(3 1/2 STARS) SLEEPY HOLLOW. (R) Washington Irving's tale of the Headless
Horseman and the hapless constable who chases him down is brought to
sumptuously haunted life by director Tim Burton and the charming earnestness of
Gambon, Christopher Walken. Screenplay by Andrew Kevin Walker. 1:45 (graphic
violence, adult situations). Area theaters.
THE YEAR IS 1799, when the ride to Westchester County from New York City took
two days and you didn't need to be a chief executive to qualify for a mortgage
there. No one is getting much sleep in Sleepy Hollow, where the Headless
Horseman is lopping off heads faster than you can say Salome, and even the dead
are disturbed from their rest in the hunt for this mad executioner.
Enter Ichabod Crane, a very earnest constable with a very silly bag of
As evidenced by the magical "Edward Scissorhands," Johnny Depp and director Tim
Burton make dark and fabulous music together. The pair ride high again with
"Sleepy Hollow," a sumptuously enjoyable campfire story of a movie that manages
to be both giddy and gruesome in large, equal dollops.
Burton has obviously spared no expense on his vision of Washington Irving's
haunted village. The sky is in a spectacular state of perpetual overcast, the
trees are as gnarly as a witch's face, and the earth is suffocating under a
luxurious carpet of dead leaves. When Ichabod (Depp) approaches Sleepy Hollow
in his horse-drawn carriage, the Hudson River seems to shimmer with the sorrows
of recent days.
Dispatched from New York City to track down a headless serial killer (played,
when he has his head on straight, by Christopher Walken) who decapitates his
victims, then makes off with the heads. Crane is hosted by esteemed Sleepy
Hollow residents Balthus and Lady Van Tassel (Michael Gambon and Miranda
Richardson). Shrugging off the locals' superstitious tales of a headless
horseman ("Seeing is believing," says a half-blind villager in ominous tones),
Crane stalks the killer with science. Depp is drolly charming doing his dour
and hapless thing, more Buster Keaton's Sherlock Jr. than Basil Rathbone's
Sherlock Holmes as he manipulates absurd powders and complicated spectacles
that detect what is obvious to the naked eye.
"Sleepy Hollow" is at its best when it casts its shadows over Depp's
lily-livered savior and enables Burton's special effects team full reign to
whip up bug- eyed witches and blood-spilling tree trunks. There is some stab
made at romance, although pouty Christina Ricci (as the Van Tassels' daughter,
Katrina) seems somewhat ill-at-ease doing the fair blond maiden bit. Depp finds
a more able partner in Marc Pickering, a 13-year-old with a naturally spooked
visage who plays Crane's intrepid young aide-de- camp.
Pickering's wide, tremulous eyes reflect the film's lurid appeal to youthful
terrors. Be forewarned: "Sleepy Hollow" is ultra- violent, blood-dripping
horror that, despite the director's protestations over the film's R rating, is
most assuredly not for young children. For older kids, the fun never clots.