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2022’s Secret Wicker Man Remake Is The Perfect Horror Reboot Formula

An anthology TV series redid The Wicker Man, showing what formula is needed to effectively do a classic horror reboot in the modern era.

Warning: This article contains spoilers for Inside No. 9 season 7.

Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton’s anthology series Inside No. 9 serves as a secret Wicker Man remake in season 7’s “Mr. King,” and the episode is a lesson for anyone attempting to remake classic horror, especially with upcoming remakes like David Bruckner’s Hellraiser and Robert Eggers’ Nosferatu. Starting as a drama about Reece Shearsmith’s fish-out-of-water teacher, Mr. Curtis, in a small rural Welsh school, the drama takes several swift turns in the genre. It begins as a culture clash comedy where Mr. Curtis attempts to live up to the preceding teacher, the mysterious ‘Mr. King.’ It then becomes a discussion on the climate crisis when the kids don’t know about extinction rebellion before swerving into the issue of covering up abuse in schools when Mr. Curtis is accused of inappropriate behavior. However, in its final few minutes, it reveals it is, in fact, Wicker Man-style folk horror tale, with all the other plots being ruses to prepare Mr. Curtis to be sacrificed by the class for the good of the harvest and the planet, and like his predecessor, be crowned a ‘king’ for a day.


“Mr. King” hides The Wicker Man in plain sight but toes the line well enough to keep the surprise. Mr. Curtis coming to the school recalls Sergeant Howie visiting the island of Summerisle in The Wicker Man, a stern outsider confronting a system different from his own with contempt and horror, manipulated at every turn by the locals. More specific references include the real name of Mr. Curtis’ predecessor being Mr. Hardy (a reference to Wicker Man director Robin Hardy), the old class photo paralleling the old harvest photos in The Wicker Man, and hare paintings on the wall, much like one a child does in The Wicker Man. Following the reveal, it even lifts dialogue, with Steve Pemberton’s character echoing Christopher Lee’s Lord Summerisle, telling one of the schoolchildren she had done “beautifully.”

Related: Nic Cage’s Most Memed Movie Proved His Perfect Horror Connection

“Mr. King” is not an official remake of The Wicker Man but is a reimagining of its key elements to consider 21st-century themes – however, its method of updating a classic tale is one that horror remakes could learn from. On the Inside Inside No. 9 podcast, co-writer Steve Pemberton says the idea to do a Wicker Man episode partly came from an article about how children in 15th century Peru were sacrificed to save the planet – whereas now, children are the ones making sacrifices. Whereas franchise reboots like Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street often exist for the sake of making a new one with some surface-level updates, Inside No. 9 works the opposite way, finding an exciting, new idea around environmental concerns that then naturally lends itself to being told using a classic tale.

the wicker man christopher lee

There needs to be a vital reason to retell a story for it to work – in the case of “Mr. King,” it’s by highlighting the way in which ignorance or misunderstanding of urgent environmental issues can be dangerous, especially when mixed with outdated, archaic belief. It’s not enough to just use familiar iconography and set it in a different time period, or location like the 2006 remake of The Wicker Man did – it needs to be justified and inventive, as Inside No. 9 is.

Most importantly, “Mr. King” also keeps the element of surprise many horror reimaginings often lack. Nearly 50 years from The Wicker Man, it’s rare to meet a person who doesn’t know Sergeant Howie will be sacrificed – it’s even on most of the DVD covers now. By wrapping its tribute to The Wicker Man within two acts of other genres, Inside No. 9 manages to resurrect the shock audiences would have had back on release, a feat horror remakes like Poltergeist have struggled with. Though something like the new Hellraiser will not be able to hide its premise in the same way as “Mr. King,” both it and other horror remakes can still play with genre and expectations like Inside No. 9 to ensure audiences expecting the same beats from decades ago are given a suitably nasty surprise.

More: Inside No. 9 Season 4 Episodes Ranked

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