Tag Archive: Wicker Man

THE WICKER TREE written and directed by Robin Hardy (UK, 2011)

Brittania Nichol

Beth Boothby (Brittania Nichol)

The Wicker Man is justifiably regarded as one of the best UK films ever made and was number one in my list of of best British cult movies.

The memorable ending can’t have had many viewers wondering what happened next. The finale was certainly conclusive enough for Police Sergeant Neil Howie (Edward Woodward) and probably the only unanswered question was whether the human sacrifice achieved the objective of reviving the harvests for the Pagan community.

Director Robin Hardy must however have felt there was some unfinished business. He wrote a novel on similar themes in 2006 called Cowboys For Christ and The Wicker Tree is the misguided movie version of this story.

It is actually billed as a ‘spiritual sequel’ and Hardy is keen for it to be regarded as a black comedy and not a horror movie. A turkey is the most accurate label I can think of.

In The Wicker Man, the fruit and vegetable crops had floundered, in The Wicker Tree the community can’t produce any children after a leak at a nuclear power station. Resolving this problem once again necessitates the corruption and culling of devout Christians.

The Wicker Tree posterThere are two doomed believers this time; a God-fearing couple from Dallas who are flown in ostensibly to spread the word of Jesus to heathen inhabitants of Tressock. Hardy regards fundamentalists from Texas as the most striking contrast to this fictional Scottish community.

The unsuspecting lambs to the slaughter have made a vow of chastity to one another. Beth Boothby (Brittania Nichol) is a singer who has turned her back on raunchy trailer trash pop in favour of gospel country music. Her naivety and virginal state make her an ideal May Queen as part of the fertility rituals – she is admired for the fact that she has “smell of the dairy about her….. with a hint of cowshit behind the ears”.

Steve Thompson (Henry Garrett) is her dumb cowboy fiancé, whose pledge of celibacy is quickly put the test and fails at the first hurdle. He is chosen as perfect fodder for the role as the Laddie to Beth’s queen and becomes dispensable once the fruit of his loins has been squeezed.

Graham McTavish as Sir Lachian Morrison is the nearest thing to Christopher Lee’s Lord Summerisle. Lee himself was slated for this role until a back injury ruled him out ( a lucky escape on his part!). Lee’s prominent billing on the credits is a bit of a con as it amounts to the briefest of cameos as an “old gentleman” and mentor to Morrison.

Orlando the policeman is the nearest equivalent to Sergeant Howie but his character is so sketched in I actually missed the fact that he was an outsider sent to investigate rumours of the sun god cult. He spends most of his undercover work under the covers with Lolly (Honeysuckle Weeks), one of the island’s numerous racy females.

The Hollywood remake of The Wicker Man starring Nicolas Cage was dire but worth seeing for the many unintentionally funny scenes – The Wicker Tree is dire and best avoided.

Rather than paying homage to a movie classic, Hardy succeeds only in  pissing over its memory.



In a recent interview for The Wire magazine Trish Keenan of the enigmatic Midlands based duo Broadcast said of their 2009  album : Broadcast and The Focus Group Investigate Witch Cults of the Radio Age’ :  “I’d like people to enjoy the album as a Hammer horror dream collage where Broadcast play the role of the guest band at the mansion drug party by night, and a science worshipping Eloi possessed by 3/4 rhythms by day”.

I was intrigued to see how such a trippy atmosphere could be recreated live so I went along to see Trish and musical partner James Cargill in the flesh at the Rocca Brancalone as part of this year’s Ravenna Festiival, the second in a series of four individual audio-visual shows under the title ‘Musica & Visioni – Weird Tales’ (other performers being Austria’s Fennesz, Mexico’s Murcof & Italy’s own Massimo Volume) Continue reading

The weird and occasionally wonderful 1970 movie ‘Valerie & Her Week of Wonders’  is based on a 1935 novella by Czech author Vítězslav Nezval and directed by Jaromil Jireš.

It’s a movie which, alongside cult classics like ‘The Wicker Man’ and ‘Holy Mountain’, is held in high esteem within some quarters of  the New Folk movement. Like those movies, it centres mainly on big issues like sex, death, religion and the corruption of innocence; themes which also loom large in the contaminated folk music of the New Weird America. Continue reading


matt.jpgMatt Valentine (MV) is a maverick figure of the ‘alternative’, ‘underground’ folk scene. Through his organization of the Brattleboro festival in 2003 he is credited with inventing the term ‘Free Folk’ and, indirectly, prompted the first use of the label New Weird America to describe the loose collective he is part of.

At the last count I have about 16 of his albums mostly with his partner and soul mate Erika Elder (EE) . Two recent ones were on Thurston Moore’s Ecstatic Peace label but most on limited issue vinyl or cdr so have to be grabbed fast or scored on p2p sites.

Even after listening to all this music I still find it difficult to get a real handle on the man and place him or can name a key track or album that can be counted as representative. His work is uneven, self indulgent but curiously addictive.

MV began as a founder member of influential The Tower Recordings collective based in New York, contributing to their singular brand of ‘futuristic-folk’ and ‘cosmic drones’. The online ‘zine Stylus described their sound well as ” a dense stewy, sensual mass of pseudo-synchronized sensitive ugliness broadcast from several different artistic galaxies all at once“.

Other reviewers in trying to get a handle on this kind of material grope around for suitable reference points. They line up the usual suspects like the ramshackle acid folk of The Incredible String Band or the strange atmospherics of the cult Pagan horror movie The Wicker Man.

When these fail to cover all the bases, an air of desperation sets in and the comparisons become more delirious and random, ranging from Fairport Convention to The Velvet Underground or from The Butthole Surfers to Sun Ra. All this doesn’t help much in defining their sound but communicates the fact that the music is as mystifying as it is mystical, and is more rewarding to experience than classify.

One recurring theme is the reference to the way the music sounds as if it were beamed in from another planet. This is not surprising since, on one album, the band dub themselves a ‘fraternity of moonwalkers’ and many of their track titles have references to space travel or make interstellar associations .e.g Taste of Moon, Spaceball, Lunar Discotheque . ‘ Intergalactic Housing Don’t Bother Me’

MV does little to bring these extraterrestrial musings down to earth. He admits a fascination for the skewed sci-fi visions of Phillip K. Dick , and frequently refers to his music as a species of ‘lunar blues’. A self presentation on his My Space site reads:

“still orbiting the earth in Vermont is matt ‘mv’ valentine, the brawn of the tower recordings, and erika ‘ee’ elder the CEO of Heroine Celestial Agriculture together with their dog zuma they run the child of microtones terran library of exploratory music and sing songs with american avatars ‘the bummer road’ “

As with his solo stuff it’s hard to find a unifying thread or any consistent pattern to the Tower Recordings’ releases . A good overview of MV/EE releases can be found in an article by Byron Coley for Arthur magazine.


holy mountain

Watching Alejandro Jodorowsky’s The Holy Mountain in 10 minute chunks on YouTube may not be the ideal way to view this cult movie but it doesn’t feel inappropriate. After all, the movie is not much concerned to maintain a narrative flow. Only in the last half hour does it finally get around to telling something that resembles a story. This revolves around the journey to the summit of The Holy Mountain on Lotus Island where nine wise mean live. These know the secret of immortatity and the mission is not to learn from them but simply to kill them and take their place. Even then there are plenty distractions and bizarre scenes.

If you watched the movie in a random sequence I don’t think it would be any more confusing – it may even help. Continue reading

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