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Sleepy Hollow
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Sleepy Hollow (1999)

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Plot Summary:
"The classic story of "The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow" is brought to life by the gothic film maker Tim Burton. Johnny Depp plays Ichabod Crane, and to win the heart of Katrina Van Tassel (Christina Ricci) he will have to brave the nearby woods, even though several decapitated bodies have been found. And then the legend of the axe wielding headless horsemen come together to make this movie."

Review by
Ryan McDonald
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Review Date: 23 November 2008 My Rating: out of 5


New York, in the year 1799. Constable Ichabod Crane (Johnny Depp), who uses unusual gizmos and methods of crime-solving (forensics, for instance) is sent by an impatient and stuffy judge (Hammer legend Christopher Lee), to a small upstate village of the title. Apparently several murdered bodies have been discovered…their heads have not. At all. None of them. Not one. Most of the town, including its elders (notary Michael Gough, magistrate Richard Griffiths, doctor Ian McDiarmid, Reverend Jeffrey Jones- sporting the greatest hairpiece of all-time, and Michael Gambon) believe it the work of a supernatural Headless Horseman.

Whilst conducting his investigations with a degree of scepticism and pomposity towards notions of the supernatural, Ichabod also meets Gambon’s comely daughter Christina Ricci and her stepmother Miranda Richardson.

This Gothic horror story is seemingly more of a tribute to Hammer Horror (despite not being set in Victorian England) by director Tim Burton than a slavishly faithful adaptation of Washington Irving’s famed short story. In fact, story isn’t this film’s strongest asset (the mystery isn’t terribly mysterious, for instance). But who the hell cares when a film looks this good, and is full of unique faces and interesting actors (including Hammer vet, and personal fave of mine, Christopher Lee)? Add to that a charmingly weird star turn by Johnny Depp, and a wonderful gothic atmosphere that instantly sucked me in (I literally wanted to live in this film’s world, even if it cost me my head). Cool “Black Sunday” reference aside, the flashbacks/visions are annoying, though, save for one involving the Horseman himself which is brilliant.

This is easily one of Burton’s best films (loved that tree of the dead, an absolutely sicko idea), and a must for Gothic horror fans (or British horror fans for that matter, or Mario Bava enthusiasts, come to think of it), but not for those who prefer ‘scary’ horror films (that’s not this film’s aim, and nor should it be a prerequisite for any Gothic horror film, it’s about atmosphere).

A wonderfully atmospheric Gothic horror story that might even appeal to non-horror fans. Definitely one of Tim Burton’s career highlights.

Reviewer: John Dedeke @horrorasylum
Review Date: 31 October 2001 My Rating: out of 5

Tim Burton's Sleepy Hollow is sort of a two-fold dream come true. Burton grew up on the horror films of the s and s put out by the British studio Hammer. These Technicolor adventures of Dracula and Dr. Frankenstein, staring greats like Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, had a deep effect on Burton, who always wanted to make a film that captured the spirit of those old films. As a child I was enthralled with the story of Sleepy Hollow, and always wanted to see a major live action film made of the tale. Sleepy Hollow fulfills both of those dreams.

The initial challenge of creating a full length feature out of a short story is dealt with quite well, thanks to the great script by Seven's Andrew Kevin Walker and the addition of a conspiracy arch to the story. Rather than the simple schoolmaster of the story, Ichobod Crane (played by the always great Johnny Depp) is a police investigator tracking the pattern of the Horseman's murders. A firm believer in science over superstition, Ichobod refutes the existence of the phantom Horseman until he encounters the ghost himself, and is drawn into the web of mystery and madness. The notion of science and logic versus ghostly superstition also makes for an interesting (though somewhat underdeveloped) subplot to the film.

What is most striking about Sleepy Hollow, however, is how visually stunning it is. This is an absolutely beautiful film from start to finish. The moody atmosphere of the town and amazingly rich sets perfectly capture the creepy essence of the Hammer movies from which Burton drew his inspiration. The film feels alive with the spirit of the Sleepy Hollow story, and is enriched with a superb cast of actors (many of them Burton alumni like Batman's Michael Gough and Beetlejuice's Jeffrey Jones). Christopher Lee, Hammer's Count Dracula, even makes a cameo appearance, and the film is backed by another great score by longtime Burton collaborator Danny Elfman.

Then there's the Horseman himself (played in part by both Ray Park and Christopher Walken), who is every bit as chilling as you could possibly imagine. Staying true to the Hammer roots, Burton avoided using computer-enhanced effects as much as possible, lending the most realistic representation ever to the demonic rider. Additionally, the film is full of blood, from juicy beheadings to squirting limbs and even wooden stakes. For someone making his first attempt at a full-blown horror film, Burton sure knows how to please.

That said, Sleepy Hollow is not without fault. Though the first ninety minutes of the film are near perfect, full of dark humor and deliciously gory fun, the last twenty minutes leave a great deal to be desired. Going into extensive detail might diminish the enjoyment of first-time viewers, but it is important to note that the climax of Sleepy Hollow does not reach its full potential, despite Burton's honest efforts to do so. There's something entirely too 'Hollywood' about the conclusion to this otherwise very 'British' film, and the shift in tone does not sit well once the credits start to roll.

Nevertheless, despite the letdown of the final act, Sleepy Hollow is a great film. Compelling, visually gorgeous, it makes every attempt to bring the story of the Headless Horseman to life, and with the minor exception of its conclusion, it succeeds very well.

Like a big-budget Hammer flick, Sleepy Hollow pleases on just about every level, both in concept and execution. Ignore the misplaced ending and enjoy the film's overall sheer beauty.

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