Here we are again with Fishing in the Discount Bin, my weekly watching and viewing of one of the many films I own. The time, we peek in on one of my favourite directors, Tim Burton, and his 1999 film Sleepy Hollow. This shows up in my notes at February 17, 2014.
Back when DVD was a new and exciting format, I swore I'd get every Tim Burton movie. Tim Burton was one of the first directors I latched onto when I started learning how movies were made and discovered what directors do. And with his trademark twisted sensibilities, who else would an isolated teen latch onto? It's been more than 10 years since I got my first DVD player and made that vow, and the only ones I was still missing were Mars Attacks!, Sleepy Hollow, and his most recent, Dark Shadows.
Well, I've partially remedied that. When I picked up That Thing You Do!, I started looking around to see if there was anything else I wanted. See, because the movie store close to my college back in the day had a 2-for-1 special for college students, I've been conditioned to buy movies in pairs. So with That Thing You Do! safely in hand, I started looking over the other movies I kinda-sorta wanted. And when I saw Sleepy Hollow, I said, "Ooo! This one!"
Sleepy Hollow has kind of become a forgotten Tim Burton film. That's not to say it's lesser than others he's made. It just hasn't quite reached the same prominence in his catalog. When it did come out in the fall of 1999, I remember being very eager to see it in the theatre, but darn it, I didn't make it out. Which led to it being one of the first DVDs I rented.
I didn't own a DVD player yet, but my friend had one. And the local video store had just started renting DVDs. So, when I was off to visit him for the weekend, of course, I rented some DVDs, Sleepy Hollow being one them. We watched the movie, then again with Tim Burton's running commentary, then we watched the featurette, and we kept thinking, "Oh my God, DVD is so awesome!" A running commentary, a featurette, and the trailers. That's all we got for bonus features on a special edition back in the day, and we were thrilled to get just that.
Sleepy Hollow, for those who don't remember, was Burton's gritty reboot of the Legend of Sleepy Hollow, aka the tale of the Headless Horseman. But back in 1999, I don't think the tern "gritty reboot" had entered our lexicon yet. I believe, back then, they referred to such things as a "revisionist interpretation."
In this new version, it's the year 1799, which allowed the filmmakers to get in a few "dawn of the new millennium" gags that were topical in 1999. Ichabod Crane is no longer Sleepy Hollow's new schoolteacher. Now, he's an NYPD detective, mocked by his colleagues for wanting to use such new techniques as forensic science and deductive reasoning to catch criminals. In an effort to get rid of him, his superiors send him upstate to the town of Sleepy Hollow to investigate a rash of mysterious decapitations.
When making this film, Burton said he hoped to make in the style of the Hammer horror films he enjoyed in his youth. For those who don't know their film history, Hammer was a UK movie studio renowned for their Gothic horror films that they made from the 1950s through the 1970s. These were the films that made Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing stars, as Lee generally played the monster (e.g. Dracula) and Cushing played the monster hunter (e.g. Van Helsing). And thus, as an homage to the Hammer horror films, Sleepy Hollow is the first time we get another Tim Burton trademark...the cameo by Christopher Lee, playing Crane's superior.
And speaking of Tim Burton trademarks, we get Johnny Depp as Ichabod Crane. This was only the third film they worked together on, so society was still all, "Hey! Burton and Depp make a good team!" and not "OF COURSE Depp is in a Burton movie. HE'S IN ALL OF THEM." Depp is pretty good as Ichabod Crane. I just read online that Burton instructed Depp to draw some inspiration from Sherlock Holmes in playing Crane, and now that I've watched most of the Holmes adaptations populating pop culture these days, I can see it. But whereas Holmes is anti-social and focused, Crane is timid and squeamish. Quite an interesting contrast...a detective who champions such methods as performing autopsies to determine cause of death, yet faints at the sight of blood.
We also get Crane`s love interest from the original tale, Katrina Van Tassel, played by Christina Ricci. Ricci's been one of my top celebrity crushes forever, so of course I'm biased in saying I enjoyed her in the film. However, her performance is just OK. It's a common problem I have with women in these types of films. I know they're supposed to be all ethereal and otherworldly, but they just come across as sleepy.
And I should also mention, that coming in the fall of 1999, fresh off the Summer of Episode I, this also made a lot of Star Wars fans raise their eyebrows when it was learned that Darth Maul himself, Ray Park, played the Headless Horseman. Actually, three people played the Headless Horseman. Park played him for most of the fight scenes. The second guy, whose name escapes me, was a stunt rider who played him for most of the riding scenes. And third guy, who played the Headless Horseman in flashbacks, back in the days when he still had a head, was Christopher Walken.
But yeah, I kind of got off track there. Crane arrives in Sleepy Hollow, and that's when he learns the rest of the story. The townsfolk know who's behind the decapitations...the Headless Horseman. A Hessian mercenary in the American Revolution who was killed by decapitation, and now roams the countryside looking to replace the head that was taken from him. Being a man of science, Crane is quick to dismiss such tales as local superstition...until he witnesses the Headless Horseman decapitate his latest victim. As frightening as this is, Crane quickly deduces that the murders aren't random, and someone is controlling and manipulating the Headless Horsemen for their own ends. The mystery quickly becomes who's using the Headless Horseman as their hitman, and why?
This is just an enjoyable little mystery film. It's full of trademark Tim Burton flourishes. We do get some repressed memories of Crane's that come out in the form of dreams, giving him a bit of his origin story and his faith in science, and those are just pure Burton. However, they do seem kind of pointless, and are just there to give the director some indulgence.
Watching it again tonight, it really did strike me how little colour there is in the film. It's almost in black and white, and a bit distracting. An interesting visual choice.
But yeah. This'll be a good one come Halloween.