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Sleepy Hollow

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All-Reviews.com Movie Review: Sleepy Hollow

Starring: Johnny Depp, Christina Ricci
Director: Tim Burton
Rated: R
RunTime: 100 Minutes
Release Date: November 1999
Genre: Horror


*Also starring: Casper Van Dien, Miranda Richardson, Michael Gambon, Marc Pickering, Christopher Walken, Michael Gough, Christopher Lee, Jeffrey Jones, Lisa Marie



Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

I'm looking at the headline in today's copy of the New York Daily News: "Deranged Man Bashes Woman Over the Head in Times Square in Broad Daylight." No wonder so many potential tourists steer clear of the Big Apple. Maybe the situation was always that way. Why, for example, wouldn't the entire town of Sleepy Hollow flee to the state's largest metropolis in 1799 when a major-league slasher in that minor-league town was lopping off heads wholesale? Nope. The inbred residents of that village just 2 hours' north of New York by horse simply hung around refusing to watch their heads while the propertied officials did their best to cover their butts.

Washington Irving told the wonderful tale of Ichabod Crane, schoolmaster, and his adventures with the headless horseman in a short story he published in 1812. While this was hardly a slash-and-burn tale but rather one suited for a captivated twelve-year-old audience, horror-meister Tim Burton uses the legend simply as a jumping off point. Eschewing the Irving subtleties in favor of all the ambiance that modern cinema technology can afford, Burton, whose contributions range from "Batman" to "Beetlejuice" and scoring big with the adult fairy tale "Edward Scissorhands," achieves wonders with Rick Heinrich's expressionistic production design. Alas, the layout loses its novelty after the first 30 minutes and given the absence of tension--of the usual false alarms that cause horror stories to raise hairs on audience heads--"Sleepy Hollow" is both sleepy and hollow.

Burton, using a screenplay by Andrew Kevin Walker, transforms Ichabod Crane (Johnny Depp) from a superstitious schoolmaster to an enlightened, rationalist New York City police officer who had testified regularly in favor of a more scientific treatment of evidence and a less rigid system of penology. When yet another burglar is arrested and thrown unceremoniously into a pit resembling a third-world prison, Crane goes ballistic and is gotten rid of by an assignment from the judge to investigate the scene of numerous beheadings in the village of Sleepy Hollow. Arriving by coach, he meets the local Dutch-American bigwigs and at a reception is kissed by a lovely, masked reveler, Katrina Van Tassel--daughter of the prosperous Baltus (Michael Gambon) and his wife (Miranda Richardson). Though Katrina has a boy friend, Brom van Brunt (Casper Van Dien), she switches her romantic loyalties to the interesting stranger, while Crane employs the latest, turn-of- the-century instruments (including a grotesque set of eyeglasses) to examine decapitated bodies.

"The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" is a horror story without much horror--unless you consider the generic open-necked victims' cauterized wounds to be anything more than what you see on a typical day on the hooks of the local butcher shop. In a scene involving a witch whom Crane consults in her shack, the head of the sorceress turns into the standard- issue ghoul, eyes bulging out of sockets, the kind of video- game image that's wholly laughable rather than dangerously terrifying. Johnny Depp does a reasonable job of holding back the giggles at his role, one in which he plays a Sherlock Holmes who jumps on a bed when he spots a spider and who is accompanied by a young Dr. Watson in the form of 12-year-old Masbeth (Marc Pickering)--who has been orphaned as a result of the slasher's deeds. Christopher Walken looks ridiculous in the construct of the Hessian soldier who slew scores of enemies with his sword and ax. After being killed and decapitated himself, he races helter skelter about the village like an equine chicken without a head devouring those he has been commanded to kill and stopping to pick up their heads with his weapon like a Greek restaurateur spearing a shish kebab.

Burton's supporting cast includes Michael Gambon, who is villainous enough in his role as the prosperous farmer but not nearly the scoundrel he portrays in Michael Mann's movie "The Insider," and Ray Park and Rob Inch do some fancy equestrian antics for men with no heads on their shoulders. Missing are Brom's practical jokes on the Yankee schoolmaster in the original story by Irving, and seriously underplayed is the rivalry between Brom and Ichabod for the hand of Katrina Van Tassel. Irving brought out the distinction of having a special ghost with a definite identity to haunt a specific locality--a matter of honor and prestige, highly respected as a folk theme. This subtlety is ravaged in favor of seemingly indiscriminate butchery and by Burton's need to abandon literary style in favor of tired imagery.

Copyright 2000 Harvey Karten

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