Sunday, October 4, 2015

Sleepy Hollow (1999)

Everyone has an opinion when it comes to Tim Burton. Some people love him because his dark style and gothic settings speak to them. Others hate him because they feel like he's a sellout who remakes older movies that don't need to be remade and the changes done to them feel forced and out of place. Where do I fall on this? I guess I'm somewhere in the middle. I love some Tim Burton films, because I do enjoy gothic spooky things. But I also am not a fan of when Burton ends up making the movies that seem like nothing but cash-ins. You know what movies I'm talking about too.

Don't pretend you're oblivious to the glaringly obvious.

Back in the 90s though, Burton hadn't quite gone down that rabbit hole. He was still known mostly for the stuff that made him famous to begin with: gothic horror twinged stories about strange things and people. This lead to him actually making a gothic horror film based on one of the more famous spooky stories in literary history, Sleep Hollow. The most famous film example of this story being adapted was the short film made by Walt Disney Pictures, so it honestly was due for a nice big screen version of the tale. Perhaps one that was a bit more on the scary side of things? But Tim Burton does love familiarity, so it's not too shocking to learn he brought a familiar face along with him. That's right, Johnny Depp stars once again in a Tim Burton film. How quaint.

I wonder why they don't collaborate more?
Sarcasm aside, I do get it. Johnny Depp just screams gothic when you look at him. The man was made to be in the sorts of movies Burton is most comfortable making, so casting him makes a lot of sense...most of the time. There are the other movies I mentioned, the ones that led to people accusing Burton of selling out, where Depp playing a creepy guy stands out in a really bad way. None more so that his turn as Willy Wonka, which is why a lot of people point to that performance as being especially unnerving. Don't get me wrong, the original Willy Wonka film was also unnerving and creepy...but Wonka himself was so kind and warm that it actually made it more creepy when something sketchy happened to a kid. Burton's version gave us a Wonka who seemed to be trying a bit too hard to be creepy. I actually think Depp's turn as the Mad Hatter would've been a better Wonka than what we got in Burton's remake, but that's just me.

I think about things like that sometimes, because I have no life.
But that's neither here nor there, as we're talking about this movie now. Those familiar with the classic story may notice some differences, but overall it does keep the basic elements. Ichabod Crane is still a bit of a scared kitten, Katrina is still there as his love interest, Brom is still there to be a dick, and the Horseman is still there being...well, headless. But what is done here is more than just a simple retelling of a classic tale, but is rather taking the elements that compose it and using them to tell horror mystery where Ichabod Crane gets to be Sherlock Holmes. The story begins with Van Garrett and his son rushing off in a carriage in the dead of night. Then he notices his son has gotten his lobbed off and, after running through a field, finds himself in much the same predicament.

Jack, the Pumpkin King, didn't lift a finger to help him either. The bastard.

From there we meet our hero, Constable Ichabod Crane, a man who struggles to use his mind to fight crime when others are comfortable with be corrupt and torturous in their handling of things, sneering their nose at the idea of things like doing an autopsy on a body to determine the cause of death as a barbarous act, then having a severely beaten man being tossed into a pit. It's good to see corrupt cops aren't really a new thing, I suppose. Crane is offered a chance by the town leader (known as the Burgomaster) to go prove himself as a better crimefighter by traveling to a small farming community upstate to solve some murders where three people have had their heads sliced from the body.

When Dracula tells you to go do something, you'd best go do it.
Crane heads to Sleepy Hollow where he notices things feel a bit off. He heads to the home of Baltus Van Tassel where he gets a greeting from the man himself and a blindfolded kiss from that cute girl who Casper used to creep on. That last thing pisses off local tough guy, Brom, who is seconds away from siccing his Roughnecks on Crane. Baltus intervenes though and Crane meets with the town elders about the recent murders where they tell him that the heads weren't just cut off, but were also taken. This leads to the story of the Headless Horseman. Apparently, he was a bloodthirsty Hessian mercenary who fought against the colonies on behalf of his British employers and died right outside of Sleepy Hollow in the western woods. His death was the result of a young girl snapping a twig while her twin sister ran away.

