November 21, 1999 -- Tim Burton's "Sleepy Hollow" may be one of the best slasher movies ever made. Of course, that's not saying much. Next to kung fu movies, knives and blood have combined to make some of the worst movies of all time. Still, this movie has a lot of class and style which almost all slasher movies lack.
Burton's last film, "Mars Attacks!" was somewhat of a disaster. Burton's journey through Hollywood is more than just ups and downs, it is more like from the stratosphere to the bottom of the Marianas Trench. One thing's for sure, Burton will give you a view of the world unlike anyone else's. "Sleepy Hollow," however, is, perhaps, Burton's most conventional movie in terms of storytelling and character development.
Based on the old Washington Irving tale about a headless horseman terrorizing a small town, writers Kevin Yagher and Andrew Kevin Walker have woven a murder mystery into the story. After three headless bodies are found near Sleepy Hollow, Inspector Ichabod Crane (Johnny Depp of "Edward Scissorhands") is sent from New York to help solve the mystery. Crane, a man of science, believes the killer is not a ghost, as the superstitious townsfolk believe. He sets out to prove his theory with a variety of gadgets.
Unfortunately, Crane's methods don't work well at first and the death toll rises dramatically. Eventually, he gets the bright idea that he ought to look for a motive, then he gets somewhere. Christina Ricci (who starred in "The Opposite of Sex") stars as Katrina Van Tassel, the daughter of the town's wealthiest man, Baltus Van Tassel. Baltus and his wife Lady Van Tassel (Miranda Richardson) allow Crane to stay at their house during the investigation.
Eventually, witchcraft boils to the surface in the form of magic spells cast by Katrina and then in flashbacks we see that Crane himself is tied in to witchcraft as well. He is forced to face his inner demons and then he must confront a real demon of sorts. Depp gives his usual fine performance, Ricci sparkles in a somewhat sweeter and less edgy role than she's usually seen in and Christopher Walken is appropriately nasty as the Headless Horseman.
It is a fitting tribute to the fine veteran horror actor Christopher Lee (the cost of this movie would have made 10 of those old Hammer films that Lee used to haunt) that is he is included in the cast as Burgomaster. Thinking of those old Hammer films where Lee played Dracula a number of times, the formula is still the same. If you can't get butts in the seats (usually drive-in car seats) with blood, there's always those low-cut dresses (which always just happens to be the style for whatever period of history being depicted). This film has plenty of both. It is also highly ironic that Miranda Richardson once played the Queen of Hearts in an adaption of Alice in Wonderland.
The lavish sets and wonderful art direction add a lot to the style of this film. The cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki ("Great Expectations") is excellent, as is the production Design by Rick Heinrichs ("Edward Scissorhands") and the art direction by Ken Court, John Dexter and Leslie Tomkins. The entire look of this film is evocative of Halloween. It is too bad it wasn't released then. It would have cleaned up at the box office. With its pro-Wiccan, anti-Christian message, it is a strange choice for Thankgiving. It is not a turkey, either. It rates a B.
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