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‘Wicker’ horror war erupts

U's adaptation, Hardy-script compete in pic remake

Universal Pictures and StudioCanal plan to remake 1973 cult horror pic “The Wicker Man.” So do thesp Christopher Lee and director Robin Hardy, part of the team behind the original “Wicker.”

Which “Wicker” will be quicker?

U, which owns the title, has the upper hand. Nicolas Cage intends to star in and produce U’s remake through his production shingle Saturn Films, along with partner Norm Golightly.

Neil LaBute is writing and directing U’s adaptation, to be set in the contempo U.S. Also producing is Joanne Sellar, producer of Paul Thomas Anderson’s three pics and “The Anniversary Party.”

But Hardy has already written a script for a different version of “Wicker” called “The Riding of the Laddie,” which he plans to shoot on location near Glasgow. Lee, who last played Saruman the White in “Lord of the Rings,” has been recruiting a cast. Lee’s “Rings” co-star Sean Astin is flirting with the project.

In the 1973 pic, Lee played Lord Summerisle, leader of a pagan community inhabiting a remote island off the west coast of Scotland. Story follows a prim mainland policeman (Edward Woodward) investigating the disappearance of a young girl, who’s drawn into the island’s Bacchanalian rituals.

“Laddie” will depart from the original in significant ways. Hardy told U.K. newspaper the Scotsman that Lee will play the naif, in this case a door-to-door, born-again preacher who comes to Scotland with his wife, adding that Vanessa Redgrave was in line to play the wife.

“In ‘The Wicker Man,’ ” Hardy said, “you think it’s quite possible that Howie (the police officer) will triumph — the police usually do. In ‘The Laddie,’ you know, for pretty damn sure, that something ghastly is going to happen.”

U’s version has been in development for years. Originally released by National General Films in the U.S. and British Lion in the U.K., title was in the Canal Plus film library before Sellar optioned it and set it up at U.

“I have been passionate about the original for years,” said Sellar. “I couldn’t be happier about working with Neil. He has the ideal sensibility for this project.”

Cage and Golightly recently teamed with U on Alan Parker’s “The Life of David Gale.” Cage also just wrapped his directorial debut, “Sonny,” for Gold Circle Films.

The original “Wicker” has gained some visibility recently, thanks to a DVD release of the pic including the original version, a version with 11 minutes restored, a theatrical trailer and a docu.

There’s even a Wicker Man festival set for July 19-20 in Galloway, where the original pic was shot, featuring screenings, live music and the immolation of giant wicker men.

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