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SLEEPY HOLLOW - 1999
Mandalay / Paramount Pictures
Rated: Argentina: 13 / Australia: MA / Belgium: KT / Chile: 14 /
Finland: K-16 / France: -12 / Germany, Netherlands, Switzerland:
16 / Hong Kong: IIB / New Zealand: M / Norway, Sweden, UK:
15 / Portugal: M/16 / Singapore: PG / USA: PG-13
Director Tim Burton (EDWARD
SCISSORHANDS, MARS ATTACKS!, PLANET OF THE APES ) made SLEEPY HOLLOW as a way of being true to the spirit of Washington Irving's
Classic, rather than a more direct interpretation. Watching SLEEPY HOLLOW, I was given the impression that this movie's story
was more in keeping with the darker tales of Stephen Crane or Robert Louis
Stevenson. Tim Burton certainly has their talent for creating a forbidding
mood. What Tim was mainly after with this movie, was to make an homage
(a real one, not the Hollywood style "homage" that in reality is nothing more than an uninspired copy). His homage
was not to Irving however, but to Hammer Films. Surely every Horror movie
buff has seen at least one Hammer film. Back in the late 1950's and early
60's, Hammer took the old-style Universal monsters and gave them new life.
With the exception of Lon Chaney Junior's Wolfman, all the Universal monsters
were slow, plodding creatures who captured their victims simply by making
them too terrified to move.
Bela Lugosi's Count Dracula could put his intended victims into a trance with his seductive, hypnotic stare.
Christopher Lee's Dracula, on the other hand, had bloodshot eyes, moved inhumanly
quick, and did not care to engage his enemies in clever mindgames so much
as tear them apart. Humans were his food, and Dracula, in Christopher
Lee's talented hands, was an elegant, yet primal beast; truly a creature
of the night. What was worse (from the perspective
of the victim), Lee was beastial in his actions, but intelligent
in their planning. There was no trade off of brains for brawn. This was
no halfwit monster like we saw in the TV adaptation of Stephen King's
SALEM'S LOT (the Vampire in King's book was a cunning,
highly intelligent foil: more in keeping with Lee's personification of
the vampire than the TV movie's dimbulb Noseferatu). Lugosi was
a more romantically tragic vampire, where Lee was animal lust. Why Universal
didn't jump at the chance to put their muscle behind SLEEPY HOLLOW is anybody's guess, but Paramount will now reap the
SLEEPY HOLLOW does far more than merely evoke the Hammer Films mythos,
it improves upon it. Of course, all the atmosphere that Burton could evoke
would be nothing without a wonderful script/story by Kevin Yagher and
Andrew Kevin Walker. Though this is Yagher's first screen story, he is
no stranger to horror movies. Kevin designed the Chucky doll for CHILD'S
PLAY, and the puppets for BRIDE
OF CHUCKY. He has done the make-up effects for the A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET movies, THE SEVENTH SIGN, Tales From The Crypt's BORDELLO OF BLOOD, and FACE/OFF. Kevin knows horror movies and he has
been involved with some of the most influential. Andrew Kevin Walker has
also created some of Horror's high moments, writing such movies as BRAINSCAN, SE7EN, and 8mm.
Giving us a look both sumptuous (the countryside) and spare (interiors) thus bringing Burton's
visions to life, is Cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki (the very underappreciated THE HARVEST) whose talent let's us see and
get a feel of the damp chill and the movements of shadow.
In the lead role of Ichabod Crane is Johnny Depp (A
NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, EDWARD
SCISSORHANDS, THE ASTRONAUT'S
WIFE, THE NINTH GATE).
Depp plays Crane as a fearful man who forces himself into acts of bravery
despite his own cowardice. He does this by favoring the use of science.
Not so much because he is a scientist, but because he has chose science
as his beacon of faith to ward of his fear of the dark unknown. His knowledge of Science is shaky and because of this, his
faith is a tenuous thing. He is frightened as well as excited by the unknown
even though he sneers at the belief in "Ghosts and Goblins".
The real can frighten him as well, even spiders will make him leap onto
chairs. Depp locks onto the Crane of Irving's tale by retaining his superstition
as well as his education, that may never the less desert him under the
chilling fear of the occult.
Where Irving's Crane was a teacher, Depp is a constable in the 1700's, right at the turn
of the century. Crane's "Science" is confusing to his peers
and even he does not know as much of it as he pretends. Hence, Ichabod
is a man teetering on the edge of losing his faith. It is with this in
mind that the Magistrate (Christopher Lee intones the order with a chillingly deep cavernous voice) sends Ichabod
to the small town of Sleepy Hollow, New York, to investigate a series of murders. All the townsfolk
believe that the killer is no man, but a monster sent from Hell. A headless
demon from the soul of a Hessian warrior (Christopher Walken: THE SENTINEL, THE DEAD ZONE, PULP FICTION, THE PROPHECY series), dead for the past 20
years, but resurrected for reasons unknown.
The man who summoned the constable is the wealthy and mild mannered Baltus Van Tassel
(Michael Gambon: NOTHING BUT THE NIGHT, THE BEAST MUST DIE). Though holding no office, his wealth makes him first
citizen of the small community. The more Van Tassel comes to know of Constable
Crane, the less he believes in him. Such is the opposite with Tassel's
young daughter Katrina (Christina Ricci: THE ADDAMS FAMILY, ADDAMS FAMILY VALUES), who finds herself fascinatedm
if not in love, with Constable Crane.
Washington Irving's foil for Ichabod in his story THE LEGEND OF SLEEPY HOLLOW, was
Brom Van Brunt (Casper Van Dien: STARSHIP TROOPERS, THE
OMEGA CODE). While in this movie - Brom is the boyfriend of
Katrina by fiat and thus jealous of Crane - he is relegated to a very
small supporting role. It is the Horseman who is first and foremost here.
Crane's twist in the original tale doesn't exist.
Night after night the heads continue to roll, and the small town gets ever smaller.
Incongruous mysteries appear and there is far more going on in this village
of secrets than the Headless Horseman. Crane soon realizes that the Horseman
is not the disease of SLEEPY
HOLLOW, but the symptom. Every night claims another victim
- or two - or three. Ichabod must be quick to discover the mystery that
surrounds this town, expose its buried secrets, and solve the curse of
the Headless Horseman. Until he does, the dark of the night will bring
the pounding hoof beats, the whistling blade, and the time that draws
ever nearer to his own throat, when the rider from Hell comes next to
There are the recognized "Burton" moments when Tim gets too cute for his
own good. Moments that can pop an audience right out of their belief.
The scene where Ichabod sees the spider, for example, was far too farcical
for the tone this movie creates. Still, this is his best movie since EDWARD SCISSORHANDS and SLEEPY HOLLOW gets 4 ShriekGirls.
This review copyright 2000 E.C.McMullen Jr.
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