Sleepy Hollow Review

Posted: October 26, 2013 by moviebuff801 in moviebuff801's Movie Reviews, Time Capsule Reviews

Release Date: November 19th, 1999

Running Time: 1 hour and 45 minutes

Written by: Andrew Kevin Walker

Directed by: Tim Burton

Starring: Johnny Depp, Christina Ricci, Miranda Richardson, Michael Gambon

By: Michael “MovieBuff801” Dennos

This year, we’ve gotten a new T.V. show inspired by Washington Irving’s classic horror tale Sleepy Hollow; most seem to find it to be a guilty pleasure, but I personally didn’t care for it.  That particularly disappoints me when considering Alex Kurtzman & Roberto Orci, two of the co-creators of my favorite T.V. show Fringe, helped developed it.  But I digress.  When it comes to the tale of Ichabod Crane and The Headless Horseman, I’ll stick to director Tim Burton’s re-imagining, thank you very much, which is a very entertaining adaptation of the story in its own right.  No silly time travel/demon mythology infusion here; just good old-fashioned gothic horror storytelling.

The film takes all of the familiar elements of Irving’s story and adds a few twists to them.  For instance, Ichabod Crane (Johnny Depp) isn’t a schoolteacher who ventures into the town of Sleepy Hollow in this version, but rather a forward-thinking New York constable sent to the town by his superiors in order to investigate a series of decapitations.  It’s not so much an assignment as it is an order, seeing how Crane’s more deductive methods of crime-solving have begun to clash with the more simple-minded approach of everyone else on the force.  Those very deductive methods are what Crane will need to solve the murders, especially when the town council informs him of their theory that the perpetrator is The Headless Horseman, the spirit of a Hessian mercenary who met his demise in the woods not far from Sleepy Hollow many years ago.  Crane, firmly believing there to be a more natural explanation to the killing spree rather than a supernatural one, probes deeper into what dirty little secrets Sleepy Hollow may be hiding, and gains the attention of Katina Van Tassel (Christina Ricci), daughter of the town’s wealthiest couple.  With the help of Katrina and Masbeth (Marc Pickering), the orphaned son of one of The Horseman’s victims, Crane uncovers much more than he bargained for, especially where The Headless Horseman is concerned.

The 1999 adaptation of Sleepy Hollow, scripted by Se7en scribe Andrew Kevin Walker, functions successfully as both a horror movie and a murder mystery…oh, and kind of an action movie, too. It ends up being a winning combination, to say the least, due in large part to both the talent and effort put into the film.  There’s something almost classical in the way Sleepy Hollow is handled.  It has such a quality about it that it could have been filmed in black & white and the film wouldn’t have lost any of its effect.  Between this movie and Sweeney Todd, Tim Burton has definitely proved himself effective in the horror genre.

Now of course, since this is a Depp-Burton collaboration, the character of Ichabod Crane is portrayed with a certain degree of oddity, but it’s nowhere near the more extreme levels of their most recent films and it actually helps make Crane a pretty interesting lead; the balance between serious and strange in this guy is well-maintained throughout.  Plus, Depp’s interpretation remains pretty true to the Ichabod from the story.  He’s still timid and fearful of anything frightening, and is battling nightmares of his own, which I think is an interesting combination of qualities to give to a detective, someone who has to be around violence a lot.  I also appreciate that the movie doesn’t attempt to turn Crane into an action hero halfway through.  Yes, the film sports an action-driven climax, but during all that, Crane remains true to his established personality, both in terms of the film and Irving’s source material. Christina Ricci’s work is also good, even if she might be the weakest in the whole cast.  The movie is also ripe with enjoyable supporting performances from the likes of Michael Gambon, Miranda Richardson, Michael Gough, and Richard Griffiths to name a few.  All in all, Sleepy Hollow sports a very solid ensemble.

The script intertwines the supernatural elements into the story well, making for a very atmospheric movie and, naturally, one with some great and gothic imagery. The backstory that Andrew Kevin Walker gives The Horseman is pretty interesting, as is the fact that when he still has his head, the part is played by Christopher Walken, whose only (and repeated) line of dialogue in this movie is, “RARRR!”  Andrew Kevin Walker also turns Sleepy Hollow into a pretty compelling murder-mystery, which isn’t all that shocking, considering this is the guy who wrote the masterful Se7en.

Another thing I like about Sleepy Hollow is of course the direction by Tim Burton.  The story of Sleepy Hollow seems to lend itself almost perfectly to his sensibilities, and as I pointed out, his trademark dark imagery creates incredible atmosphere for the movie.  The color palette complements the film and story incredibly well.  The imagery on display in the dream sequences that Crane periodically has is as creepy and strange as the nightmares they literally are.  Burton has said that his main inspiration here was the series of horror movies from Hammer Films, and while I can’t comment on that comparison, I can say that this movie feels more like traditional horror than it does the more modern version around today, in terms of execution.  I also appreciate that when it comes to the violence, Tim Burton doesn’t tone it down. Instead of copping out with a PG-13 rating, he embraces the R-rated nature of the story with violence that’s gloriously bloody and intense and, kind of surprisingly, exciting.

This film was made at a time when both Depp and Burton were at the top of their game, and it shows in the final product. Overall, while the film may fall short of being great (Ricci sort of pales in comparison to the other actors and I’m not sure if the movie needed an action climax), Sleepy Hollow is still a highly entertaining movie and one I traditionally watch around this time every year.

***1/2 /****

Comments
  1. vinnieh says:

    Excellent post, a great choice for the build up to Halloween.

  2. moviebuff801 says:

    Thanks. It definitely gets you into the Halloween spirit.

  3. le0pard13 says:

    Still one of favorite film to re-run for Halloween, Daniel. Fine look.

  4. moviebuff801 says:

    No worries. ;)

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