural Studies Perspectiveseds. J. Murray, L. Stevenson, S. Harper & B. Franks, Dumfries: University of Glasgow, Crichton Publications, pp. 123-138.

(2010), Withnail and Us: Cult Films and Film Cultures in British CinemaI.B. Tauris, London.

Stevenson, L. (2005), ‘Sightseeing in Summerisle: Film Tourism and The Wicker Man’ in Constructing ‘The Wicker Man’: Film and Cultural Studies Perspectives, eds. J. Murray, L. Stevenson, S. Harper & B. Franks, Dumfries: University of Glasgow, Crichton Publications, pp. 107-122.

The Wicker Man Pressbook (1973). Available from: The Wicker Man DVD extras, Studio Canal, director’s cut, UK DVD 2002.

3 Comments for “Chance, Chaos, Confusion and the Marketing of The Wicker Man”

  1. […] went into marketing the pic, reflecting the chaos that the film was enrobed in, can be found in Linda Hutcheson’s examination of its marketing history, a good read on its […]

  2. Very nice analysis.

  3. Fascinating post. When I researched the actual screening dates, it became clear from the patchy screenings and release schedule that the distribution was messy (to say the least) but great to read about it from the perspective of the promotional materials associated with the scrappy release. Thanks for writing and sharing.

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