Fright Fest 2016 Review #3 – Sleepy Hollow (1999)

The story of a guy just trying to get a head.

Subgenre:  Ghost / Mystery

Summary:  Constable Ichabod Crane is tasked with investigating a series of decapitations in upstate New York.

Review:  Sleepy Hollow is one of those movies I’ve always felt like I’ve seen, despite the fact that I’ve never actually watched it (until now).  Tim Burton, Johnny Depp, gothic setting – how far off could my expectations be?  Not very, as it turns out, but it’s an enjoyable movie nonetheless.

Ichabod Crane (Johnny Depp) is a police constable whose headstrong commitment to deductive reasoning clashes with the careless brutality of his era’s justice system.  As punishment for his meddlesome ways, his department heads send him to the upstate burg of Sleepy Hollow, whose residents are in over their heads with a spate of grisly murders.  The locals suspect none other than the Headless Horseman, a town legend born from a vicious mercenary in the war years earlier.

From then on the movie becomes part whodunit, part period slasher as Crane tries to stay ahead of the murderer before he takes more lives.  The well-paced screenplay keeps things relatively unpredictable as it heads toward its inevitable final reveal, which is satisfying if not mind-blowing.  Depp is fun to watch as the intelligent but squeamish Crane, but the movie’s strongest suit by far is its heady atmosphere. Burton drenches Sleepy Hollow in a perpetual cover of grey fog and dark clouds, creating a heightened yet evocative sense of autumnal eeriness.  Sure, he can do this stuff in his sleep, but it still looks great.

The Verdict:  It won’t turn any heads, but Sleepy Hollow is worth a watch for its atmosphere and old-fashioned intrigue.  I give it seven Headless Hessian Horsemen out of ten.

2 thoughts on “Fright Fest 2016 Review #3 – Sleepy Hollow (1999)

  1. I just watched this last night oddly enough. I also to thoroughly enjoyed the production design and overall look of the film. That gray, monochromatic hue of almost every shot and the perpetual dense fog in Sleepy Hallow add to the film’s eerieness. It’s so clearly shot almost entirely on soundstages which adds another layer of Tim Burton campiness, which mostly works throughout. I loved the mood and dreamlike setting of the film.
    What I could do without were the flashback dreams Crane has three or four times in the film, all featuring his mother, and some very gruesome. These sequences are completely unnecessary to the story and don’t really add any depth to the character.
    I also felt that the film got increasingly bogged down by plot as it went along. It takes too hard of a turn for the mystery/conspiracy genre that I found largely uninteresting and just cluttetered. I would’ve liked to have seen Burton tackle a slightly simpler/smaller tale that would give the film’s spooky tone room to breathe…something more ominous and foreboding would better fit this colonial tale.
    Apparently the film was originally set to be directed by someone else 6 or 7 years earlier and he wanted to do more of a low-budget slasher, so that might explain the script’s deluge of action and activity. Still, I enjoyed the film more than I expected, and the image of Christopher Walken snarling like a madman on horseback is something I will not soon forget. I also enjoyed your review and look forward to some solid horror recommendations this month.

    • Thanks for the reply! I completely agree with your thoughts on the plot – there really were too many threads involved in the conspiracy at the center of the film. At a certain point it stopped being intriguing and started to become burdensome. I’d definitely like to see both the smaller-scale Burton version as well as a more straightforward slasher take on this movie, but I doubt that will happen anytime soon.

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