Sleepy Hollow

It is a safe assumption that most people's familiarity with Washington Irving classic tale the Legend of Sleepy Hollow is from the Disney film from many years ago. As enjoyable as that version is, it is still a Disney cartoon. So Tim Burton, the same man who changed perceptions of Batman from the campy sixties television show to the grittier, Dark Knight persona (until it changed again for the worse with Batman and Robin), works his magic again, using his strange and wonderful imagination on the Irving tale, giving us his take on this familiar tale. Burton's work is distinguished by his imagination. He is the man responsible for Edward Scissorhands, Mars Attacks!, Ed Wood, The Nightmare Before Christmas, and Beetlejuice. Many of these films are instantly recognizable for their look; dark muted colors, especially grays, dark blues, and blacks, and very few bright colors.

Burton's own personal muse Johnny Depp (The Astronaut's Wife, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas) is Ichabod Crane. Depp starred in Edward Scissorhands and Mars Attacks with Burton. Here, Crane is a modern-minded man on the brink of a new century, the nineteenth century. Much to the dismay of his superiors in the New York police force, Crane specializes in the budding field of forensic science. Crane is sent to the small town of Sleepy Hollow in an effort to discredit both him and his methods. There, he is to solve three murders, where each victim was decapitated. The townsfolk believe the murders are the work of the Headless Horseman, while Depp searches for the human assassin behind these murders. Crane is a prissy city boy, far out of his element. When supernatural elements rear their heads, he is at a complete loss as to how to handle it.

The town is governed by a quintet of patriarchs led by Baltus Van Tassel (veteran character actor Michael Gambon, The Insider, Plunkett and Macleane), the head of the wealthiest family in Sleepy Hollow. Everyone in town is skeptical of Crane's methods, and when the body count begins to rise, look to Crane for blame. Van Tassel's daughter Katrina (Christina Ricci, Buffalo 66, 200 Cigarettes) is one of the few people who want to help Crane. Together with a victim's son (Marc Pickering), they set out into the haunted woods to unravel the mystery behind the Headless Horseman. Although the story veers from the original tale, this adaptation by Andrew Kevin Walker (writer of Seven and Fight Club) manages to pay homage to Irving while modernizing it. Walker fleshes out the Crane character, making him a New Yorker and a police officer.

The best thing about this movie is the production. The town of Sleepy Hollow is creepy. The buildings are crooked, and fog rolls ominously across the fields. The sky is always overcast, and tree branches are like fingers, reaching out for the town. Sleepy Hollow was filmed in England, after Burton decided that the real town looked too normal. Burton modeled the film after the many monster movies he enjoyed as a child, and was perturbed at the R rating. The gore is slightly graphic, but there is a campy feel to most of the movie. Burton also brings out the best in his actors. Depp is much better than he was in The Astronaut's Wife, and Ricci and Gambon are great as always. There are also good performances from supporting characters Miranda Richardson (The Bachelor, Merlin), Lisa Marie (Burton's wife, who has a habit of showing up in small roles in his films), Michael Gough (Alfred from the Batman movies), Ian McDiarmid (Restoration), Christopher Walken (Blast From the Past, The Rose Hotel), an unbilled cameo by Martin Landau, Jeffrey Jones (Ravenous, Stuart Little), and a surprising decent Caspar Van Dien (The Omega Code, Starship Troopers), probably because the amount of spoken time allotted to his character was kept at a minimum. Sleepy Hollow is a great movie to sit through and enjoy, the product of Tim Burton's unique imagination.

Haro Rates It: Pretty Good.
1 hour, 40 minutes, Rated R for graphic horror violence and gore, and for a scene of sexuality.

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