Say what you like about director Tim Burton, even his lesser films (Batman Returns, Planet of the Apes) look good. But when he combines a superb story with his unique eye, Sleepy Hollow film bears his unmistakeable imprint, often copied but never bettered.
Sleepy Hollow is one of his successes, based on Washington Irving’s enduring fiction. Burton strips one of America’s most popular folk tales back to its essentials. Johnny Depp is New York Constable Ichabod Crane, eager to drag the law and the courts into the scientific 1800s, but instead banished to investigate a series of murderous beheadings at the hamlet of Sleepy Hollow.
There, he finds all suspicious of his presence and all fearful of the murderer: a headless horseman, the ghost of a mercenary Hessian horseman who fought in the Wars of Independence. But as the body count (or rather torso count; the heads are never found) rises, so Crane begins to suspect a human hand and comes to investigate the motives of village elder Baltus Van Tassel (Michael Gambon), notary James Hardenbrook (Michael Gough), and Katrina (Christina Ricci) and Lady Mary (Miranda Richardson), Van Tassel’s daughter and wife. Yet even he cannot imagine the truth behind the continuing beheadings, involving wealth, greed and a desire for one’s own head to be returned…
The film, like Batman, Beetlejuice, Ed Wood and Edward Scissorhands, is a delight to look at (look for the homages to Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas), but the real success is the mix of comedy, romance between Depp and Ricci’s characters and some genuinely spooky special effects, plus a truly demonic horseman played, in flashback, by (who else?) Christopher Walken.
USA / 2000
Director: Tim Burton
Writers: Andrew Kevin Walker, Kevin Yagher, based on Washington Irving’s story
Cast: Johnny Depp, Christina Ricci, Miranda Richardson, Michael Gambon, Christopher Walken, Caspar Van Dien