As cinema audiences in Edinburgh prepare for screenings of both The Wicker Man and its belated “spiritual sequel”, The Wicker Tree, Ian Hoey recalls encounters with the fandom that has grown around the seminal British horror.
The BBC News website recently flagged up that the Ellangowan Hotel in Creetown was for sale and inviting offers of around £200,000. The reason for its newsworthiness was that the Ellangowan Hotel is featured in The Wicker Man as the ‘Green Man Inn’ complete with Lindsay Kemp and Britt Ekland behind the bar.
For a few brief moments thoughts flashed through my mind of how good it could be to buy the hotel and maximise the business by playing heavily upon the links to the film. Displays of memorabilia, tours to the other locations, guest appearances, horror conventions and…no.
I stopped such foolish thoughts, because making considerable money from The Wicker Man means spending considerable time in the company of fans of The Wicker Man.
I’ve been present at many a screening of this particular cult hit and, in a previous role as cinema manager, I’ve engaged in plenty of conversations with its biggest fans. Obsessive followers of anything can be a bit of a handful and the fan base of Robin Hardy’s masterpiece is no different. “Och you don’t want to let them worry you”, as Lindsay Kemp’s camp Landlord may have reassured me but I’m always apprehensive of anyone who can maintain a one-sided conversation for at least thirty minutes.
No sooner has a cinema programmed The Wicker Man for a screening than the phone calls and, in later years, the emails would start to arrive demanding to know the running time. Anyone with an interest in the film is aware that the duration can be variable, depending on whether or not it is the initially released print or the restored version with some extra scenes reintroduced.
However, such is the fervour of certain individuals to know the running time, you would almost think that they suspected you had unearthed the legendary lost footage and planned to screen it without notifying them of this momentous event.
Many of these aficionados will take great delight in sharing with anyone in earshot the number of times and locations in which they have watched this cinematic wonder. And it doesn’t stop there. I was once almost pinned to the wall by an insistent gentleman who demanded to know what the print number was of that evening’s showing, claiming as he did that Ingrid Pitt liked to keep track of what prints were screened where.
I never met Ingrid Pitt, so I didn’t have the opportunity to ask her if she really was concerned with the movement of film reels in the UK. Nor would I ever have broached the question, as I’d wager a tin bathtub full of money that she had no interest in it whatsoever.
I wonder how many Wicker Man artifacts she signed over the years? Enough, probably, to pile them as high or higher than the Wicker Man itself. And some of those artifacts, no doubt, will have been the limited edition late nineties vinyl releases of the soundtrack. I well remember a particular fellow’s delight when he informed that he had bought several copies; one to play, one to keep untouched, and one ‘just in case’.
I don’t want to come across too cynically in relation to those who are besotted with the movie. Fandom is a great thing in many ways and it is often dedicated souls such as these that keep a film alive for future generations. But I do like to get through the day without being harassed by wild-eyed men.
So no, I won’t be putting in a bid for the Ellangowan Hotel, but I’ll certainly stop in for a pint.