Constable Ichabod Crane (Johnny Depp) is sent from New York City to the small village of Sleepy Hollow to investigate a series of murder purportedly committed by the Headless Horseman (Christopher Walken and Ray Park).
Loosely based on the 1820 short story The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving, and directed by Tim Burton (Batman Returns, Dark Shadows), Sleepy Hollow is a gorgeous film. The special effects and production design are top notch, while the story is played as a mystery from Constable Crane’s viewpoint, when everyone else keeps telling him it’s the Headless Horseman committing the murders. Due to Johnny Depp’s effeminate performance, the film is also surprisingly funny.
Constable Ichabod Crane is ordered to Sleepy Hollow, a small village in upstate New York, to investigate a series of murders that see the victims with their heads lopped off. When he arrives, he finds that the entire village is blaming the murders on a dead Hessian soldier returned to the living world, minus his head. Not believing in ghosts and goblins, Crane believes this headhunting is the work a flesh and blood man. He soon discovers that the Headless Horseman is all to real and is exacting a terrible revenge on certain members of the town. But who is controlling the horseman and how and why?
Johnny Depp (Ed Wood, A Nightmare on Elm Street) play Constable Ichabod Crane. He is a man more interested in scientifically deducing who the culprit is than relying on force or superstition. Imagine a very effeminate Sherlock Holmes. Only actually dealing with the supernatural. He plays the characters as something of a bumbling buffoon who the townsfolk cannot take seriously. Coming from the big city to the small village, he is removed from specters and local superstitions, even though his mother was a witch. He is out of his element and not just a little frightened by the terrors of the countryside. What gives him strength is the love of Katrina van Tassel (Christina Ricci), the daughter of the richest family in Sleepy Hollow.
Johnny Depp’s work here is astounding. While he is a household name now, he was not the huge marquee name then. He was known, but never seen as a leading man in big budget films until the release of The Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. Burton and Depp took a huge risk by allowing him to play the character as very feminine and it pays off. His mannerisms add a great deal of humor to what could have been a straight forward horror film.
In the role as the Headless Horseman, Christopher Walken plays the character as a savage beast, lopping off heads with reckless abandon. He plays the character as a living beast, drawn to war not for coin but for love of carnage and death. With teeth filed to points and the trademark Christopher Walken crazy eyes, he is a terrifying but slightly humorous take on the living Headless Horseman. Walken plays the parts of the horseman where you see him in flashback, as the actual Headless Horseman is Ray Park (Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace, X-Men).
The story is an interesting take on Washington Irving’s original short story. Changing Ichabod Crane from a school teacher to a constable is one of the notable changes. The good looks of Johnny Depp is another, even though it is reported that Depp wanted prosthetic’s to appear closer to Irving’s original description of Crane, with big ears and a long pointy nose. The studio denied that request, and I feel it was the best choice, for it would have been distracting.
The production design is clearly Tim Burton. Featuring a dark, gothic, Halloween-type take on the village of Sleepy Hollow. It is gorgeous and works exceedingly well for this film. The scarecrows in the fields are very reminiscent of The Nightmare Before Christmas, another Burton story.
If you haven’t seen Sleepy Hollow, now might be the time, as we move closer to Halloween. It is a strangely funny horror film that is sure to tickle your funny bone while providing a couple of creepy moments. It is not overtly scary, but it is a gorgeous movie and the performance by Johnny Depp is inspired. It is a fun film that I have seen numerous times and it is just as fun on viewing number ten as it was on viewing number one.
*** out of ****