Sleepy Hollow
Paramount, 1999
Directed by Tim Burton


By Jason Rothman

Tim Burton directing an adaptation of one of American literature's classic horror tales seems like an irresistible combination. But while the end result is entertaining, the film Sleepy Hollow will not likely become a classic in its own right.

Washington Irving's tale of a headless horseman terrorizing an 18th century upstate New York town always scared the wits out of me as a kid. But in Burton's version, the scares a few and far between.

Johnny Depp plays Ichabod Crane as sort of a goofy American version of Sherlock Holmes -- a big city constable with an ahead-of-his-time dedication to forensics. Crane is sent to Sleepy Hollow to investigate a series of beheadings and the story takes a direction that tends more toward whodunit rather than horror. That seems to be the big mistake. The script is a little-too X-Fileish for its own good.

Unlike the creepy character I remember, Burton's horseman isn't all that terrifying. Rather, he's sort of an action hero -- with killer sword moves courtesy of Darth Maul himself, stuntman Ray Park. He's so fun to watch -- you almost root for him.

The film has a bit of blood, not much gore, but plenty of violence. Burton uses special effects to show us full-frame images of the beheadings -- without cutting away. And one character, played by Casper Van Dien, meets an especially gruesome death (lets just say he falls to pieces). But none of it really inspires any terror.

Special effects also give the scenery a terrific look -- gray, gloomy skies that appear digitally added provide the perfect atmosphere. The other production values are top notch and Burton does a good job of putting all the visuals together. Though, it must be mentioned that the director displays an odd, though not unpleasing, fascination with the bosoms of actresses Christina Ricci, as Crane's love interest, and Lisa Marie (Burton's girlfriend), who plays Crane's mother in flashback sequences.

Christopher Walken plays the horseman -- when we see him with an actual head -- and he does a lot with a role that is devoid of any dialogue. Other Burton regulars such as Michael Gough, Jeffrey Jones, and Martin Landau fill out a top-notch supporting cast.

(c) Copyright 1999

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