SOME residents of Dumfries and Galloway 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 Dumfries and Galloway chosen to portray the fictional island of Summerisle, 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’s Emma Barlow on a visit to the Wicker Man Festival site near Kirkcudbright this week ahead of the music event’s 10th birthday celebrations in a fortnight.
“We needed somewhere that would work well to create the illusion of an island and the inlets and scenery around this region lent itself well to this.
“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.”
Locations at Port Logan, Kirkcudbright, Burrowhead near Isle of Whithorn, St Ninian’s Cave and Castle Kennedy were just some featured in scenes throughout the movie, with Skye and Plockton also used for harbour and aerial shots.
“The region’s beauty was a huge contributing factor because Summerisle had to be a place of natural beauty. So places such as Port Logan Gardens were exactly what we were looking for. Then there was then the stone circles at Castle Kennedy and the tremendous cliff tops at Burrowhead. We couldn’t have asked for more convenient locations so close together.”
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 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. The Wicker Tree. With a similar plot, the Wicker Tree uses nuclear in the way fruit was used it the 70s version and 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 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 it’s reached its 10th 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 began 10 years ago in tribute to the region’s connection to the film of the same name by Newton Stewart music enthusiast Sid Ambrose and farmer Jamie Gilroy, who gives up his land for the gig each year.
For more information and tickets, see www.thewickermanfestival.co.uk