August 7, 2018
Sleepy Hollow (1999)
Grade: 68/100

Director: Tim Burton
Stars: Johnny Depp, Christina Ricci, Christopher Walken

What it's about. Set in New England in the year 1799, and loosely based on the 1820 short story by Washington Irving. In this version, Ichabod Crane (Johnny Depp) is a detective convinced that science can solve crimes. He is dispatched to a village to solve a series of murders, blamed on a marauding ghost called The Headless Horseman, said to be a Hessian mercenary (Christopher Walken) killed during the Revolutionary War.

Crane soon has a love interest in mysterious witch Katrina Van Tassel (Christina Ricci), and a servant in young orphan Masbath (Marc Pickering). Crane's investigation reveals that The Headless Horseman is real, and under the command of Katrina's evil stepmother (Miranda Richardson), who has the horseman murder (over a series of weeks) everyone in town who stands between her and a large inheritance.

How others will see it. Sleepy Hollow was a costly production directed by the quirky but talented Tim Burton, who found his alter ego in leading man Johnny Depp. Nonetheless, the worldwide gross of 200M doubled its budget, and given its nearly 300K user votes, the film has undoubtedly been a commercial success in its video release.

The film's "look" was a critical success as well. It won an Oscar for its art direction, and a BAFTA award for its costumes. It did well at the Saturn Awards, garnering a huge 11 nominations, though winning only Best Actress (Ricci, whose role was actually supporting) and Best Music (Danny Elfman).

At, the user rating is a respectable 7.4 out of 10. Women under 30 grade it highest (7.8) and men over 45 grade it lowest (7.2). The most useful user reviews are glowing, one calling the movie a "gothic masterpiece."

How I felt about it. As with their prior Burton-Depp collaboration Edward Scissorhands, this is not a movie to be taken that seriously. The movie is indeed attractive to look at, and the special effects are convincing.

There are problems, of course. Crane keeps fainting, which implies he is a coward, yet he is often fearless in facing the unstoppable Headless Horseman. Likewise, Katrina, Masbath, and the dashing young local men show remarkable bravery in their encounters with the supernatural villain.

Indeed, it appears that the village men transform at some sudden point in their lives from athletic youth to portly old age, without the usual four-decade evolution into corpulence. No matter, they exist mostly to be served up to the Headless Horseman, which is a shame for them but a good chuckle for us.

As horror enthusiasts know, it's all done for the enjoyment of the viewer, who can cheer for Jason, er, the Headless Horsemen, as he runs down and beheads his many victims. Neither bravery nor cowardice will allow someone to escape the avenging spirit, however misguided, if he or she happens to be on his hitlist.

The casting is generally inspired, but there is one exception: the wicked stepmother. Perhaps a performance more intense or campy was required.