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.
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.
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.