Look What I Found! – Sleepy Hollow (1999)

Ichabod Crane is sent to Sleepy Hollow to investigate the decapitations of 3 people with the culprit being the legendary apparition, the Headless Horseman. (IMDB synopsis)

Normally when it comes to Look What I Founds, I like to enter the prospective film or YouTube video completely blind. But in this case, I happen to have read the original Washintgton Irving story, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, and seen the 1949 Disney animated short. (And both are available online, so why not read/watch them for yourself?) Anyway, it’ll be interesting to see what Tim Burton does with the source material. And yes, I was once a Burton fangirl, but I’ve moved past it. For the most part.

Review:

Our story starts back in the day when everyone knew calligraphy and used wax seals. A Mr. Van Garrett takes his stagecoach past a field guarded by a familiar looking Pumpkin King…

Jack escapes from Hallowe'en Town
Jack escapes from Hallowe’en Town again

…and then realises that his driver’s been beheaded. He jumps out and runs through a field, but gets gruesomely beheaded all the same, and sprays blood over Pumpkin Jack’s face rather inconsiderately while he’s at it.
Meanwhile over in 18th Century New York City, Ichabod Crane is being a pathologist at a time when indifference and fear of God generally prohibits this. He’s sent upstate to Sleepy Hollow so as to be out of the way (the locals have clearly seen Hot Fuzz) and to find out who’s been lopping off heads in the sleepy little village. Sleepy Hollow turns out to be very quaint and misty, and everyone closes their shutters as Ichabod passes by. Curiouser and curio- oh wait, that’s another Burton adaptation. Never mind.
He goes into some house and meets Mr. and Mrs. Van Tassell and their gorgeous daughter Katrina, along with the other villagers. They tell Ich that a supernatural Headless Horseman is believed to be responsible for the murders. He doesn’t believe this but is nonetheless unnerved. It doesn’t take long for Ichabod to be convinced, however, as the Headless Horseman is still at large, and it’s up to him to figure out why.
For those of you who aren’t bothered about reading the source material, allow me to state that this film differs from it rather greatly. In the original tale, Ichabod is an unattractive, food-loving and superstitious schoolmaster who pursues Katrina Van Tassell on account of her beauty and great fortune. His rival, Brom Bones, tells him the tale of the Headless Horseman, whose power is only impeded by the bridge that spans the brook. Later that night, Ichabod does have his encounter with the Horseman, and his fate – and indeed, the question of whether or not the Horseman ever existed at all – is left ambiguous.
In THIS version, Ichabod is played by Johnny Depp and his character is not so much superstitious as a stout believer in SCIENCE, DAMMIT! It’s explained a little bit by the tragic fact that his mother, a child of nature/possible witch, was cruelly killed by his father during his youth. This is shown in several dream sequences in which Ichabod’s mother could really do with fixing the front of her dress. Er, in her own time of course. But all this raises the serious question of how a terrifying religious zealot ended up being betrothed to such a spirited flowerchild in the first place. Had she changed THAT much since your wedding day, Father Crane?
As you might expect, this version gives us a definitely supernatural Headless Horseman, played by Christopher ‘N’YAAAARGH!’ Walken, but it also turns the story into more of a murder mystery. The Headless Horseman is actually being controlled by one of the other villagers, and Ichabod has one hell of a time trying to deduce who’s responsible. He has some scientific equipment with him which looks rather gratuitously steampunky, but he’s apparently invented them himself, so that’s OK.
I like Johnny Depp’s portrayal of Ichabod, and Christinna Ricci as the mysterious and witchy Katrina Van Tassell isn’t bad either. A few of her lines seem clunky, but I suppose they were necessary to get out the exposition. And boy, is there a lot of stuff for the viewer to get their head round. It takes most of the film to figure out who the HH’s mortal master is, and just in case you weren’t following everything that went before, Mrs. Van Tassell gives a big old villainous monologue at the end to explain it all, which is very handy.
Now, for the most important question of all – is this film good at being a horror film? Well… sort of. It could actually fit into a few different film genres, which is nice. I like the fact that Burton took the story and ran with it and did his own thing, which is what he’s good at. I still miss the days when he directed and produced films with an original story, of course, but this isn’t half bad, as his adaptations go. Everything has a dark and spooky atmosphere, which could have a lot to do with the blue filter, but also the foggy soundstages and gnarly forest settings. There IS blood and gore, but if anything, it comes across as silly and slightly camp. Poor old Ichabod has more blood splattered onto his face than Ash Williams in Evil Dead. The music score is also excellent, but I expect nothing less from composer Danny Elfman. Whoops, now I’m drifting back into Tim Burton film fandom. Must… resist…

Jack Skellington escapes from Halloween Town again AGAIN
Jack escapes from Halloween Town again AGAIN

Damn it, Tim, why are you doing this to me?

Final Verdict:

This is a very entertaining movie that straddles a lot of genres but still does interesting things with the original story and altogether makes a good Burton film. The weakest aspect is probably the plot, funnily enough. It could just be me, but I couldn’t follow the whole conspiracy thing and found it a bit convoluted and boring. But the character interactions, action scenes and visual appeal are really good. It’s the kind of horror film the whole family can enjoy – including my grandparents, who, when it came to my 30 Day Horror Review, preferred to let me get on with it. Maybe I can get them to watch this, though. My grandmother has a bit of a thing for Johnny Depp. Heh heh.

Rating:

7 jam sandwiches.

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