Was filmed in 1972 in Galloway in South West Scotland, and there was some controversy when Britt Ekland labelled it as the "bleakest place on Earth". The producers were forced to apologize to the locals.
The 'evil eye' rowing boat, which takes Howie to and from his plane, was not constructed for the film. It belonged to a resident of Plockton. Upon seeing it, the producers decided it would suit the film. The boat survived until 2004 when it was destroyed in a storm.
A body double was secretly used for the naked rear shots of Willow dancing. The scenes were filmed after Britt Ekland had left the set. The body double was used because Ekland would only agree to topless shots of her body. After shooting was over, not only was Ekland furious to learn she had been doubled in some shots but that she was also a few weeks pregnant in that scene. Director Robin Hardy says it was Ekland herself who did not want her bottom to be filmed, as she did not like it.
Despite being set in the Hebrides, which were still largely Gaelic speaking in the 1960s, very little Gaelic appears in the film, and some of the folk customs alluded to are English rather than Scottish, let alone Highland. The Wicker Man, however, is firmly tied in with Druidism.
The film was inspired by an engraving called "The Wicker Image" in Britannia Antiqua Illustrata by Aylett Sammes in 1676. Some people have doubted the historical existence of the Wicker Man suggesting that it came from Roman propaganda by people such as Julius Caesar. There is, however, undeniable evidence that the Druids and the Celts practiced human sacrifice.
It is rumoured that the original negative of the full length version was used as landfill in the M3 motorway in England. Actor Christopher Lee has said that this was apparently done on purpose, because of Michael Deeley's dislike of the film.
The negative and the outtakes of the film were stored at the vault in Shepperton studios. When it was bought, the new owner gave the order to clear the vault to get rid of all the old stuff. Foolishly, the vault manager put the negatives, which just arrived from the lab, with the ones which were to be destroyed.
As filming occurred between October and November, there were no trees in blossom. The trees in the scenes with the pregnant women had to be brought in and were all handmade. Edward Woodward admitted one of the memories of filming that stuck out in his mind was watching the trees being brought in on the back of a truck as he had never seen anything like it.
There is actually a small archipelago in Scotland called "the Summer Isles" (Na h-Eileanan Samhraidh). However, this is apparently unconnected with the film, at least consciously. Bermuda was also formerly known as "Somer's Isle".
The final song, sung by the islanders around the sacrifice, is a thirteenth century 'reverdie' song celebrating the return of Spring. It would typically, as in this case, be sung in the round e.g. it keeps repeating over and over with different singers joining in at different stages: 'Sumer is i-comen in! Ludé [louder] sing cuckoo! Groweth sed [seed] and bloweth med [mead, plants in the meadow] and springeth the wood nu! [new]! Sing cuckoo nu, sing cuckoo' etc.
Although Rowan was played by Gerry Cowper it is her twin sister Jackie Cowper whose photograph is handed around by Howie, and in fact during the chase through the caves Jackie appeared in a couple of shots instead of Gerry.
In The Directors Cut, there is a scene in which we see Howie and McTaggart in their police car, that was filmed in a garage. The illusion of passing cars was created by two crew members waving torches past their windscreen.
During a break in the filming of the final scene, a member of the wardrobe department ran out to provide coats to the three leading actresses. Ingrid Pitt noticed that the extras gathered around them were not being given any protection from the blisteringly cold weather, and decided she decided, out of solidarity, that she didn't have to wear her coat.
Cinematographer Harry Waxman was not director Robin Hardy's choice and was forced upon the production by Black Lion.The reason was that the executive producers were concerned they would not be able to get the important final shot of the Wicker Man collapsing down in front of the setting sun and that it would have to be shot using the green screen projection process in the studio. At that time, Waxman was the most experienced cameraman in the UK with this format (having used it on: Quatermass and The Pit and The Day the Earth Caught Fire), and was brought in as insurance. Robin Hardy was very unhappy about not being able to choose his own DOP (and didn't like Waxman personally) and as a result the two men did not get on and clashed frequently during shooting.
Information concerning the film's checkered distribution history in the US: Opened 9/30/77 in Minneapolis MN with a PG rating; another run on 1/28/81. Variety reviewed it in their 5/15/74 issue. New Orleans run 10/28/78; San Francisco January 1979; Los Angeles with new ad campaign 3/9/79 and R rating; New York 3/26/80 with R rating and distributed by Dynamite Entertainment-Abraxas Releasing.
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
The actual Wicker Man was constructed and later burnt at Burrowhead, on the South West Coast of Scotland. The stumps remained at the location of the shoot for decades and became a landmark for fanatics. There was outrage by fans as the stumps were cut down and stolen in late 2006 by someone in a 4x4.
The film gives its name to a music and arts festival (The Wickerman Festival) which has been held annually in the area where the film was shot (Dumfries & Galloway, Scotland) since 2004. At the end of the festival a giant Wicker Man sculpture is burned as a 'sacrifice to the festival gods'.
According to Britt Ekland, some animals may have actually perished inside the burning Wicker Man. However, according to director Robin Hardy, the animals were not inside the Wicker Man when it was set alight (this scene was faked) and great care was taken that they were not in danger of being hurt.