JUMPSCARECUT: Sleepy Hollow (1999)

Directed By: Tim Burton
Cast: Johnny Depp , Christina Ricci, Miranda Richardson, Michael Gambon, Casper Van Dien

Written by Jo Craig

Halloween offers many traditions for folk to sink their teeth into. Costume sparring, annual ghost tours, or even a Pagan gathering (clothing optional) in the forest out back. For me, all Hallows Eve is as nostalgic as Christmas, and everybody (I’m willing to bet) has their go-to horror movie that pops into their head when the leaves start to fall and the days become darker. Now is the time to reject those invitations to the pub, light some pillar candles for your entertainment alter and press play (or command Alexa to do it for you); It’s too fucking cold to go outside anyway. “It feels very Halloweeny”, I would say, “Must be time to watch Sleepy Hollow.”

Before my horror-inclined spirit was summoned by John Carpenter, Eli Roth and James Wan, my adolescent, PG-rated mind became giddy over Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow the way a fourteen year-old would get their jollies from sneaking a peak at The Hills Have Eyes or The Texas Chainsaw Massacre when the law forbid you from witnessing the gore show. Being only eight at the time of Sleepy Hollow’s release (obviously holding off a few years to watch it because my parents are not psychopaths), Burton’s adaptation of Washington Irving’s gothic story starring the vengeful Headless Horseman was a captivating premise that brought terror and excitement to a young, horror nut in the making . The horseman in question – an undead Hessian soldier that would spring forth from a tree made of blood and severed heads – was a bad-ass creation dramatically brought to life with Burton’s theatrical style and a positively psychotic looking Christopher Walken galloping in on the back of his steed, Daredevil.

Ichabod Crane – a school teacher turned detective for Burton’s feature –  plays to the strengths of Johnny Depp’s eccentricity – despite the original material depicting Crane as lacking the chiselled look with “huge ears, large green glassy eyes, and a long snipe nose” – while he investigates the quiet glen of Sleepy Hollow and its string of murders against set decorator Peter Young (Batman 1989) and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki’s (The Revenant) beautifully haunting backdrop. Michael Gambon, Miranda Richardson and a cameo from Christopher Lee – who oozes Hammer into the ambience that initially inspired Burton pre-production – build a stellar ensemble to support Depp and damsel Christina Ricci who all play well with the time period.

Burton is pro at projecting a visionary feast of fantasy (we know) that blends with the horror genre as smoothly as toffee drips over apple. Shot almost entirely with a blue filter, Burton’s cold, grungy style appears ethereal and carries a majestic confidence that is mostly faithful to Irving. A short but bewitching tale that leaves you wanting more, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow provides rich characters and a compelling supernatural whodunnit that’s charming in its 1790 setting that becomes transformative in Burton’s hands. The costume design by Colleen Atwood (Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them) is another eye-catching feature to the production that adds to its quaint texture and conjures a desire to have lived in that period.

If there’s one scary movie that isn’t typically slasher on the countdown to the witching hour, it’s Sleepy Hollow, providing the answer for trick-or-treaters who lack a strong stomach but still want to indulge in a few thrilling candies while listening to the atmospheric scoring from Danny Elfman. Burton gives this legendary folk-tale a modern welcome to the silver screen that will leave you thinking “creepier than a cemetery on a foggy night”.  Heads will roll if you leave this underdog off your pumpkin party list.

Jo’s Verdict:


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