It may not feel like it in some places, but it is Fall and that means the weather is going to, hopefully, get colder, night will come sooner, and the movies will start getting a little darker as we get closer to Halloween. One director who is somewhat synonymous with dark movies, even if they have nothing to do with Halloween, is Tim Burton. I have always liked his movies, ever since Beetlejuice, and when I heard that he was making a live action movie of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”, I was immediately on board and ready to see it. So lets see how good of a job he did with today’s movie, Sleepy Hollow.
The plot: In 1799 in the village of Sleepy Hollow, wealthy land owner Peter Van Garrett is writing a new will and testament and has it witnessed by Jonathan Masbath, one of his servants. Van Garrett rides off in his stage coach, driven by his son, to deliver the new will when he hears a horse pass by them followed by a strange sound. When Van Garrett looks out of the stage coach, he finds his son has been decapitated and he quickly jumps from the now out of control coach. Making his way through a field, he pauses when he comes to a scarecrow only to hear a sound and as he turns around, his head is cut off. In New York City, Constable Ichabod Crane discovers a body in the river but while Crane wants to determine the cause of death, the police chief says the cause of death is drowning and has the body burned. As Crane argues that with the new century almost upon them, they should work on using more accurate, scientific means to solve crimes, the Burgomaster decides to have him put his methods to the test. He tells Crane about Sleepy Hollow and how 3 people (the Van Garretts and the widow Emily Winship) have been killed there within the past fort night, with their heads cut off, and tells Crane to use his methods to find the killer and bring him to justice. Crane arrives in Sleepy Hollow and heads to the home of the Van Tassels, where a party is underway and Crane ends up caught up in a game where he is kissed by Katrina Van Tassel. When Katrina’s suitor, Brom van Brunt, gets jealous, Baltus Van Tassel and his wife appear to calm things down and Crane introduces himself. Lady Van Tassel invites Crane to stay at their house while he is there and after he gets settled in, Crane heads downstairs and meets with Van Tassel and the other leaders of the community; Doctor Thomas Lancaster, Reverend Steenwyck, Magistrate Samuel Phillipse, and Notary James Hardenbrook. As Crane goes over what he was told of the murders, they tell him that the heads were never recovered and Hardenbrook tells him that they were taken back to hell by the Headless Horseman. They explain that the horseman was a Hessian mercenary that fought for the British during the revolution but was killed by American soldiers and beheaded with his own sword, then buried in the Western Woods, which has since become a haunted place. Crane doesn’t believe their stories of a ghost being behind the deaths and claims a real person is responsible and he will find out who it is. That night, Jonathan Masbath is killed by the horseman and the next day, Crane makes his own examination of the body. At the funeral, Jonathan’s son, Young Masbath, approaches Crane and asks to help but Crane refuses at first until Phillipse approaches him and tells him that Masbath was the 5th victim even though there were only 4 graves, and Crane tells Young MAsbath to find a room in the servants quarters at the Van Tassel house. At dawn the next day, Crane has the bodies dug up and discovers that along with her decapitation, the widow Winship also has a sword thrust into her stomach. Crane takes her body to Dr. Lancaster’s office and performs an autopsy, which upsets Steenwyck, and discovers that the widow was pregnant when she died. That night, Brom plays a joke on Crane by pretending to be the Headless Horseman and scare him off and Crane ends up fainting after being hit in the face with a jack-o-lantern and begins dreaming of his mother. When he wakes up, he finds himself in his room and as he heads downstairs, he finds Katrina reading by herself. The two start talking and Katrina explains how her family came to be in the position they are now, then takes Crane to the remains of her childhood home. That night, Crane sees an argument between Lancaster, Steenwyck, Phillipse, and Hardenbrook and after Phillipse leaves, Crane questions him about the widow Winship’s child and who the father is when the Horseman appears and kills Phillipse and takes his head. Though cowering in fear at first, Crane has more dreams about his mother which causes him to overcome his initial fears and vow to find the Horseman’s grave and asks for volunteers to go with him into the Western Woods but only Young Masbath volunteers