Most are familiar with the legend of Sleepy Hollow. Growing up, it was a favorite at home. There was a cute Disney short we fired up into the VCR every year and a local hayride where an actor on a horse would make a special appearance headless along the wagon. The basics of the story go that the murderous phantom of a soldier who was beheaded has come back to the town of Sleepy Hollow. At night, he rides his black demon horse, chasing his victims until he catches up, chops their head off and leaves nothing but a decapitated body. Where do the heads go? Some say he takes them back to hell.
In Tim Burton’s 1999 adaptation, Ichabod Crane (Johnny Depp) is called to Sleepy Hollow to investigate the recent string of strange beheadings. Welcomed by everyone and a guest in the Van Tassel home, Crane begins to tackle this demon in a very sensible and forensic manner. Then he comes face to… neck stump with the horseman and realizes evil forces are at play.
I must say, I really enjoy Burton’s kind of violence. Somehow there is an air of whimsy and style to the gory parts. However, those who are weary be warned, there is a good amount of blood and gore. We see plenty of bloody neck stumps, sometimes with a surprise crawling out. And the blood is not all swift beheadings. The creative approach put into Michael Gambon’s death was my personal favorite.
What I like about this movie most is that at first it feels very set in a realistic world, but about half way through it becomes clear that there is something very supernatural happening. Once the supernatural elements are let loose, the fun really begins. We see the horseman jump out of a bleeding tree. We meet a witch, who squirts bat blood everywhere and attacks Crane. And we see that the Headless Horseman, who is already dead, cannot be vanquished in a mortal way.
I for one was surprised how well Sleepy Hollow was received by the Academy. It was nominated for three Oscars, Best Cinematography, Costume Design and won Art Direction-Set Direction. I have to agree, the overall visual aesthetic of the film is spot on, giving the film a very dark and foreboding atmosphere.
For a dark, bloody and fun fall evening to prepare for Halloween, I highly recommend Sleepy Hollow. It’s not perfect, the age gap between Johnny Depp and Christina Ricci is weird for any hint of romance, and a few deaths may be laughable to some, but I think that adds to this film’s charm.
“The Horseman comes, and tonight he comes for you!”