SOME residents of South Ayrshire may remember film crews descending on the area in 1973 to shoot what was rumoured to be a dreadful horror movie.
When The Wicker Man was finally released in 1974, some were suitably distressed by it but others were thrilled to have their region featured in such a cult film.
If the film was released today, it would be mocked for being called a horror in comparison to some of the gruesome flicks out there, but it still has the ability to send a shiver down your spine thanks to its eccentric characters and uncomfortable ending.
So why was Culzean Castle and its surrounding countryside chosen to portray the fictional home of Christopher Lee, Lord Summerisle, whose island was home to murdering pagans and free-thinking, naked dancers?
“It wasn’t anything to do with the people of this region,” smiled the film’s director, Robin Hardy, when he spoke to The Gazette on a visit to the Wicker Man Festival site near Kirkcudbright, Dumfries and Galloway – which also featured heavily in the film – this week ahead of the music event’s tenth birthday celebrations in a fortnight.
“Culzean Castle was a fabulous structure and exactly how we had imagined Lord Summerisle’s home to look. With its flourishing gardens nearby, there was no other option. It had to be there.”
Some of the scenes, filmed in Dumfries and Galloway but cut together to portray the land around Culzean, show naked ladies dancing and pagan activity.
Robin said: “We were aware there would be some resistance from the locals but that’s the nature of film-making and, of course, if we hadn’t filmed it here, there wouldn’t be this festival.”
When asked if he thought the festival was a good way to continue to film’s legacy, Robin said: “I think it’s marvellous. I never predicted something like this would come from the film but it is an event which is growing in popularity and I hope the people of Ayrshire and Dumfries and Galloway, in these more open-minded times, can now be proud of both the film and the festival.”
Fans of the original film may be excited to learn of Robin’s latest venture, a sequel called The Wicker Tree.
With a similar plot, The Wicker Tree is a combination of comedy, romance, sex and music.
The specialist artists, Trevor Rigby and Alex Leat, who put together the giant 40-foot effigy which is then set alight at midnight on the Saturday of each festival have been used to create a similar idea for the film.
Robin said: “The things these guys create are just phenomenal. They have this talent for making these wicker structures appear as though they are moving and the whole effect of them during the festival, with them watching over the weekend and then going up in flames, works perfectly.”
The final look of this year’s wicker man will remain a secret until festival-goers arrive on site, but the theme for the weekend’s revellry will be characters from the film.
Robin has joined the festival twice and even set one of the wicker men on fire, and said he hopes to be back soon.
He said: “I can’t be there this year but I’m thrilled to see that it has reached its tenth birthday and I hope to see many more ahead.”
The festival attracts around 20,000 revellers to its site on East Kirkcarswell Farm near Dundrennan.
It was begun ten years ago in tribute to the region’s connection to the film by Newton Stewart music enthusiast Sid Ambrose and farmer Jamie Gilroy, who gives up his land for the gig each year.