Tim Burton weaves an eerie, enchanting version of this classic tale of
horror. Jonny Depp is Ichabod Crane, an eccentric investigator determined
to stop the murderous Headless Horseman. Christina Ricci is Katrina Van
Tassel, the beautiful and mysterious girl with secret ties to the supernatural
"Their heads weren't found severed. Their heads were not found at all."
- Reverend Steenwyck
Tim Burton is just about as good as they get in the movie business when
it comes to creating an atmospheric world to inhabit specific characters. Sleepy
Hollow is the perfect kind of movie for his directional Midas touch;
it resembles the best of Burton in every way. In the film, an adaptation
based on a story by Washington Irving called The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,
he captures the slumbering, creepy village of Sleepy Hollow with vivid
details and imaginative description. The way everything is presented, the
trees look like something out of a fairy tale and the scenery represents
deception in a mysterious wonderland, is what makes this production one
of the years most captivating and magical film experiences.
Some of the visual credit should also be given to the film's Cinematographer,
Emmanuel Lubezki, and the credited production designer, Rick Heinrichs.
These elements contribute a great deal of success to Burton's masterpiece.
Both the design and Cinematography are some of the best seen all year,
and deserve a hard earned Oscar Nomination. They make the film intriguing
and visually stimulating.
The film takes place in the late 1700's, in New York. Constable Ichabod
Crane, a timid and but smart man played by Johnny Depp, is assigned to
investigate a series of grizzly murders in a nearby town called Sleepy
Hollow. He's rather concerned about his latest task, however, due to the
content of the killings. The victim's heads have been sliced, in one clean
sweep, straight from their bodies. He accepts his duties, and travels by
horse and carriage to the isolated village.
Once Ichabod arrives, the locals, including Lady Van Tassel, Baltus Van
Tassel, Brom Van Brunt, and Reverend Steenwyck, greet him with eagerness.
They explain the legend of the headless horseman, who is supposedly causing
the murders in their town. At first he is skeptical. Then, after witnessing
a victim losing their head personally, he arrives at the conclusion that
a headless horseman is responsible for the tragic catastrophes accruing.
Ichabod soon meets Katrina Van Tassel, an innocent looking, self spoken
young woman who may have some advice, as well as several secrets of her
The Headless Horseman is a perfect portrayed villain for Sleepy Hollow.
He is brute, oversized, and roughly textured with outwear. The actor who
brings him to life when his head is on is perfect for the role; Christopher
Walken. For some odd reason, however, popular film critic Roger Ebert reluctantly
refused to tell his readers the name of the actor, thinking it would give
something away. Well, I am sorry, Mr. Ebert, but it isn't that hard to
find this information elsewhere. The filmmakers are not trying to hold
Walken as a secret. Stating he stars as the headed horseman gives nothing
away. One must see his performance and make up for themselves to even imagine
what material the film's bad guy brings forth.
Tim Burton's direction is focused and wonderfully observant here. The murder
sequences are gory and violent, but never way over the top. Burton never
losses sight of his main characters, has a good idea about what he wants
to place in film, and the special effects do not distract his ability to
do so. He has a knack for allowing an audience to become involved with
his pictures. We must think for ourselves, figuring out nuggets of the
plot on our own, without the projectors help. He has demonstrated these
techniques before in such films as Edward Scissorhands, The Nightmare
Before Christmas, and even Batman Returns.
Johnny Depp offers an Oscar worthy performance as Ichabod Crane. He brings
the squeamish role to life effortlessly with striking details and perfect
form. He is flawlessly cast, as well as Christina Ricci, who also acts
with style and poignancy. Compliments also go out to splendid costuming
the actors are permitted to wear.
Although Sleepy Hollow offers lots of creepy impressions, the film
is far from being very scary. Some moments do generate some minor thrills,
but for the most part, the production is not as terrifying as it could
have been. Much of it lacks momentum and build-up for the dozen or so graphic
beheadings that take place. Burton could have easily loaded his picture
with bombarding amounts of shock value, suspense, and tension filled fright,
but instead goes for all out violence, plot, and mystery. Not that this
effects the overall production. This is more of an atmospheric movie than
a scream feast. The atmosphere is certainly above the average.
The conclusion of Sleepy Hollow works in a bizarre, but unpredictable
fashion. The climax occurs unexpectedly and excitingly, with much surprise
and special effects. The film's foreshadowing is effective, but regardless
of how experienced of a filmgoer you are, this is one ending that is not
meant to be figured out before it takes place. It is one of the preferred
closings I've seen in a while. Despite a few personal objections, Sleepy
Hollow is a brilliantly crafted work of art -- one of 1999's better
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Depp reportedly based his portrayal of Ichabod Crane on Withnail, from Withnail and I (1987), as played by Richard E. Grant.
scene where Ichabod Crane crosses the covered bridge and hears the frogs
underneath croaking "Ichabod" and "Headless Horseman" is a tribute to Disney's
1949 animated version of "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" in which
Ichabod Crane, crossing a bridge, hears the frogs croaking the same words.
Director Tim Burton, a former Disney animator, has cited the Disney version
of the tale as his main inspiration for the look and style of his film.
The scene of Ichabod Crane riding the Horseman's horse backwards is also
taken from the earlier film.
Walken, who plays the Headless Horseman, played a schoolteacher in The
Dead Zone, in the beginning of which he tells his class to read "The
Legend of Sleepy Hollow."
Lee and Ian McDiarmiad also star together as Sith Lords in Star Wars:
Episode II - Attack of the Clones. Ray Park, who played Darth Maul
in Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace is the stunt double
for the Headless Horseman.
town Sleepy Hollow was created from the ground up in three months. Which
is the largest set built, in England, which was built in record time. The
last set that held this record was set in 1995 was Billy Elliot. It was
built in 3 1/2 months.
Horseman's horse is named Daredevil, the same name of Brom Bones horse
in Irving's original short story.
- In The
39 Steps, the professor shoots Hannay in the chest, and it appears
that he is dead. However, the bullet was stopped by a hymnbook in the breast
pocket of the coat he was wearing. In Sleepy Hollow, Ichabod is
shot and saved in a similar manner; this time the bullet lodges in a book
of magic spells.
scarecrow in the scene where magistrate Phillips gets his head cut off
by the headless horseman is Jack Skellington, from Tim Burton's "The
Nightmare Before Christmas".
Tim Burton claims the windmill scene was a reference to Frankenstein,
a stronger link can be made to Will Hay's Oh, Mr. Porter! which
also featured a windmill and a headless horseman.
dress worn by Katrina Anne Van Tassel in the last shot of the movie has
the same pattern as Micheal Keaton's outfit in the climactic scene of Beetlejuice also directed by Tim Burton.
Burton and the crew of the movie built the small town Sleepy Hollow complete
with rooms, floors, and stairs. The town was dismantled after filming was
Johnny Depp kept the headless horseman's horse when he found out it was
going to be put down.