Horror Movie Matters: #11: Sleepy Hollow 1999, Dir. Tim Burton

#11: Sleepy Hollow 1999, Dir. Tim Burton

I’ve been a fan of Tim Burton’s work ever since I first saw Beetlejuice at the drive-in 1988. I enjoy his comedic sensibilities, his taste for the macabre but most of all, his designs. I think it would be fair to say, however, that Burton’s films have been spotty since Planet of the Apes. Cinematic failures notwithstanding, I’m always interested to see what he’ll do next. In 1999 Burton released his version of Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, this new iteration, included not a hawkish schoolmaster, but a socially inept detective. With a grandiose score, beautiful costumes and cameo stunt casting Hammer veterans, Christopher Lee and Michael Gough, Sleepy Hollow was Burton’s homage to the horror films he enjoyed as a youth. This film is a mash-up of supernatural horror, action adventure and mystery and finds Constable Crane going to the village of Sleepy Hollow to solve a series of murders. Along the way he uncovers political secrets that could destroy the whole village as well as an old curse in the form of the murderous headless horseman. Sleepy Hollow is definitely a violent film, and features scenes of decapitation (of course) and gooey autopsies, but these scenes are treated in such a way as to provide comic levity or a flare of the operatic. The most fascinating part of this movieare the themes of old versus new. The story has Crane trying to reconcile his modern pragmatic views with the provincial superstitions of the villagers. These comparisons coincide with Burton’s artistic sensibilities, as we see our protagonist looking back while moving into a new century, we also see a film maker revisiting the films that inspired him. Sleepy Hollow is a wonderfully dark and dreamlike visit to the gothic horror films of the past and is one of a handful of films that really weaves the feeling of Halloween into every fiber of its design, character, and plot.