Halloween and horror go hand in hand but the majority of horror films are not Halloween orientated, with the obvious exception of the Halloween series, of course. Many horror staples have their own mythology that rarely has anything to do with the holiday at the end of October. Films about Vampires, Werewolves, Frankenstein and his monster, and the array of creatures and serial killers that bump off teens provide great costume ideas but make for entertaining viewing at any time of the year. If only there was a definitive film that featured all the elements that would make for the perfect Halloween, some sort of Gothic horror perhaps, set about two hundred years ago, during the autumn, with jack-o-lanterns, and ideally a eerie soundtrack put together by Danny Elfman…
Sleepy Hollow (1999) is based on the Washington Irving story “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and stars Johnny Depp as Constable Ichabod Crane who is sent to the village of the film’s title to investigate a series of murders. The year is 1799, and our Ichabod is a thoroughly modern sort of a bloke, into science and reason and not a fan of superstition or religion or anything like that due to a rough upbringing as the son of a preacher-man and a hippy. When he arrives in Sleepy Hollow, Ichabod is rather shocked to hear that the locals believe that the killings are being caused by a Headless Horseman – the ghost of a badass mercenary who’d been killed in the woods twenty years previously.
Ichabod (I love that name) scoffs at the notion and begins a fact-based investigation, quickly discovering that there are links between the victims beyond the usual small town connections. As he investigates the locals he begins to fall for the daughter of the big-shot farmer whose house he’s staying at and he learns of her interest in the occult that had been passed onto her by her mother before her death, and before the nurse shacked up with her dad.
After another killing takes place the town magistrate, Phillips, decides that enough’s enough and makes a break for it. Ichabod follows and confronts him just as the headless horseman turns up to kill Phillips. Having witnessed the horseman firsthand, Ichabod knocks the CSI: Sleepy Hollow shit on the head and turns to the spirit world for answers. Learning that the Horseman is being controlled by some mortal who is in possession of his missing skull, Ichabod sets out to discover who’s really behind the murders and lay the Horseman to rest once and for all.
Sleepy Hollow is probably the ultimate Halloween movie as it contains all the elements needed. The isolated rural setting in the woods, the dark foreboding that hangs over every scene, and the period in history all work together perfectly. Add in a Headless Horseman and a weirdo like Johnny Depp and all the elements for true greatness are in place. Actually, not quite. There are one or two little problems with Sleepy Hollow and they’re all caused by the cult of Tim Burton.
Tim Burton, the director behind the 1989 Batman movie, its sequel Batman Returns, Beatlejuice, Edward Scissorhands, Sweeny Todd, and a hat full of other off the wall flicks, is well known for his distinctive gothic style of film-making and for his long running bromance with Johnny Depp. Depp features in seven of Burton’s films and the pair have another on the way. There are several others that Burton fancies enough to stick into his films regardless of whether or not they belong and this method of casting tends to lead a sameness in Burton’s work. In so many of his films Depp is the prancing oddball, mucking about to music provided by Danny Elfman, and that’s as true of Sleepy Hollow as it is of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Alice in Wonderland.
However, Sleepy Hollow works with Depp in the main role despite the sense of deja vu he invokes, as he’s more than capable of holding the story together, except for the parts that involve his relationship with Christina Ricci’s character Katrina, which just don’t gel properly and seemed forced. Ricci is perfectly cast, as are most of the others, the only real let down is Casper Van Dien who can’t act for shite and is put to shame by the little kid playing Thomas who only really has one scene and is a terrible actor, even for a little kid.
Another odd casting choice was Miranda Richardson as Lady Van Tassel (Katrina’s stepmother). American audiences probably didn’t bat an eyelid at her but every time she was on screen I couldn’t help but think of her as Queenie in Blackadder the Second or as the squirrel-hating transvestite Highwayman in Blackadder the Third.
There are some other little problems with Sleepy Hollow relating to historical accuracy but they’re so minor that they’re not worth mentioning especially as they don’t get in the way of the real star of the movie, the tale of the Legend of Sleepy Hollow itself. Burton and Depp handle it well enough, crafting a fine ghost story that should remain timeless.
Two Thumbs Up for Sleepy Hollow.
Ichabod… Ichabod… Click the links for more info Ichabod…