Original print of the classic horror film discovered after global hunt.

A worldwide appeal to retrieve missing film material for horror classic The Wicker Man has turned up an original print, that will released by StudioCanal this autumn. It marks the first full 2k restoration for the film.

The Wicker Man: The Final Cut will be released in cinemas on September 27, and on DVD/BD October 14 in celebration of the 40th anniversary.

Studiocanal UK and director Robin Hardy made the announcement on Facebook.

Hardy said: “StudioCanal contacted me last year in their search for the original materials that have been missing.

“I’m very pleased to announce that StudioCanal have been able to find an actual print of The Wicker Man, which is based on my original cut working with Abraxas, the American distributors, all those years ago.

“They plan, and this is the exciting bit, to actually release it. This version has never been restored before, has never been shown in UK theatres before, has never been converted to Blu-ray before.

“This version will - optimistically - be known as the Final Cut.”

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the 1973 film about a policeman (Edward Woodward) sent to a remote island village in search of a missing girl, whom the townsfolk claim never existed. It also stars Christopher Lee.

The Wicker Man was originally released with minimal promotion as the second feature in a double bill with Don’t Look Now.

The version exhibited to audiences was significantly shorter (88mins) than Hardy’s original vision (102mins).

The negatives disappeared from storage at Shepperton Studios and were allegedly used as landfill in the construction of the nearby M4 motorway.

Ahead of the anniversary, Studiocanal conducted an extensive worldwide search for film materials for The Wicker Man for the past year, including a public appeal to fans for clues as to the whereabouts of the missing original cut.

Eventually a 35mm release print was found at Harvard Film Archives and measured to be around 92 minutes long. This print was scanned in 4k and sent to London, where it was inspected by Hardy who confirmed that it was the cut he had put together with Abraxas in 1979 for the US release.

This has previously been known as the “Middle Version” and was in turn assembled from a 35mm print of the original edit he had made in the UK in 1973, but which was never released.

Hardy accepts that film materials for the “Long Version” will probably now never be found. “Sadly, it seems as though this has been lost forever. However, I am delighted that a 1979 Abraxas print has been found as I also put together this cut myself, and it crucially restores the story order to that which I had originally intended.”

The director has long maintained that the “Short Version” of the film, which is the only one that has ever been shown in UK cinemas, does not make narrative sense.

Hardy has said it is important that the events on the island take place over a 72-hour period and that Lord Summerisle is established as a character far earlier. Another important inclusion is the performance of the song Gently Johnny, which is key in signaling both the strange and unusual community into which Sergeant Howie is intruding, and its complicity in events on the island.

John Rodden, general manager of home entertainment of Studiocanal UK, said: “The Final Cut release will reinstate all the important extra scenes that Robin Hardy intended to include and will restore the original timeline and story structure. After extensive film restoration work we will create a new digital cinema master of the film to screen in cinemas across the country for the 40th Anniversary.”

The Final Cut will not include all of the pre-credit mainland sequences, but Hardy himself originally agreed to their removal because the most important scene set in the Church is still there: of Sergeant Howie taking communion.

The Wicker Man: 40th Anniversary restoration will screen at the Locarno Film Festival August 8 as part of their homage to Sir Christopher Lee, who will be receiving the Excellence Award at the festival.

When asked whether this cut measures up to the fabled original, long version, Hardy said: “The film as I saw it in the editing suite the other day fulfills my vision of what it was intended to convey to the audience.”