I don't know why she ran though. He seems friendly enough. He was only Walken in the woods.
She watched them kill him, because some kids are a bit fucked up like that. I wonder if that will be at all important later in the movie? Hmm...anyway, Crane is a bit shaken, but he doesn't really believe in supernatural killers. He's a man of science and reason! When another victim is claimed, he goes to investigate the scene where he is able to recreate the scene a bit and he observes that the blade that cut the head off had to have been very hot, as it left no bruising and seems to have instantly cauterized the wound. At the funeral for the man, his son offers to assist Crane in his investigation and Magistrate Phillipse tells him there are five bodies, not four. Crane and young Masbath dig up the bodies and discover that the widow Emily Winship (killed off-screen) was pregnant and the baby's head was cut off in the womb.

My day isn't finished until I have offended someone with a terrible joke.
Between his investigating, Crane also has the obvious mutual attraction between himself and Katrina Van Tassel and some lovely nightmares about something dark from his own past that he has blocked out. Oh, and there's also that dickhead, Brom. Yeah, he dresses up like the horseman and chases Crane before tossing a Jack-O-Lantern at his head. I liked Brom more when he was off fighting alien bugs. Ichabod gets to face down the real deal soon though, as he goes to question the Magistrate who seems to be fleeing town after an argument he had with some of the other elders. The Horseman shows up and takes his head, which just happened to roll into Crane's lap. This all causes our hero to faint, which is kind of an appropriate reaction when a supernatural being rams a sword in between your legs. He wakes up in bed and seems a bit upset about the whole thing, in general.

"He almost took more than one head last night and I still haven't shown Katrina that head yet!"
He manages to pull himself together after a while though and he challenges the men of the town to come with him into the western woods. Masbath is the only one who does though, because they don't mind sending an orphaned boy out with a severely traumatized man. They find the witch of the western woods who gives them some info in a way that would make Large Marge proud, and they find Katrina out in the woods looking for them, as she is also braver than pretty much every guy in town. In my experience, women often are. For example, I had a friend who loved being scared and riding rides that would make me crap out my own heart. I, on the other hand, freaked out on the Simpsons ride at Universal Studios. She's much braver than I am, which also a sad reality of why we're no longer friends. They find the Horseman's grave, which is a really big gnarly fucking tree. As a matter of fact, I wouldn't be shocked if Tim Curry came out of that tree and started singing a song about how pollution turns him on.

Tim Curry can even make polluting seem sexy.
Crane digs up the grave of the dead Hessian and discovers the head seems to be missing, and the tree itself also seems to be full of the heads of the dead people. Also, the roots bleed, because the tree wasn't evil enough. The Headless Horseman then comes riding out of the roots of the tree, off to town where he goes after the midwife and her family. Brom and Crane both try to stop him, but the deed is done. Brom manages to piss him off though, so after a pretty nice fight scene between the three, Crane is stabbed in the chest and Brom ends up sliced in half. Ouch. Too bad duct tape doesn't exist yet, because he probably needs a lot of it. Our hero dreams again, this time seeing the murder of his mother at the hands of his father. She was killed because she was a Wiccan and his father was one of those lovely Puritan assholes who believed in killing anyone who was different, because the Puritans totally didn't have that shit done to them.

Fun fact: they wore those hats to cover up all the hypocrisy oozing out of them.
He begins to believe there is a conspiracy in the community, which is seemingly confirmed when he finds the will of Van Garrett at Notary Hardenbrook's office, where the man essentially confirms that the elders were all manipulated into a conspiracy. And the evidence all seems to point towards Baltus being the man behind the Horseman, making it so all the wealth of Van Garrett goes to him, as they are related. they arrive with their evidence to find Katrina in Crane's room, where she comments about what he had written in his ledger and that her father wants him to leave town, which really means she wants him to leave because she's trying to protect her father. Can't really blame her, as her dad doesn't seem like the murdering type. Unsurprisingly, Crane soon finds his evidence gone and goes to the old Van Tassel house Katrina showed him earlier to discover that she had burned it all.

