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It’s been thirteen years now (oooohhhh spoooky) since Tim Burton’s Oscar-winning Sleepy Hollow adaptation hit the big screen, and as with most legends, a second viewing seems to reveal more about 90s movies than it does about truly traumatizing horror.

Halloween is coming up, and as such, people may find themselves rummaging through their movie collections for some truly terrifying fare in order to jump back into the spirit of the season. Such was the case when I stumbled back across Sleepy Hollow, a film that my ten-year-old eyes had registered in the “gave me nightmares for three months” category.

It had been literally over a decade since I had laid eyes on the film, but my memory served me well. I remembered axes and pentagrams and Uncle Vernon getting his head cut off. Perfect for Halloween, I thought. Surely 90s era Tim Burton won’t let me down.

I remembered enough about the film to give it credence, and I specifically remembered being terrified of the headless horseman for years after my first and only viewing of the film. In an effort to scare my paramore (such is a boyfriend’s duty on Halloween), we popped Sleepy Hollow into the DVD player, nestled into a “ready to be scared out of our minds” position and pressed play. We were greeted by the menu, featuring Johnny Depp wearing kooky glasses smeared kookily with blood.

Kookiness of the highest degree.

The film was atmospheric and spooky, but I had underestimated Tim Burton’s inexplicable passion for making things as off-puttingly campy as possible. Yes, he found an excuse to have the horseman cut off a whole bunch of heads, and yes, some of the murders were pretty brutal and visually stunning, but as a whole film, it found itself relying off of a series of hunches and odd detective work that only served to take away from an otherwise dark and gothic film.

Perhaps this was the film’s intention, to serve more of a comedy-horror Burtonesque feel rather than telling a truly scary legend. In this particular instance, the fault may have been on me for choosing a Tim Burton film specifically for scares.

The film specialized in showing us everything, even when the unknown could have proven to be a much more enticing and mysterious device. For instance, instead of keeping the horseman shrouded in mystery as an icon of horror, they chose to explicitly tell an origin story, complete with a tie-in as to why the horseman is back in the first place. We won’t spoil the ending for you, but the Horseman’s original head is Christopher Walken.

Above: A Christopher Walken in its natural state.

In the end, the full film proved to be convoluted and weird, but punctuated by some truly beautiful landscapes and artfully crafted moments. These moments aren’t enough to carry an entire film however, so the movie as a whole might function better as a film to either keep on in the background while your friends discuss it or make fun of it.

Verdict: Worth a watch, but be prepared for more oddball eccentricities and less scares

What did you think of ‘Sleepy Hollow’? Would you recommend it?

  • Seamus MacGillicuddy

    I don’t think the film is fueled by scares. The horror genre isn’t necessarily dictated by it’s ability to frighten people. If that were true, then classics like James Whale’s “Frankenstein” and “Bride of Frankenstein” would be excluded from the genre entirely. Yes, they did frighten many people upon their initial releases, but most people are able to see the innate humor of the films nowadays. Burton’s Sleepy Hollow is a film of style, featuring a very elegant performance by Johnny Depp. In the genre of Horror, it’s a fantastic film- a classic. The more you see it, the more you appreciate the humor of the film and the craftsmanship that went into making it.

  • http://twitter.com/hrogo44 Hannah

    While ‘Sleepy Hollow’ is not my favorite Tim Burton movie I
    am very fond of it. I feel like Tim Burton is a take it or leave it kind of
    director and filmmaker. People either get it or don’t. I think upon second
    viewing of a lot of scary movies people see the ridiculousness of the plot and
    the laughable lines delivered by the cast. I think Burton does a good job of
    not hiding the funny side of scary movies, especially when he casts his buddy
    Johnny Depp in almost every lead role. I love that ‘Sleepy Hollow’ transports
    you to a different place that feels like it’s a stones throw away from reality.
    It is creepy enough to make you not want to go walking through the woods in
    fear of the Horseman but you aren’t going to be curled up under your bed for
    weeks on end. Tim Burton obviously wanted to tell his own version rather than
    just giving the audience the same old Headless Horseman story just with updated
    actors. I applaud his cinematic style and will continue to have Burton movie
    marathons every October to get me into the season. I recommend ‘Sleepy Hollow’
    to people who want to get in the Halloween mood but don’t want to be scared to
    the point where they can’t sleep for days.

  • Riku

    I LOVE this movie, and I especially love watching this movie around Halloween. I would recommend it, not because it’s scary, but because it’s a good movie. :) Maybe I’m a little bit biased because I grew up with this movie, and growing up I never counted it as a horror film, just a spooky Halloween movie that captures the legend well. Plus it doesn’t hurt to have Johnny Depp in the film. ;)

  • http://twitter.com/RachelgurlFL Rachel Gay

    i really enjoy this movie i like the gothic feel to it and i like how creepy it is

  • Jill

    So, was this about a bad movie choice for scares or what? I’m a little confused or maybe I’m just tired. I haven’t seen this movie in years and years so maybe it is time to bring it back out.

    • eliza

      I wasn’t personally satisfied with it as a ‘scary” movie, but plenty of people love it for what it is!

  • alex

    I dunno- I recently caught it on tv and the whole Horseman goes hunting for the family of red-heads and chops the husband and wive’s heads off while little terrified son hides and them BOOM! horseman finds him (the fact that it wasn’t clear if he killed the little boy too)
    gave me nightmares for weeks. (did he or did he not? I was able to deal with the parents being murdered but the uncertainty of wether the kid survived or not- left me traumatized)

    that and the tree full of blood and chopped heads. *shudders*

  • SnatcherGirl

    “In this particular instance, the fault may have been on me for choosing a Tim Burton film specifically for scares.” Lolz, maybe xD

  • http://www.eigakanthemovietheater.blogspot.com Jenny Leigh

    I kinda disagree a lot, seeing as Sleepy Hollow is one of my favorite movies of all time. I think it’s a really great and fun movie, that brings full circle for the Burton asthetic.

  • Musician

    It’s humorous, it’s freaky, it’s smart–and like all true horror, not slasher flicks, it taps into our creepiest memories, dreams, and desires and ingrains itself somewhere inside us. All of us remember that the first time we watched it, we couldn’t shake it out of our heads for months. It’s just something about Tim Burton that can either be good or bad. He really can rattle viewers, even when what’s going on isn’t conventionally frightening.

  • Jen

    I know this may seem like a random question, but were you inspired to review this after seeing a Nostalgia Chick review?

    • http://Hypable.com/ James Bean

      Surprisingly no! I’ve actually never seen those, though I’m looking her up right now. Our Movies writer Kristin came up with the idea and this was our first experiment with it. I’m so glad to see so many people out there that liked it more than I did, I just remembered something terrifying from my childhood, but there’s the possibility that I was just ten. :D

    • http://www.hypable.com/ Kristin LeMunyon

      I just saw this, I’ve never even heard of Nostalgia Chick! My mom actually suggested the idea of rewatching childhood movies and then writing about them!

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