In honour of Burns Night which celebrates Scotland’s national poet, Robert Burns, today we look at Scottish horror film The Wicker Tree. Unfortunately, unlike the Scot’s famous bard, this film is nothing to be proud of.
The Wicker Tree’s story is loosely tied to the classic The Wicker Man which was also directed by Robin Hardy after a nearly 40 year gap. The film tells the story of a young couple who leave Texas to “bring the lord’s message to the lost people of Scotland”, according to the couple’s pastor in the opening scene. Who knew Scotland was such as a godless place? There are even some people there who don’t believe in angels according to the incredulous pastor who sends the young Texans on the mission to save the Scots’ wretched souls.
Of course, the couple aren’t so pure themselves despite announcing their chastity to the locals upon arrival. Beth (played by Brittania Nicol in apparently her only film role to date) is a rising country singer who made some rather risqué choices in her past. Her fiancé Steve (played by Henry Garrett) ends up shagging a Scottish lassie soon after arriving. I guess that’s one way to deliver the lord’s message.
Using perhaps the most overdone southern accents I’ve ever heard in film (Steve actually uses the words “pa” and “purdy”), The two yokels go door to door to deliver the Lord’s word to anyone who will listen. During a sermon they boldly declare Jesus is much superior to Rob Roy and Braveheart to get their point across. The locals are seemingly receptive to their message but that is just a cover for the sinister plans they have for the gullible visitors.
As it turns out, the townsfolk are all pagans who require annual sacrifice to appease their pagan gods. A good portion of the film entails the doomed couple traipsing across the Scottish countryside spreading the gospel while the locals prepare for their “festivities”. There is little suspense in the film as it becomes clear that the two will be meeting with an unfortunate demise.
The climax of the film happens quite suddenly and instead of being frightening or shocking, it’s almost laughable when the townsfolk suddenly turn on Steve as he returns from a horse ride and becomes a key part of their nudist pagan feast. Don’t worry, Beth is not left out of the celebration as she earns the honour of becoming their May Queen in a ceremony by the wicker tree, which isn’t quite as prestigious as it sounds.
The film is a hodgepodge of awkward, nonsensical scenes, including a raven that appears throughout the film providing the audience with an unnecessary view from its eyes. That, combined with the over the top acting and ill timed music make The Wicker Tree about as appealing as a haggis and blood pudding dinner.
Apparently the film had a difficult path to production with significant filming delays due to financing issues which could account for its unevenness. Filming was scheduled to start in 2007 but it wasn’t released until 2011. The film has very little in common with the original The Wicker Man except for its pagan sacrifice storyline and certainly does not come close to the original for its impact and production values.
I was hoping to uncover an unknown Scottish horror gem to share on the day celebrating Scotland’s famous poet but unfortunately this is not it. Instead of spending Burns Night watching The Wicker Tree, I would suggest celebrating in traditional fashion with some scotch. Perhaps this film might be more enjoyable after a few drams.
Should you wish to check it out, you can stream The Wicker Tree for free on Tubi.