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Sleepy Hollow

Director – Tim Burton – 1999 – US – 15 – 105 mins

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A nineteenth century policeman must solve a series of gruesome murders allegedly by a headless horseman wielding a sword – in cinemas from Friday, January 7th 2000.

Tim Burton’s last few movies have been a real treat, but this adaptation of Washington Irvine’s classic American tale is a disappointment. Murder scene-hardened, late nineteenth century policeman Ichabod Crane (Johnny Depp) is sent to isolated hamlet Sleepy Hollow to solve a mysterious series of murders. As the locals and his own eyes keep telling him, the murderer is no mystery but a headless horseman riding around decapitating victims with his sword.

Splendidly creepy visual designs from regular collaborator Rick Heinrichs (Nightmare Before Christmas, 1993, Edward Scissorhands, 1990) looks as good as any previous Burton, if not better. The proceedings can commendably be accused of neither gratuitous gore nor shirking the necessary quantity or quality of decapitations. But Sleepy Hollow has major flaws. Namely, that one doesn’t feel for Ichabod Crane the way one felt for Johnny Depp playing prior Burton protagonists Edward Scissorhands or Ed Wood. Crane is supposedly a nineteenth century investigator who uses twentieth century investigative methods, yet Burton never properly gets to grips with this essential background material.

Other characters are similarly sketchy, among them love interest Christina Ricci and assorted Sleepy Hollow residents Michael Gambon, Jeffrey Jones, Michael Gough and Ian McDiarmid. There are however two glorious exceptions. Miranda Richardson confirms an affinity for supernatural storytelling noted in Hensons’ small screen Merlin. Christopher Walken’s opening scenes as the not yet headless horseman lend the character the necessary menace to later underpin the headless Ray Park’s impressive fight sequences (George Lucas please take note). But ultimately Burton’s most ambitious project proves one of his least successful.

UK Release date January 7th 2000.

Review originally published in What’s On In London.

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