Retro Review: Sleepy Hollow

Written: Nov. 22, 1999

“Heads Will Roll!!” was the tagline for the Tim Burton take on the “Legend of Sleepy Hollow” which tells the tale of a lowly school teacher who must face his greatest fear and become a man.

The Washington Irving classic will always be remembered as the “headless horseman” tale with flaming pumpkins and an idiot hero.

In the 1999 adaptation the hero, Ichabod Crane is now a bumbling New York Detective who seems to know more about forensics then his fellow man of that time. As a joke the New York police department sends him to “Sleepy Hollow” to uncover the “decapitating murderer”. What Crane finds shocks and changes our hero slowly into a man.

“Sleepy Hollow” is by far Tim Burton’s greatest film. Ever since he captivated the world by bringing the “real” Batman to the big screen, ten years ago, he has always been flirting with making a great gothic horror film. Every film he has touched has been enchanted with gothic charisma. From “Edward Scissorhands” to “Mars Attacks” they have all been laced in his immersion of horror and fairytale.

In “Sleepy Hollow” he finds his true calling as he delivers us into his gothic mystique. As he did in the first two Batman films, the camera stands back and then swoops into the great city of New York. Showing the dark and moody world he is trying to capture. As this panoramic tour continues the audience is pulled harder and harder in. This is Tim Burton at his best.

The film then drops into Icabod’s world where he seems to be the outsider who doesn’t quite fit in. The film focuses upon the face of Johnny Depp who is quite pale and wide eyed. In two other Tim Burton films Johnny Depp has opened us to the world of Burton much like Richard Dreyfuss did in early Steven Spielberg films. Depp’s portrayal of bumbling Icabod is remnant of “Edward Scissorhands” but even more human.

An outsider trying to see past the town’s folktale and uncover a real murder. I imagined Ichabod to be sort of what happened if Sherlock Holmes stumbled in on Dracula himself. I think even a great detective like Holmes would be bumbling on a case like that.

As Icabod explores the town to Sleepy Hollow we are treasured by the presence of other Tim Burton vets like Michael Gough, Jeffery Jones, Christopher Walken and Martin Landau. Icabod upon his arrival falls in love with the damsel Katrina Van Tassel played by Christina Ricci who seems to have something in common with Icabod’s past.

As we uncover the mysterious damsel Burton seems to let his film talk about what exactly is witchcraft and why skeptics don’t understand it. This tugs at Icabod’s dreams and his heart strings. Ricci’s Katrina is not exactly a damsel in distress but a delightful addition to her growing repertoire of strong women roles. She has come along way from being Wednesday Addams.

When the film finally hits it stride with the first encounter with the horseman we are already engulfed in the dark magic of Sleepy Hollow and the bewilderment of Icabod. Sleepy Hollow will be remembered as one of Tim Burton’s masterpieces.

(5 out of 5)

So Says the Soothsayer.

One thought on “Retro Review: Sleepy Hollow

  1. His best? No, even at the time that Sleepy Hollow was released that was still Edward Scissor hands. But that’s just my opinion.

    PS Sherlock and Dracula did cross paths in a series of Fred Saberhagen novels.

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