» Film / Interviews / Paganism is in Christianity: Robin Hardy on ‘The Wicker Tree’

Paganism is in Christianity: Robin Hardy on ‘The Wicker Tree’

The director of the horror classic The Wicker Man on his new follow-up, the sequel that never was, the awful remake and the graphic novel.

 

Mythically overshadowed by its howlingly inferior 2006 remake, Robin Hardy’s legendary 1973 masterpiece of British horror The Wicker Man is finally getting an official sequel, written and directed by Hardy himself. A novelist and artist as well as a filmmaker, Hardy’s anticipated follow-up, The Wicker Tree, is adapted from the novel Cowboys for Christ, which Hardy himself wrote and published in 2006. Expanding on the original film’s themes about culture clash and the buried relationships between modern Christianity and esoteric Paganism, Wicker Tree follows a pair of missionaries from Texas who travel to Scotland hoping to introduce pockets of sequestered Celtic heathens to the glories of Americanized Christianity, only to discover with what truly deadly tenacity the locals prefer to cling to their own ancient rites instead.

Hardy spoke with us over the weekend about the roots of his religious fixation, his planned Wicker Man graphic novel, Anthony Schaffer’s original unproduced sequel, and Hardy’s upcoming third film in the trilogy, Wrath of the Gods.

 

CraveOnline: So the first question I had – I don’t know if this is a weird question, or if you’ve ever been asked this before – but I was curious, because I’ve been a fan of The Wicker Man since high school, and when I was first getting into the movie, I was doing some reading about early Paganism in Europe, and the early Catholic Church takeover. And I was reading about Robin Hood, the legend of Robin Hood, and I found out that the word “Robin” was actually kind of a slang term, or a colloquialism, for a horned male fertility God, supposedly, in Pagan cultures.

So I thought your name was kind of interesting, and I wondered if that was like an intentional play on words. Is that just your birth certificate name, or did you choose that name?

Robin Hardy: Robin was a very common name in the thirties, when Christopher Robin – the A.A. Milne books – were written. And so my parents liked the name, and Robin was a sort of fashionable name, I suppose, for parents to choose at that point, for boys. And it is actually also the diminutive of “Robert.”

 

Yeah, it’s a really interesting name. I just figured because “Hardy” means strong or formidable, “Robin Hardy” is just kind of an interesting name for the director of Wicker Man to have.

[Laughs] I shall tell my children about that.

 

Okay, well that kind of leads into my next question, which is that I was curious about what your personal religious philosophies are. Because it seems like, especially in the original Wicker Man, there’s a lot of interest in the meaning of religions within cultures. I know a lot of Christians have interpreted the movie as sort of a crucifixion metaphor. Are you Christian, or are you Atheist, or are you interested in esoteric religions at all? What’s your perspective on that?

I’m not Atheist, but I’m not religious. I’m very interested in comparative religion, and I’m enormously interested in science, and how it impinges on belief. So I suppose you could say I’m neutral about religions. I was, in the sixties, the producer of a program called Right Under His Feet, which was a sort of Christian program, which accorded each of the major Christian religions in the United States X amount of time to do a program, in proportion to their, you know – their membership in the population. So you had the Baptists having the largest number of shows, and then the Catholics, and then you had the Presbyterians, and then the Lutherans, and all the rest of them. So for me, I actually got this job because I was Agnostic, and as Richard Nixon said in his debate with President Kennedy at the time, I don’t care what religion a person has as long as he has a religion.

Well that, of course, is a very American point of view – in Europe, we don’t care what sort of religion a person has because we don’t care. [Laughs] We certainly don’t expect you to have a religion because you should have religion, because we don’t care. It’s the last thing we would expect. So we have become, now, Agnostic as a continent, really, having spawned all these religions, which we’ve given to you.

We are, I think – or at least I am – intrigued about how Paganism has related to Christianity. How much Paganism is in Christianity, and that certainly you can see throughout both of the two films. You have seen the second film, haven’t you?

 

Yeah, absolutely. That’s an interesting point that you make about America versus Europe or versus England, particularly because I thought it was an interesting choice in the sequel to make the protagonists be American, and kind of comment more on cultural differences, as opposed to just religious differences.

I think that’s right, and I was particularly anxious not to make, in any way – how can I say? A critique of them as people. They clearly profoundly believe in what their church has taught, and they’re fair and honest, and they’re good people. But they’re victims, partly, of their innocence, and I suppose you could say, of their ignorance of people from other countries. And I mean, the film – the second film – it’s full of clues about what’s going to happen, almost from the beginning. And I think part of the entertainment for the audience is to get those clues. Rather like in a treasure hunt, you have things that are hidden in plain sight. At first they appear to be just what they are, but then you realize that they are significant. That’s the game that we play in both films, really. And Tony Schaffer [the screenwriter of Wicker Man] and I were very keen on games playing, I’m afraid, and played terrible tricks on each other.

He once wrote a wonderful play called Sleuth, which was also made into almost as bad a remake as the remake of The Wicker Man. Have you seen it?

 

No, I have not. I have not seen the remake of The Wicker Man. I have only seen the YouTube Video.

Oh, it’s every bit as bad. In fact it’s worse, the remake of The Wicker Man, I think.

 

Yeah, I’ve heard it’s awful. I was curious too – there’s a movie that came out earlier this year called Kill List, I wondered if you had seen or heard anything about that.

No, I haven’t. I haven’t seen it.

 

I actually haven’t seen it yet either, but I was curious because I guess it’s more of a crime movie, but it turns into something, later on, that’s really similar to The Wicker Man. Every review I’ve read compares it to The Wicker Man. I was just curious if you’d heard of that, or seen it.