to go. They head into the woods and after Crane asks if his father had dealings with the Van Garretts and Young Masbath explains that his father worked for them and a week before the murders started, there was an argument between Van Garrett and his son, after which Van Garrett sent for Masbath. The two come to a cave in the woods and find a reclusive witch inside, who sends Young Masbath outside while keeping Crane inside and summons the spirit of the Horseman to tell him where the grave is. As they make their way to the grave, they see someone on a white horse ahead of them and when Crane approaches the horse, discovers it is Katrina. The three find the Tree of the Dead and as Crane cuts away some of the lower branches to clear out a hollow, he finds the missing heads. Suddenly, the Horseman and his steed emerge from within the tree and heads towards town and Crane follows after him. In the town, the Horseman enters the home of the town’s midwife and kills her, as well as her husband and child, and goes to leave. Brom, who is on watch with his friends, tries to stop him but is injured and as he moves to continue fighting, Crane tries to stop him. Crane tells him that the horseman is only fighting because Brom attacked them and is not trying to kill them but Brom refuses to listen. As Brom begins fighting again, Crane joins in but soon realizes they are outmatched and convinces Brom to run but as they move through the bridge, the Horseman catches up to them and stabs Crane in the shoulder before cutting Brom in half. As Crane deals with his injuries, he tries to explain to Van Tassel and Lancaster that the Horseman is killing specific targets which means he is being controlled by whoever took the Horseman’s skull. Katrina gives him a drink to help him sleep and he ends up dreaming about his mother again and when he wakes, he tells Katrina about her death. The next morning, after he has recovered, Crane starts going over all of his notes and tries to figure out what the secret is that Phillipse and the other town leaders were keeping and decides to head to Hardenbrook’s shop. When they get there, they find Hardenbrook hiding and Young Masbath discovers his father’s satchel and they find the new will that Van Garrett had made, as well as the marriage certificate for Van Garrett and the widow Winship. Crane realizes that the new will left everything to the widow Winship but if nobody knew about it, then it would end up going to Baltus Van Tassel. When he returns to the Van Tassel house, he finds Katrina in his room and she says her father thinks it best that Crane head back to New York, as the notes crane wrote in his ledger upset him. After she leaves, Young Masbath discovers a design on the floor underneath Crane’s bed and says that someone is casting an evil spell on him. That night, Crane follows a cloaked figure out into the woods but discovers it is Lady Van Tassell, who is having an affair with Steenwyck. When Crane returns to his room, he finds all of the evidence is missing and heads to the Van Tassel’s former house, where he finds Katrina burning it. She admits she did so to prevent Crane from accusing her father and he tells her that he has no choice but to follow where the evidence leads him and the two argue over their feelings for each other before Katrina leaves. That night, a town meeting is called in the church and as Van Tassel is waiting on his wife to finish picking some flowers, he sees the Horseman approaching behind her and quickly flees. When he arrives at the church, he tells Katrina that her step-mother is dead but Steenwyck tries to force him back outside, telling him that he is the one the Horseman wants. As Crane notices that the Horseman can’t enter the church yard because it is holy ground, he goes to tell them but Van Tassel grabs Crane’s pistol and threatens Steenwyck. Lancaster starts to tell Van Tassel the truth about the conspiracy but Steenwyck kills him, prompting Van Tassel to shoot him. As some of the townfolk approach him, Van Tassel grabs another pistol and heads up to the balcony, declaring that there is a conspiracy against him. Outside, the Horseman has grabbed some rope and a fence post, which he uses as a make shift spear, and he throws it through the window and strikes Van Tassel, then drags him outside until his head is past the church yard, allowing him to cut it off. Seeing what happened, Katrina faints and as Crane stares at her, he looks up to see the same design that was under his bed drawn on the floor in the church where Katrina had been kneeling. Crane burns all of his notes and prepares to leave, with Young Masbath questioning why he thinks Katrina was the one to control the Horseman but Crane tells him that that can never be spoken. As his coach is leaving town, Crane notices them bringing the