I think she might be a bit angry. I hope she doesn't go back to her creepy ex, Casper. He's so transparent.
If that's not enough on Crane's mind, he also sees her stepmom go out into the woods to fuck around with the reverend. This town is like Melrose Place with powdered wigs. Wait, she cuts her hand and rubs blood all over his back...yep, she's a witch. I'm calling it, she's the bad guy. Anyway, the next day the town all gathers in the church so the reverend can speak out against Crane as a heretic or something, but that gets interrupted by the Horseman showing up behind stepwitch there, causing her husband to run off and say she was killed. We don't see her get killed, so yeah, I'm sticking to my guns. The Horseman can't get inside the church though ,as it is hallowed ground, and things quickly devolve into anarchy as the doctor tries to confess the conspiracy to Baltus, which leads to the reverend caving his head in and Baltus shooting him for doing that. Katrina, meanwhile, takes some chalk and draws a protection charm on the ground to try and ward off evil spirits like the one outside, but her dad gets speared and dragged outside where his head is taken. In the aftermath of all of this, Crane faces the reality of all the evidence pointing to the woman he loves as he found a similar symbol to the one she drew in the church under his bad, which Masbath called "the evil eye".

Because it's pink and we all know pink is the most evil colour imaginable.
Crane heads out of town but he looks into a book she gave him and sees that the charm was a protective charm for loved ones, which prompts him to go back and look at the dead body of her stepmom. Examining her hand reveals that the cut on it was made posthumously, thus it cannot be her. Cue her showing up to kidnap Katrina, thus confirming that she's an evil witchy witch. She takes Katrina out into the woods where she reveals she was the creepy twin little girl who got the Horseman killed and she gave up her soul for the power to make him raise from the dead to do her bidding. Apparently her family was torn apart by the Van Garretts and she wanted revenge, but she also wanted to get paid. Also, she killed her sister (the witch from earlier), so she obviously doesn't care that much about family.

"I only care when it's convenient to my plans!"
Crane and Masbath show up to save Katrina as the Horseman comes after them into the windmill, they climb up and Crane lights it on fire, and they escape by riding the windmill blades down. But a burning windmill isn't enough to stop him, thus the fight continues complete with an epic chase scene! Finally, Crane manages to grab the skull of the Horseman from the witch-bitch and throws it to the proper owner, who decides to show her just how he felt about her getting him killed and using him as her private assassin by sharing a lovely kiss.

Oh, and he bites out her tongue. Hessian kisses are way more brutal that French kisses.
In the aftermath of the whole thing, Crane returns to the city victorious and brings along Katrina and Masbath, welcoming them to his more modern world where he can hopefully encourage more proper science and deduction in police work. And hey, maybe he'll get to see Katrina naked too. I'm sure he'd enjoy that. Or he might faint again. He does that a lot. Thus ends the tale of Constable Ichabod Crane and the Headless Horseman of Sleepy Hollow. Roll them credits, boys! And let's all remember not to go trusting creepy little girls in the woods.

Actually, you can trust one of them. The other one should probably be kicked. Hard.
This was actually a really good movie. I would actually go as far as to say this may be my favourite Tim Burton film. Which is why it kinda shocks me to learn not many people are big fans of this movie. I mean, really? I don't get it? Of course, that might be a bit of why they don't right there, as well. They don't get it. Now, as a stand lone film, I still dig the hell out of it, but I also love this movie for another reason that won't be obvious to everyone. The entire thing seems to Burton's love letter to Hammer horror films. The almost neon red blood, the gothic setting, the atmosphere, and even the bits of humour all reek of Hammer. Remember how I called Christopher Lee Dracula earlier? Yeah, that's because he played the character in numerous Hammer films. I don't know if Burton has admitted this to anyone, but it seems very clear that he was paying homage to films he probably loves.

He sure wasn't taking inspiration from this, otherwise Crane would've had a nose long enough to stab Katrina with.
This movie is Tim Burton doing what he does best and I really wish we'd gotten a lot more of this and a lot less of other things that were clearly done for the money. I actually had the good luck to see this in theaters when it originally came out, and let me tell you that it was a great thing to experience on the big screen. It also has some great performances from its cast and the CGI is sparingly used, relying more on practical effects. Overall, this movie deserves more love and attention than it has gotten and I would be honoured if my silly little review managed to make you give it a second look. It's worth looking at and I mean that with every bit of me. So, until Tim Burton makes a sequel where the Headless Horseman goes to Hawaii, I'll be here remembering how much I loved every frame of this. Later days, bleeders.

He's just Walken in a winter wonderland.

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