Reviewed by Beth Hannan Rimmels
Director Tim Burton always brings an interesting sensibility to his projects. When its a perfect marriage, like The Nightmare Before Christmas or Beetlejuice, the results are incredible. When its off, as in the Batman films, its still interesting to watch. Sleepy Hollow, based on "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" by Washington Irving is, indeed, a perfect fit despite drastic changes to the story.
The same story skeleton is there decapitated bodies found in the small farm community are attributed to a head-taking ghost but skeptic Icabod Crane insists the specter is a figment of the villagers imagination. Crane also begins to fall in love with the beautiful Katrina Van Tassel, angering her suitor, Brom Van Brunt.
The differences are many but work. Rather than a school teacher, Crane (Johnny Depp) is a police constable sent to Sleepy Hollow from New York City to investigate three murders (a fourth is committed before he arrives). However, he is still rather nervous and twitchy despite his insistence that science and reason are the foundations of life. In the original, poor Cranes fate is never clearly determined nor is it clear as to whether the Horseman or an imposter got him. Sleepy Hollow is perfectly clear in the end. Along the way, its a creepy supernatural mystery with many red herrings.
Christina Ricci plays semi-against type as the blond Katrina whose witchy ways may or may not be similar to those of Cranes late mother (Lisa Marie), who is shown in flashbacks. Blond hair does not become Ricci, but she does keep you guessing as to her motives. Casper Van Dien is acceptable as Brom, but once it becomes apparent that the Horseman is no mere legend, Brom is less important and therefor gets less screen time. Marc Pickering is charming and charismatic as Young Masbeth, the son of one of Horsemans victims and Cranes assistant. The rest of the cast is superbMichael Gambon, Michael Gough, Miranda Richardson, Burton film regular Jeffrey Jones and more, including brief appearances by Martin Landeau and Christopher Lee. The latter is particularly appropriate since Burton has long expressed his love of the old Hammer Horror films, which Lee regularly appeared in.
The films R rating is more appropriate than Burton claims. The tagline "Heads will roll" is taken literally. Burton makes no attempt to soft pedal the method of murder. Rather, much is made where they land and the severed necks. Still, he did show quite a bit of restraint, including devising a logical reason as to why there were not gushes of blood at every head taking.
Sleepy Hollow has a shivery beauty that is every Goths wet dream. While shot in color, most colors are muted, grayed or high contrast except for the red blood. You can almost feel the dampness and smell the fog.
In a curious fashion, Sleepy Hollow is both a radical reworking and faithful tribute to original story. The mystery ties together nicely even down to small details from the beginning. The red herrings are fair, reasonable and keep you guessing until the end. Its a delight to have both comfortable familiarity and surprise with a story. While not as original as other Burton fare like Edward Scissorhands or Ed Wood, Sleepy Hollow is a well-done horror/mystery that showcases the best of Burtons work.
Review © 1999 Beth Hannan Rimmels. Accompanying photographs © 1999 Paramount.