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Sleepy Hollow (1999)

Directed by Tim Burton

Sleepy Hollow (1999) -- poster

You'd figure that when king-of-steam-punk, Tim Burton, teams up with script-meister, Andrew Kevin Walker ("Se7en"), to re-invent a dusty old Washington Irving fable ("The Legend of Sleep Hollow") you'd have the makings of an instant Halloween classic... unfortunately, you'd be wrong. Not that "Sleepy Hollow" is uninteresting or slow but story wise it's a plot-tease. It has fantastic visuals and a fairy tale/nightmare world that is filled with fantastic knickknacks. It has some stunning action segments with a real scary headless horseman. Where it falls flat is story that holds together. It's not a murder mystery. We know it's the headless horseman that's doing the killings. The only question is why. The why is impossible to figure out. The worst scene of the movie, the only really bad scene, is where the person controlling the headless horseman blurts out the motives in a rapid-fire two-minute monologue to get the audience up to speed near the end. This might be fine if the other part of the story were working better -- the romance between Johnny Depp (Burton's alter ego) and Christina Ricci. There's not enough heat between them to melt butter. Strange considering that Ricci has a track record of successfully being romantically linked to older men in her movies. Maybe, it's just a chemistry thing -- but it did the opposite of explode.

Sleepy Hollow -- Johnny Depp

There are numerous flashbacks of Icabod's puritanical upbringing. A witchy Lisa Marie plays his busty and warm mom. His dad but it seems to portrayed by either Cotton Mather or one of the Smith Brothers (remember the cough drops?). These scenes are meant to give psychological weight to Depp's dual nature. On the one hand, he's obsessed with reason and science. He carries around a lot of crazy shit that is supposed to pass for instruments of investigation. That's the good stuff. On the other hand, he's very interested in the occult and is intrigued by Ricci's dabbling in magic. Flashbacks usually don't work and it's no exception here. If the flashbacks had been cut from "Sleepy Hollow," you wouldn't know they were missing. All of the flashbacks could've been replaced by a tiny bit of dialogue and a little action taking up less than 10 seconds. "My mother taught me that things aren't always what they seem," says Ichabod to Katrina. He holds in his hands a disk and string contraption. The disk has a bird on one side and a cage on the other. As he pulls on the strings the paper begins to quickly spin and the bird suddenly appears to be in the cage. That's all that was needed. There are a couple of good scenes demonstrating the pre-electric roots of what would become the movies.

Sleepy Hollow (1999) -- headless horseman

"Sleepy Hollow" has some very good stuff. Anything with Christopher "Pigpen" Walken in it is automatically going to become 15% better. He plays the pre-decap "Hessian horseman" with spiky, black Pogo-hair and an equally spiky maw of blackened teeth. What the getup is about is never really explained but it's lots of fun. So is the hatchet wielding headless horseman. The shots of him erupting from the tree/gateway-to-hell are really cool. Actually, any scene featuring the headless horseman was just plain spectacular. Depp has some pretty funny moments, too. He really pulls off the transition from headless horseman-scoffer to scared shitless pussy. This isn't one of Burton's best: "Ed Wood," "Edward Scissorhands" or "Beetle Juice." It isn't one of his worst either: "Batman," "Mars Attacks" or "Batman Returns." It's somewhere in the middle which is still pretty good, better than most other directors. -- Rating: $7.95

Tom Graney -- copyright Hollywood Outsider 1999

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