bodies of Baltus and Lady Van Tassel to the morgue and as he suddenly looks at the book of spells and charms Katrina had given him when he first came to town and discovers the design she had drawn was one of protection. Crane tells the driver to turn around and heads to the morgue, where he discovers that the body assumed to be Lady Van Tassel is not her, as the wound on her hand was inflicted after the body was dead, as opposed to the cut he saw Lady Van Tassel give herself. At the Van Tassel house, Katrina is approached by Lady Van Tassel and faints and it is revealed that she is the one who controls the Horseman and she summons it to kill Katrina. Lady Van Tassel takes Katrina to an old windmill and explains that she and her family lived in the cottage before the Van Tassels before her father died and Van Garrett kicked them out. Their mother was a witch and taught her and her sister her ways before she died and the two girls lived in the woods, where they saw the Hessian die and Lady Van Tassel swore her soul to Satan if he would resurrect the Hessian to help her get her revenge. She then explains why she had everyone killed, while also explaining why she killed the servant and her own sister. Young Masbath, who had followed Lady Van Tassel to the windmill, tries to knock out Lady Van Tassel but she knows he is there and he and Katrina run. Crane shows up with the stage coach just as the Horseman arrives and they lure the Horseman inside, then use the windmill blades to reach the ground while Crane lights a fire to blow up the windmill in order to slow it down. As it emerges from the wreckage, Crane and the others leave and head towards the Tree of the Dead, with the Horseman chasing after them and Crane does his best to slow it down. When they get there, they find Lady Van Tassel had beaten them there and Crane tells Katrina to run but Lady Van Tassel shoots him, then grabs Katrina and holds her for the Horseman. Crane didn’t die, as the bullet was stopped by Katrina’s book, and he tackles Lady Van Tassel and after Young Masbath knocks her out, he grabs the skull and throws it to the Horseman. The Horseman puts the skull back on his body and his face is restored and he then grabs Lady Van Tassel and, with the tree suddenly opening up, he takes her back to Hell with him, as her deal with him is finished since he has her head, and the tree closes around her as she screams, with only her arm sticking out among the bramble of roots. Crane heads back to New York City with Katrina and Young Masbeth, just in time for the new century.
Sleepy Hollow met with mixed to positive reviews from the critics, holding a 67% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The critical consensus on the site is, “Sleepy Hollow entertains with its stunning visuals and creepy atmosphere.” In October of ’99, one month before the movie was to be released, the studio launched a website that featured live interviews with the filmmakers, a short behind the scenes featurette, view photos and trailers, and was described, at the time, as “the most ambitious online launch of a motion picture to date.” The movie would be a modest hit at the box office, earning $206.1 million off of a $100 million budget.
I always enjoy watching this movie, even if it does have some faults. The acting was pretty good and Burton gathered an incredible cast of talent to take part in this movie. Johnny Depp (Crane) and Christina Ricci (Katrina) were both great and I also liked how well Michael Gambon (Van Tassel), Miranda Richardson (Lady Van Tassel), and Richard Griffiths (Phillipse) did in their roles and how they would all be part of the Harry Potter world a few years later. The story was a bit of a departure from the source material but I think those changes were honestly necessary to make for a more compelling full length movie. I did think the change of Ichabod Crane to a police officer was interesting and they had an interesting bit of “science vs supernatural/superstition” theme going there. However, the whole flashback scenes regarding Ichabod’s mother really didn’t make a whole lot of sense, even if they were meant to show that Ichabod had some experience with the supernatural before coming to Sleepy Hollow. The special effects were very well done and I loved the visuals involved in the movie, as the colors were mostly dark while even some of the brighter colors seemed a little muted except for the color red, which seemed visibly brighter most times and seemed to pop off the screen to be noticed. I also liked the bit of a running gag that seemed to occur with Crane constantly getting blood squirted in his face. While I will always have a bit of a soft spot for the original animated short, this is a fun movie to watch and definitely something for the Halloween season.
Rating: 4 out of 5