Today I needed a horror movie with a unique visual flair, so nothing is better than a ghost story like Sleepy Hollow from 1999 by a master of the genre like Tim Burton.
Typically during that period of his career, the director worked with the great Johnny Depp, playing an enthusiastic young New York detective in this case.
It is almost the 19th century, and this guy is fed up with the antiquated and brutal methods of the police, suggesting a more scientific and deductive approach to investigation.
His colleagues and superiors are also fed up with his constant complaints, so to get him off their backs, they send him to investigate a series of crimes in the village of Sleepy Hollow.
Indeed, over the past few weeks, they have found four victims in the open country, whose mysterious murderer decapitated and then took their heads with him.
Everyone in the village believes nothing is to be done, including the wealthiest and brightest community members, since they think a ghost is responsible for these deaths.
A local legend tells of a bloodthirsty knight loving to terrorize his enemies in battle with his ruthless cruelty and the werewolf-like look he had by sharpening his teeth.
Of course, the detective assumes this is just superstition, but he cannot deny the facts when this ghost kills again right before his eyes.
He also discovers that one of the women he had already killed was expecting a child, even decapitating him in his mother’s womb.
Finally, he traces a link in that murders, reconstructing a family tree going back to the village’s earliest origins.
He thus realizes the only way to appease the knight is to return his head to him, finding the missing skull of his corpse buried near a cursed tree.
True genius evolves but doesn’t change
One of the things I love most about Tim Burton‘s cinema is how he remains consistently faithful to his style over the years.
His technique has evolved and adapted to modern special effects; the core of his stories and characters has remained the same throughout his lengthy filmography.
Sleepy Hollow was a success with audiences in 1999, unfortunately, followed by an unlikely movie as the Planet of The Apes remake, which instead was a massive disappointment for fans.
Taking inspiration from a famous Washington Irving short story, Burton builds an entertaining supernatural fable brimming with charm and dark romance.
Indeed one of the mainstays of this story is the friendship/love relationship between Johnny Depp and Christina Ricci, which sends the protagonist back to the sad memories of his mother’s death.
These dreams/flashbacks are the best horror moments in the story since the headless knight’s assaults are more spectacular than genuinely frightening.
In terms of visual entertainment, this movie always offers outstanding, decaying landscapes worthy of the best Edgar Allan Poe or Lovecraft nightmares.
At the same time, the atmosphere retains a childlike innocence we know well in the director’s style, easing the gloom with the irony and adventurous pace of Danny Elfman‘s splendid soundtrack.
So you can sit quietly on the couch with your children and watch Sleepy Hollow together because although it is a horror, it is never overly traumatizing.
Fans often like to be reminded of Batman, Beetlejuice, or Edward Scissorhands, and I don’t understand why, instead, people talk about this movie so little, which stayed among the best family fairytales of at least the past 20 years.
The Gothic Faces of Sleepy Hollow
Of course, not all credit goes to Tim Burton alone since the whole cast aids in providing an incredible atmosphere for this mystery horror/fantasy.
Johnny Depp, as usual, is at home with this director, with whom he has always given his best as Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood, or the recent wonderful Dark Shadows in 2012.
In this case, we have one of his most charming performances with a character who is as complex, curious, and obstinate as he is also childlike and goofy.
This charm immediately wins the heart of sweet Christina Ricci, who not surprisingly welcomes him to the village by kissing him right away, literally blindfolded.
She, too, has always had big dreamy childlike eyes, yet with a mature woman’s charm in a winning and irresistible mix, always making her a unique actress.
However, the cruel stepmother Miranda Richardson is getting in the way of these two adults/children’s love, who only comes out in the ending but turns out to be another outstanding character.
Then there is no shortage of other familiar faces who have worked with the director, such as Jeffrey Jones, the funny moron father in Beetlejuice, or the charming Michael Gough, the faithful butler Alfred from the 90s Batman.
Although we see very few of them, we must mention other great actors, starting with the terrific Christopher Walken, who gives a creepy face to the mysterious Knight assassin.
Moreover, let us not fail to point out small but delightful extras such as Christopher Lee, the judge who sends Depp to Sleepy Hollow, or Martin Landau, the first actual victim of the carnage.
Sleepy Hollow is one of the best blockbuster movies of 1999, a big production full of famous names under the vigilance of a gothic leader like Tim Burton.