No, I’ve not! Well, I guess I must look out for it. I think The Wicker Man has influenced a lot of things, certainly in Scotland, and to a lesser extent England. Are you… your name is Devon, you said? Are you familiar with the Padstow Mysteries?

 

No, actually, I’m not.

Well, I’ve forgotten where Padstow, in Devon or Cornwall. Anyway, they’re very close to where it is, and it’s a small town, which actually inspired a lot of The Wicker Man for us, in terms of the ceremony, of the hobby horse and the women leaving the village area well ahead of the men, and then being pursued by this procession. That part of England is still very Celtic. The Cornish have their own language – I think about nine and a half people speak it. It’s a surviving language from the Celtic past. And of course that’s why that particular ceremony has survived for thousands of years.

 

You mentioned Anthony Schaffer, the screenwriter of the original Wicker Man. I was listening to the commentary track again when I was prepping for the interview, with you and Christopher Lee and Edward Woodward, and one of you mentioned that Anthony Schaffer had actually had a different idea for a sequel, where the Edward Woodward character was supposed to have survived. I wondered what your thoughts were about that, or if there’s anything else you’d like to say about it.

[Laughs] I didn’t like it, to tell you the truth. The idea of reviving the dead was – when he wrote the script, everyone was already fifteen to twenty years older. It seemed to me a bit Grand Guignol.

 

So this was much later that he had this idea, it wasn’t right after the original came out?

Oh, no. Much later. Much, much later, yes. I must confess I never read the script. He told me what it was about, and there was a question whether I would direct it, and I said, “No, I think I really…” I really didn’t want to do a sequel, and I think you’ll agree that the film you’ve seen is not a sequel, it’s just another film in the same genre about the same sort of things.

 

I was curious about that, about how the project got started. Because I noticed you haven’t really done a lot of work in the entertainment industry lately, but I know that this was based actually on a novel that you wrote. So have you just been writing a lot of fiction lately?

Yes, I’ve written quite a few novels. When I wrote the novel I was thinking of the film, of course, as one who writes novels and makes films will obviously do. And I thought that it would work as a film, and I went to spend some time in Texas, where these Cowboys for Christ churches are, and very interesting it was indeed, because the actual religion – it’s not so much the beliefs as the sort of rituals of those churches, where everybody arrives in a huge SUV, dressed in their best possible cowboy outfit, and the ladies arrive in these sort of flowered Sunday dresses. And then they have a big dipping sink – I don’t know what you call it, maybe it’s a trough, which is by the doors of the church, so the people who want to repent can go and be dipped into it. A lady was shouting out during one of the hymns, and her husband and everyone surrounded her, and she said, “I want to be reborn,” and they sort of escorted her out, and two pages held her while she was dipped. And she came out soaking wet, and they took her off, and she changed her dress and came back, and everyone clapped and cheered and stomped and she was reborn.

 

I’ve always thought The Wicker Man is sort of an interesting commentary on just how weird rituals like that can look out of context, if you don’t know what they’re about.

I know, I know, I know, I know. [Laughs] I mean, I was very tempted to put it in the film, but it’s too easy to laugh at, and I didn’t want to laugh at that, or at them. Because basically I want the two young people to be sympathetic, and I think they are. You feel for them.

 

Yeah, absolutely. So after the novel was published, how did the film deal happen? Did you really pursue that, or were you just approached?

Well, Peter Snell, who produced The Wicker Man, was interested in it, and we spent some time getting the money together to make it. No distributor wanted to make it, they sort of said, “Well, what are all these songs?” [Laughs] Well, you can imagine what they said. So we made it ourselves, as I distributed the first film myself. We would have never gotten a distributor to distribute it, the only one who wanted to was Roger Corman, who is probably the most brilliant, sort of off-the-wall distributor in the United States.

 

Are you planning to do anymore film work, or do you just prefer writing?

Well, I’m going to make this film The Wrath of the Gods, it’s the third film in the trilogy. I’m going to make it in the Shetland Islands, which are the northernmost islands of the United Kingdom.

 

Are you working on that right now, like is it all set up?

Oh yes, absolutely. It’s just deciding definitely to do most of it in the Shetland Islands, rather than some of it possibly in Iceland. We’re quite far on with that. I have to shoot it before the end of the year.

 

Great! So when do you think it will be out?

Well, probably the fall of next year, you know. At the rate that these things take.

 

That’s exciting. Is there anything else you’re working on? Are you pretty committed to staying with film? Or you said you’ve been writing a lot of novels and stuff like that too, is that something you want to keep doing as well?

I wrote down a complete storyboard – as I think I told you, I was originally an artist, and have been an artist intermittently in between. And I’ve done a storyboard, and I want to make it into a graphic novel, which would actually be the story of the first film. Are you familiar with these graphic novels?

 

Yeah, of course! You want to illustrate it yourself?

Well I’ve already done the storyboard of the entire film, so in effect I have already done that. But I’ll probably get another artist, because the style of graphic novels – you know, the difficulty of it is that you have to make the people who occur in the story look exactly the same in each page. That’s quite difficult to do, and that’s of course what comic book writers do.

 

Is there anyone specific you’re interested in to do the artwork for that?

You mean for the artists? Yes, I have talked to people about that, and they constantly say, “Why don’t you do it yourself? You’ve already done the storyboard.” But since I’m producing and directing a new film, I don’t have the time to do it at the moment. And I would like it to come out at the same time as the film. I’m very interested in the genre of graphic novels.