Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” evokes an eerie vibe, and no adaptation is better than Tim Burton’s 1999 “Sleepy Hollow.” With a slew of Burton regular collaborators, including Johnny Depp and Christina Ricci, as well as Burton’s campy, cartoonish horror, it’s an atmospheric, visually pleasing, period piece.
New York policeman Ichabod Crane (Johnny Depp) is on the brink of incarceration due to his scientific criminal investigations, which include finger printing and studying cadavers. As a series of vicious decapitations and killings sprout, Crane investigates the murders in Sleepy Hollow. There, the locals explain that the guilty party is in fact a headless Hessian mercenary, which Crane’s rationale can’t easily accept.
As he continues examining the blood trail, he’s drawn further into the supernatural realm. Simultaneously, Crane is enchanted by Katrina Van Tessel (Christina Ricci), a relative of the Van Garrett family, earlier victims of the horseman. As the headless horseman’s reign of terror continues, Crane must face the mystical happenings, while calming the frightened Sleepy Hollow residents.
Tim Burton is a master storyteller, and “Sleepy Hollow” proves no exception. The 1999 film is highly stylized and cartoonish, while evoking a period piece feel. This is achieved largely through the setting: tri-cornered hats and overcoats abound, and the Revolutionary War sequences feature masses of brandished bayonets. The goofy science contraptions used by Ichabod further reinforce this notion, and have a retro-futuristic look.
“Sleepy Hollow” translates to a wonderful treat because of the obvious horror narrative, but also the actual scenery. It’s filmed with a gray palate, looming, barren trees, misty woods, and leaf-covered paths. Essentially, it’s the quintessential spooky venue. Add wonderful acting to the mix, and you’ve got a fantastic film. Johnny Depp hams it up as usual in his exaggerated but not over the top fashion. Christina Ricci compliments wonderfully, and exhibits some commendable eye bugging. Christopher Walken as the headless horseman, however was a bit of true casting genius. Only Walken could pull off the role to perfection, with no lines. He’s wild-eyed, with a mane of tangled hair and menacing teeth. The pleasant balance of horror, humor, and style make “Sleepy Hollow” a fantastic romp.