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Sleepy Hollow (1999)

by on 2011/10/07

“You’re just in time to have your head cut off.”

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Anyone who knows me knows how much I love Halloween. Perhaps love is too weak a word.

I have many Halloween traditions. I completed the first on my list this past weekend, making the trip to a nearby farm in Munster, Ontario. We screamed our way through the Barn of Terror, and rode white-knuckled aboard the Haunted Hayride through ghoul-infested backwoods.

It was all overcast skies, dead leaves, howling winds and farm employees dressed as lurching zombies.

What’s not to love?

Another of my Halloween rituals is a screening of Sleepy Hollow. This gorgeous, creepy, affecting film is also the best way to kick off my inaugural ‘OctoBurton Fest.’

If you must know, I stole the term ‘OctoBurton Fest’ from Hacker Renders – our resident word gymnast and funny guy.

This October on I’m going celebrate the works of Tim Burton. I love Tim Burton movies madly. Well, most Tim Burton movies. No self-respecting gothically minded type person can resist the Tim Burton look. Sleepy Hollow is no exception.

When I was a kid, I adored the The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (1949). This Disney adaptation of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow was two parts goofy broad comedy, one part rural romance – with a dash of child-friendly, Disney-brand chills.

Sleepy Hollow is no Disney movie. Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow has no B-B-Bing Crosby, no gangly slapstick and no greased plaits to hold on to.

Sleepy Hollow is scary. Christopher-Walken-with-teeth-filed-into-sharp-points scary.

The colour palette of this movie is so granite grey and charcoal black that the film is almost completely black and white. In this killing frost world, set in a sombre 1700s Dutch settlement in New York state, the sudden red splashes of colour – cardinals, sealing wax, arterial spray – are startling, a visual shock to the system.

Johnny Depp, with his bone china white skin, eyes like black beads and slick black forelocks, is incredible as the twitchy rationalist and police constable Ichabod Crane.

The decision to turn The Legend of Sleepy Hollow into an occult-laced detective story was a masterstroke. Crane is sent by Burgomaster Christopher Lee (The Horror of Dracula) to determine why residents in the farming community are turning up headless. Crane is also seeking to prove that science, reason and forensics should trump superstition, irrationality and torture in the solving of crime.

Sleepy Hollow is driven by great performances from Christina Ricci as milk-maid pretty Katrina Van Tassel, Miranda Richardson as downhome dominatrix Lady Van Tassel, Michael Gambon as blustery landowner Baltus Van Tassel, Michael Gough (Batman) as the milky-eyed Notary Hardenbrook and Jeffrey Jones as the sneering, lusty Reverend Steenwyck.

Sleepy Hollow even has Martin Landau in it. Which is to say it is chemically configured to make me love it.

Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow is a glorious gothic pageant filled with delicious chills. It is a beautiful, awful, marvellous way to begin my month of Halloween rituals and a perfect kick off to our OctoBurton Fest (and no, we won’t change the name no matter how much you groan).

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Rated R for bloody violence and some of the best decapitation scenes ever committed to film,  and bloody sexuality (you’ll see)

105 minutes

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