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Sleepy Hollow

D- Tim Burton
1999 USA

From what I can tell, opinion on this film is split right down the middle. As I saw it, this was another great ride through the funhouse and another reason I've loved 1999 more than any other recent year in genre history.

I saw "Sleepy Hollow" on the same day I saw "The Messenger" (see The Beaten Track)... And I was feeling quite upset as a result. But I found it interesting to see how much the two films had in common. Both attempted magical moments with swirling flower petals (or snowflakes); and both featured rabidly enthusiastic sword-swingers. And both Milla Jovovich and Christopher Walken made the audience laugh while they went through their paces. The difference as I saw it is that Tim Burton understood just how to use these elements-- and made the laughter an integral part of his movie.

You can't sum "Sleepy Hollow" up by saying either "Universal" or "Hammer," though obvious homages to both are plentiful. Burton also obviously remembered Barbara Steele in "Black Sunday" (which he hosted last year on AMC). So you have a film influenced by nothing but the best but ripping off nothing entirely-- and a handsome production it is.

Johnny Depp is great as Ichabod Crane (thank God he didn't end the year with "The Astronaut's Wife!")--he's not a "coward," as you may have heard, but he is afraid. He reacts-- he winces and squirms-- but goes through with what he has to do anyway as the story goes from a "human" mystery to a "supernatural" mystery and right back to another "human" mystery. Christina Ricci is very appealing, as well-though again, some have vehemently disagreed.

Burton shifts gears not only with the story, but with his tone. One outrageous setpiece has you convinced this is a flat-out black comedy with surprisingly liberal helpings of gore-- but no sooner do you convince yourself of this than you're faced with a shock scene that inspires no smiles at all.

It's true that the climax of the film becomes a bit too cliched-- the fight in the windmill not only plays as a "Frankenstein" tribute but as a rehash of Burton's own "Batman" ending... and THAT's followed by an all-too-derivative "Indiana Jones/T2" moving vehicle pursuit. But it's certainly not enough to kill the movie-- and a nicely sick finale does the trick. (Am I the only one who caught a bit of "Sugar Hill"--not the Snipes film--in that part?)

1999 has featured the most incredible variety in the horror field--there's been something for (I believe) literally every fan this year. And "Sleepy Hollow" continues the trend of standing out nicely from the crowd. All this plus Christopher Lee, Michael Gough, Jeffrey Jones and Michael Gambon---and that WAS Martin Landau in the first scene, right? If you're not sure about this one, by all means check it out--it might surprise you.

-Remo D