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Sleepy Hollow

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 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 Greg King
3½ stars out of 4

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

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