Sleepy Hollow (1999)

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Tim Burton’s vision of “Sleepy Hollow” is nothing less than unique. With an eerie setting, a gothic tone, and macabre special effects, “Sleepy Hollow” retells the infamous legend of the headless horseman and Ichabod Crane in Tim Burton style.

Constable Ichabod Crane (Johnny Depp) is an innovative scientist with an unappreciated mind amidst the corrupt society of New York, 1799. As the dawn of the 19th century approaches, Crane is ordered to practice his forensic murder sleuthing in the quaint town of Sleepy Hollow. There, Crane must deduce the cause and the culprit involved in three murders all connected by one thing: their cause of death. With all three having been beheaded and all three heads missing, Crane sets out to find the mortal man responsible for the evil, seeking refuge in the hospitable Van Tassel household where he enjoys the company of the beautiful Katrina Van Tassel (Christina Ricci).

But with whispers of a headless horseman (Christopher Walken) refusing to desist, it isn’t until Crane himself witnesses the horseman’s execution of Sleepy Hollow’s magistrate that he begins to believe in vengeful ghosts of the supernatural world. Piecing the puzzle together, Crane analyzes the genealogy and the roles of the town’s officials, deducing the horseman’s motive to that of killing off a responsible lineage, starting with the Van Garretts. But when Crane stumbles upon an old witch in the woods who leads him to the horseman’s final resting place, it is there that Crane discovers the horseman’s skull to be missing. Understanding that the horseman is in search of his skull and under the control of whoever possesses it, Crane sets out to unveil the conspiracy as one by one, people continue to die in Sleepy Hollow.

With only the help of young Masbath (Marc Pickering) can Crane convince the town and himself of the truth before its too late? Moreover, is his beloved white witch, Katrina involved? Or, is her eerily indifferent stepmother, Lady Van Tassel (Miranda Richardson), somehow involved? With time and a tortuous past working against the novice gumshoe, Constable Crane must crack the case before the town of Sleepy Hollow is doomed forever.

“Sleepy Hollow” is simply a grade-A remake of the infamous tale of Ichabod Crane and the headless horseman. Only Tim Burton could have brought together such a macabre vision and mix of horror with elements of fantasy and comedy to make the movie an altogether enjoyable delight. The movie is a feast for one’s eyes, with gory scenes dulled down by comic relief, a sharp dialogue encompassing old-fashioned accents, worn down houses that have all of Sleepy Hollow looking like a ghost town, and mysterious fog that creeps in and blankets the grounds and skies. “Sleepy Hollow” takes special effects and focuses them on the dark side, yet exposes the paradoxical opposite with brief moments of laughter, flirtatious courting, and comic relief in other forms. Nevertheless “Sleepy Hollow” has Burton’s name written all over the film, from the visual production, to a plot that includes the fantastic, the make-believe, and the realistic. With an Edgar-Allen Poe approach, Burton brings “Sleepy Hollow” to life and then to death again in a way that, while gruesome, prevents you from turning your head to miss the action.

Also in on the action of “Sleepy Hollow” was the legendary Francis Ford Coppola. With Burton and Coppola pairing together, the masterminds turn a legendary tale into a nefarious nightmare that is horrifying, yet intriguing all the same. Sure there are moments that may seem a little cheesy, particularly the horseman’s reattachment of his head to his body, but it is precisely these moments that make the film a Burton creation, and the audience simply accepts it for what it is.

Potentially the film could have had a true horror flick feel, but Burton spins the perspective and gives you the The story of “Sleepy Hollow” from the perspective of a child’s fairy tale. In truth, it allows adult audiences to be fascinated again by the very notions they long ago abandoned when refusing to believe in ancient ghost stories. Moreover, Burton’s approach allows a child to watch the film (though momentary censorship may be required) and be horrified and delighted all the same. The original score and soundtrack was brilliantly in tune with the tone and setting of the film. Dark music exudes in the background, building suspense for acutely timed moments of action and surprise. Among some of the best scenes are those of the headless horseman’s wrath. Although Christopher Walken did a credible job playing the horseman (with the head still attached), again, his portrayal was borderline cheesy, in an attempt to soften the horror for the children, and make the film more fairytale than true horror.

Nevertheless “Sleepy Hollow” is a perfect rent for the upcoming nights when thoughts of ghosts and ghouls surround one’s mind. As Halloween approaches, “Sleepy Hollow” is in perfect tune with the mood and the content of the spooky holiday and all its fairytale haunting that will send shivers down your spine and make “your head roll”.


Johnny Depp is Ichabod Crane… the innovative scientist, eccentric hero with a sensitive stomach.

Christina Ricci is Katrina Anne Van Tassel… the bewitching Dutch girl whose white magic and beauty enrapture Ichabod Crane.

Michael Gambon is Baltus Van Tassel… a possible suspect, host to Ichabod Crane, head counselor of Sleepy Hollow, and father of Katrina Van Tassel.

Miranda Richardson is Lady Van Tassel (and the crone in the woods)… whose devilish beauty plays a crucial role in the headless horseman case.

Mark Pickering is Young Masbath… estranged child to the late Sir Masbath and sole servant to Constable Crane.

Christopher Walken is the Hessian (headless) Horseman… the decapitated horror who rides by night seeking vengeance on the perpetrators who have stolen his head from his grave.