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Losing Their Heads In a Haunted Hollow

(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

Johnny Depp's Ichabod Crane. With Christina Ricci, Miranda Richardson, Michael

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

investigative tools.

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.

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