Enjoyable, atmospherically staged period horror drama about a
small upstate New York town terrorised by a headless horseman.
Writers Andrew Kevin Walker (Seven, 8MM, etc) and Kevin Yagher bring
something of a contemporary flavour, generous doses of black humour,
and plenty of gore to Irving Washington's classic story of 19th
century horror and spooky happenings.
In this superbly crafted homage to those classic old Hammer
horror films from the '60's, director Tim Burton beautifully captures
the same atmospheric look and feel, albeit it on a larger budget.
Visually, Burton's films have always been quite striking, and Sleepy
Hollow is no exception, with solid technical contributions. Rick
Heinrichs' suitably gothic production design, Emmanuel Lubezki's
evocative cinematography and Danny Elfman's haunting music score
combine to effectively create the gloomy, fog shrouded and menacing
setting of Sleepy Hollow, a quaint, upstate New York town besieged by
supernatural killings and fear.
When a number of citizens of Sleepy Hollow are beheaded,
modern thinking New York constable Ichabod Crane (Johnny Depp) is sent
to investigate. Crane prefers to use rigorous scientific methods to
solve crimes, and doesn't particularly believe in ghouls and goblins,
or even the legend of the headless horseman, which has filled the
locals with dread. He suspects a human hand at work rather than
supernatural forces. But even his beliefs are shaken by the strange
events that have possessed this once quiet hamlet, now seemingly in
the grip of witchcraft.
In his third collaboration with director Burton (Ed Wood and
Edward Scissorhands), Depp gives a fabulous performance, tinged with a
hint of ironic humour at his character's expense. Depp marvellously
captures the contradictions inherent in Crane, a man who autopsies
dead bodies for clues, yet faints at the sight of beheaded corpses and
shrinks from the sight of spiders. Christina Ricci vamps it up nicely
as the bewitching Katrina Van Tassel, while Miranda Richardson brings
a deliciously evil edge to her role as Katrina's step mother.
Christopher Walken contributes a brief appearance as the
legendary headless horseman, although most of his fight scenes are
doubled by former stunt man Ray Parks (recently seen as Darth Maul in
The Phantom Menace). Burton has also filled his cast with an ensemble
of British character actors (including Michael Gambon, Michael Gough,
Star Wars' Ian McDiarmid, Richard Griffiths), who lend a touch of
credence to their roles as the elders of the town who all have secrets
to conceal. Even Hammer stalwart Christopher Lee turns up in a brief
cameo as New York's intimidating magistrate.
Sleepy Hollow is enjoyable enough for most of its length, but
it seems to run out of ideas by the end, and its finale is a little
messy. There are also one or two decapitations too many. It's a
great cinematic trick to begin with, but it starts to lose its novelty
value by the third or fourth time.
Copyright © 2000 Greg King