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Thursday 8 October 2020

Burl reviews Sleepy Hollow! (1999)


Ha ha and headchops, it’s Burl, here with a drama of decapitation that stands with the best work that frizzhead Tim Burton ever did! I mean, I like Pee Wee’s Big Adventure as much as anybody, and Beetlejuice and the first couple of Batman pictures are just fine, but I maintain that his finest picture is Ed Wood, and his second finest (of the ones I’ve seen, anyway) is today’s extravaganza Sleepy Hollow!

It’s pretty clear that Burton wanted to make his own version of a Hammer film here, and he tips that hand right at the beginning with a marvelous cameo from Christopher Lee, whom we know so well from pictures like from Starship Invasions and Desperate Moves! The picture also seems a belated addition to the horror updates they were doing in the 1990s, with Coppola’s Dracula and Branagh’s Frankenstein!

So it’s a mélange of several different things, but they all come together to make a new thing that, for my money, holds together decently well! The story is similar to the one told in Washington Irving’s classic tale, and in the animated Disney thing everyone has seen, but is not exactly the same! Here, Ichabod Crane, played by Johnny Depp from A Nightmare on Elm Street of course, is an investigator in 1799 New York who, though he suffers from both nervousness and squeamishness, wishes to bring modern forensic techniques to the rather crude police procedures of the day!

Christopher Lee sends him to the hamlet of Sleepy Hollow to investigate the head-choppings that have been taking place there, and when Crane arrives he finds the town terrified of the risen ghost of a nasty horseman played, when he has a head, by a shark-toothed Christopher Walken from The Sentinel and A View to a Kill! He also finds winsome lass Christina Ricci from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas; flinty Miranda Richardson from Spider; and the greatest gallery of English character actors outside of a Harry Potter film! We get Michael Gambon from Nothing But the Night and The Life Aquatic; Richard Griffiths from Withnail & I; Ian McDiarmid from The Rise of Skywalker; and Michael Gough from The Serpent and the Rainbow!  Jeffrey Jones from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Casper Van Dien from Starship Troopers are also present and accounted for!

You can see that the cast is one of the strong points here, but so, naturally, are the decors and other pictorial aspects! It’s a fine-looking picture, and, befitting a movie about a decapitating ghost, doesn’t skimp on the blood and gore! Ha ha, I remember seeing this one in the theatre and being genuinely delighted, and not a little surprised, that they went as far as they did with the tomato paste! I mean, it’s still fairly anodyne when you compare it to something like Re-Animator, let’s say, but for a mainstream Hollywood release it demonstrates a reasonable dedication to the tenets of cinema as outlined by Fangoria magazine!

It’s got some flaws, of course - the story seems to fall apart a bit as the picture goes on, and Depp’s character, who keeps fainting all the time, is a little too goofy and cartoonish and a-scared of spiders! Ricci is slightly miscast, and Danny Elfman’s score, while perfectly effective in the moment, is curiously unmemorable! However, with all that it’s a fine picture to watch around the Halloween season, especially if you have a junior member of your family who likes horror and is old enough to handle seeing a few heads roll around! Ha ha, I’m going to give Sleepy Hollow three headbags!


  1. It's such an entertaining film! What's especially notable is that, for a movie with so many decapitations and dismemberment, it never feels mean-spirited! The gore is very "fun!"

    1. Yes, I showed it to my nine year-old, and he was highly entertained!

  2. It's amusing that Christopher Walken refers to Sleepy Hollow years before in The Dead Zone!

    1. That was before he put on a fright wig and filed his teeth into points!