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Sleepy Hollow (1999)
Director: Tim Burton

review by Tony Lee

At last, director Tim Burton and star Johnny Depp have excelled themselves with a film worthy of their peculiar talents. Sleepy Hollow is a wonderful gothic romance that scores highly with its character-based humour, rural murder mystery, traditional witch-crafty plot and special effects horror thrills. Based on the folk tale by Washington Irving, Andrew Kevin Walker's screenplay features homage to old Dracula, Frankenstein and Hammer horror movies, yet Sleepy Hollow arrives as a full-scale genre classic.
   From the first electrifying scene, we are transported to a supernatural realm where the headless horseman decapitates locals with devilish skill and a relentless determination. Although the moody opening hints at a science versus superstition element, this is brushed aside before too long and Depp's young city detective readily becomes courageous ghost-buster, when his own repressed memories of a thoroughly ghastly childhood trauma surface to affect his responses to inexplicable, shocking, gruesome, and hysterical events.
   The sustained quality of production design, atmospheric set lighting, strikingly well created images, and evocative yet unobtrusive music (scored by Burton's regular collaborator, Danny Elfman), combine perfectly in this film's stylish, magically unreal landscape, as magnificently visualised in every respect as anything we have seen since Ridley Scott's painterly forest fantasy, Legend (1985). The casting is thoughtful (Michael Gambon, Jeffrey Jones, Richard Griffith and one or two surprising cameos), and rarely less than endearing - though Miranda Richardson is somewhat guilty of chewing up the scenery in her expositional speeches. The tree of the dead is a nightmarish home to fearsome horrors, and there's an exhilarating stagecoach chase to rival the breathtaking stunts of 'Indiana Jones', but my favourite bit of all is... well, it's about 100 minutes, really.
previously published in VideoVista #18
Sleepy Hollow
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