Saturday, October 23, 2021

31 Days of Scary Movies: “Sleepy Hollow” (1999)


While I have tried to be diverse about my selections for the film project, some names can’t help but show up multiple times. Some are just too essential to Halloween viewing to only make an appearance on one night. Director Tim Burton is one of those names, and he returned last night with his wildly October 1999 version of “Sleepy Hollow.” Starring Burton standard Johnny Depp as Ichabod Crane and Christina Ricci as Katrina Von Taseel—with a wickedly beyond perfect performance by Christopher Walken as the Headless Horseman—“Sleepy Hollow” is what is now quintessentially a Burton film, but one that stands all on its own.

  There is precious little in the film that is faithfully adapted from Washington Irving’s definitive American ghost story “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” Ichabod is not a school master but a detective from New York City, and there is no ambiguity over whether or not the Horseman is supernatural or Brom Bones playing a trick on Ichabod. But that is okay. This is a wild amalgamation of an American Halloween film—using Irving’s immortal ghost story as a jumping off point, this is part Halloween film filled with jack o’ lanterns and scarecrows, part mystery, part witch legend and part slasher film. The atmosphere of this film is dreamlike and brilliantly contained. The dreary October woods and Colonial villages are painstakingly recreated, and always a beautiful sight to take in. The Horseman himself is scary while being over the top but not too much so; in Walken’s few flashback scenes where he has his head, you know while watching them that no one else could play the Horseman like him. Depp is also spectacular, brilliantly modeling his detective Ichabod after Angela Lansbury’s “Murder She Wrote” character; a perfect choice for Ichabod as a detective, if there ever was one. Miranda Richardson is also wickedly wonderful in her role.

The physical horror here is also played up to a degree that Burton has rarely touched, but when he does he gets it perfectly right. The decapitations happen quick and furiously, and creates a world where at any moment the world turns still and the Horseman can charge out of the road, removing anyone’s head who is in his path. This effect could have misfired, but it is so effective and, truly, scary. Burton knows what he is doing, and uses blood the way the old Hammer horror films did; not constantly,  but when present shockingly over the top. Danny Elfman’s score for the film is also iconic, and used to great effect in this village of “Sleepy Hollow.” I have watched this version every October for many years, and will always continue to do so.

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