by Caitlin Marceau
Sleepy Hollow (1999)
Directed by Tim Burton
For many, the Halloween season wouldn’t be complete without Washington Irving’s “The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow.” Originally a short story published in 1820, it was turned into an animated piece by Walt Disney Productions for the movie The Adventures Of Ichabod And Mr. Toad (1949) where, despite its release nearly seventy years ago, it’s impacted children around the globe.
The story is simple: a victim of the American Revolutionary war known as the Headless Horseman—named so aptly because he lost his head to a cannonball in battle—is said to haunt the countryside in search of his head. When Ichabod Crane runs into him, he rides for his life to the old bridge the ghost is said to be unable to cross. However, much to his horror, the Headless Horseman has no trouble following him over the bridge, and soon Ichabod is never seen again. At the scene of his disappearance are a smashed pumpkin and his hat, and readers are left wondering if the ghost decided to use Ichabod’s head as a replacement for his own… or if there was ever a Horseman at all.
Sleepy Hollow, which is based on said legend, is a fresh look at an old classic. In this reimagining, the characters are grittier, darker, are more ominous in their design for the screen. Ichabod Crane (Johnny Depp) is now a police constable, not a schoolmaster. His love interest Katrina (Christina Ricci), has gone from a helpless damsel in distress to… well that unfortunately doesn’t change much. The Horseman (Christopher Walken) is no longer a ghost that Ichabod happens upon, but instead is a spirit conjured by Lady Van Tassel (Miranda Richardson) to exact her revenge on those who’ve wronged her.
While gritty reboots are often the butt of a joke (we’re talking to you DC), Tim Burton does an amazing job of adapting this already terrifying tale, into something that takes the horror one step further. Using visceral, shocking, and uncharacteristically dark imagery, he creates a world that’s both familiar and uncomfortably new. Although it’s a Burton film—and still feels like one—it’s not dripping in his immediately recognizable style (unlike The Corpse Bride  or Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street ).
If you’re looking for a ghost story this Halloween, and want something coated in Victorian aesthetic, then be sure to check out Sleepy Hollow.