Halloween Movie Countdown #4 – Sleepy Hollow

#4 – Sleepy Hollow 1999

Heads will roll”

Every Halloween during my childhood I would watch the Walt Disney version of Washington Irving’s story. Ok, I admit, I still watch it every Halloween now that I am in my thirties.  But now, the Disney version has been supplanted by Tim Burton‘s adaptation even though it is distinctly lacking the narrative talents of one Bing Crosby.  Burton’s twist on the familiar folk tale is to turn it into a horror/murder mystery.  In the year 1799,  New York police constable Ichabod Crane (Johnny Depp) is dispatched to the tiny town of Sleepy Hollow to investigate a series of gruesome murders that have left the victims decapitated and their melons missing.  He arrives to stories from the town’s elders that the killings are being perpetrated from beyond the grave by a Headless Hessian Horseman (Christopher Walken, with pointy teeth).  Crane doesn’t buy the story because he approaches his investigations from a scientifically skeptical position.  He insists the killer must be a man of flesh and blood.  Until he comes face to face with Headless Horseman himself.

The reimagining of Sleepy Hollow was not initially Tim Burton’s concept.  Makeup artist Kevin Yagher had partnered with Andrew Kevin Walker and pitched the idea of Ichabod Crane as a banished New York detective to several producers in the early nineties.  The project was eventually bought by Paramount with the plan of Yagher directing and Walker scripting.  Yagher wanted to make Sleepy Hollow into a low-budger slasher movie with “a spectacular murder every five minutes or so.”  Paramount wasn’t amenable to that concept and demoted Yagher’s involvement in the project back to makeup design.  One of the Sleepy Hollow producers that had also worked on Edward Scissorhands suggested Burton as Yagher’s replacement.

Of all the movies on my list, I think that the art direction and cinematography in Sleepy Hollow work together to create the most impressively effective atmosphere.  It is a visually gorgeous picture.  It has a loaded cast, a very eerie soundtrack (by Nightmare Before Christmas collaborator, Danny Elfman, plenty of comedic moments (often at the expense of Depp’s portrayal of Ichabod Crane’s awkward squeamishness), and enough to gore to satisfy those that want it without going over the top.  Watching this movie around Halloween always makes me wish I had the talent to create a prosthetic, decapitated version of my own head to set out on the porch to greet the trick-or-treaters.  But I probably wouldn’t be able to stop there.  I’d have to make the rest of the costume and learn how to really ride a horse, so that I could really scare the bejeezus out of people. Since I don’t A) have the money to buy a horse, or B) have anywhere to house Satan’s steed, I suppose it’s better for everyone that I just stick to carving jack-o-lanterns. Damn logistics.

Behind the scenes of Sleepy Hollow:

Part 2, Part 3

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