Burton was not the original choice to
direct Sleepy Hollow, though
it almost seems like it could have been
tailored towards him. The script by
Kevin Walker (Se7en) was
loosely based on the Washington
Irving classic short story, "The
Legend of Sleepy Hollow". In the
original story a schoolteacher named
Ichabod Crane journeys to the town of
Sleepy Hollow and falls in love with
a young lady named Katrina.
when Ichabod hears the legend of the
headless horseman, and then sees the
horseman in person, he flees the town
and is never heard from again. It turns
out in the end that the horseman was
merely Brom, Katrina's jealous fiancé.
The film would take a very different,
more obviously supernatural approach
to the story.
Originally it was going to be a low
budget movie directed by makeup wizard Kevin
Yagher. However, once Burton was
attracted to the project it obviously
became a more prestigious movie with
a bigger budget (Yagher would remain
on board to do the makeup effects).
Burton would shoot in England for the
first time since Batman, filming
on sets in Leavesden and Shepperton.
Ironically the producers chose England
because there were no suitable towns
in the region of New York where the
story was actually set, but ended up
having to build a fake town anyway.
The use of a mainly British cast and
crew would allow Burton to pay homage
to another of his favourite genres,
Hammer Horror movies. In essence, the
film would be a reinterpretation of
an American legend filtered through
a British horror movie sensibility.
Sleepy Hollow has the lengthiest
pre-credit sequence of any of Burton's
films. It opens with smoky credits and
what appears to be blood dripping on
a parchment. However, this is then revealed
to be a wax seal dripping on a last
will and testament.
Following this mysterious
opening, the action cuts to Van Garret
the Elder on a horse carriage ride at
night. Needless to say both he and his
son soon lose their heads, the blood
from the beheading splattering on a
pumpkin that looks a lot like Jack Skellington
in his pumpkin king costume.
effects help make the beheadings seamless,
such as when it appears the elder Van
Garret is beheaded in one shot. Martin Landau's wordless
cameo in this prologue as the elder Van
Garret was added late in the production.
The film then cuts to New York City
circa 1799. We are introduced to Constable
Ichabod Crane, whose unorthodox methods
(such as the use of forensic evidence)
make him an unwelcome presence amongst
the barbaric law enforcement of the
time. He argues that a new Millennium
is upon them (not seeming to care that
the millennium is still 200 years away).
For his rebellion he is dispatched to
the town of Sleepy Hollow to investigate
the beheadings of three victims and
The framing of the shots is
interesting, especially when the statue
behind the Burgomaster makes it appear
as if he has bat wings in certain shots.
Reportedly this was entirely unintentional,
as hard as that may be to believe.
As Ichabod journeys to the town, the
main body of the opening titles begins.
The credits fade in and out over ominous
shots of the forest, falling like leaves.
Danny Elfman's score perfectly matches
the credits, even using a dramatic burst
of music to emphasise his own name!
Francis Ford Coppola did some early
development work on the film, hence
his executive producer credit here. This
surprised Burton, who never actually
met Coppola during the production.
Once Ichabod arrives in Sleepy Hollow,
the conflict between the superstitious
townsfolk and his practical views becomes
Ichabod's cup is shaking after hearing the tale of the Hessian Horseman,
yet he is still convinced the assassin
is "a man of flesh and blood".
The idea that the townspeople already
believe in the monster and it's Ichabod
who has to be convinced there's something
supernatural going on is a nice twist
on the usual plot of nobody believing
There's a nice effect
before the death of victim number four, where the tendrils
of smoke snuff out flames like fingers.
Ichabod arrives at the crime scene on
his new horse Gunpowder and tells the
doctor off for moving the body, though
he doesn't give him a reason why he
shouldn't. Ichabod uses various Burtonesque gadgets
to examine the body and crime scene,
including an extremely long magnifying
an autopsy on the female victim and the blood squirts
into his face comically, though not
very realistically since the blood is
no longer pumping in the body. Ichabod
emerges and says, "We are dealing
with a madman", though he looks
quite the madman himself with his face
splashed with blood.
The next scene is actually the end of
the original story. A headless
horseman chases Ichabod through a covered
bridge, but it actually turns out to be
Brom in disguise. The flaming pumpkin
flying towards camera before hitting
Ichabod almost has a 3D-quality.
There's a great scene where Ichabod catches Magistrate Philipse leaving
town and follows him. As Ichabod watches, horrified,
the horseman (who really doesn't have
a head) arrives and cuts off Philipse’s head,
which goes spinning and then rolls along
the ground to land between Ichabod's
legs. The horseman swings his sword
down and makes shish kabob of the head,
riding off and ignoring Ichabod, who
The sight of Ichabod cowering in bed in the following scene is highly amusing. He tries
to tell the gathered audience that it
was a horseman, a headless one and Baltus
calmly replies, "Yes we know. We
told you. Everyone told you".
Young Masbath go into the western woods and find the
Witch's home. Amusingly, Ichabod
uses Masbath as a shield as they enter. The old crone
tells Masbath to leave and chains herself
down, while she waits for "the
other" to come.
The buildup, with
Ichabod slowly reaching to her head,
which lies face down on the table, is
quite creepy, but when the jump moment
comes it's funny rather than scary,
as the Witch's eyes bulge out on snakes.
Ichabod and Masbath, soon joined by Katrina, reach
the Tree of the Dead, an impressive creation which drips blood
The skeleton of the Horseman
reanimates and leaps from the tree.
His target this time is the Killian
This is probably the tensest
scene in the film, especially as the
family is very likeable even with their
small amount of screen time. There's
some wonderful moments in the Killian's
home, such as the boy watching a lantern
that spins and makes Halloween shapes
on the wall, and demon faces briefly
appearing in the fire. The faces actually
used a digital model of the horseman's
skull stretched and distorted.
parents are both killed (in a disturbing
touch, the mother's decapitated head
rolls along the floor to face her son
hiding beneath) and then the horseman
comes back for the boy. Though the murder
happens off screen, it is implied that
the boy's head is the last one the horseman
drops into his "shopping"
Though it's refreshing that for
once the kid doesn't escape, his killing
by the horseman makes little plot sense.
It's later revealed that the horseman
only kills people who are either involved
in the conspiracy he's been instructed
to cover up or who get in his way, and
the boy fits into neither category.
Brom and Ichabod join together in
fighting the Horseman. He ignores them at
first but they piss him off enough that
he stabs Ichabod in the shoulder and
cuts Brom in half. The three way fight
is impressive, if a little short. It
was choreographed by Nick
Gillard, who also worked on the
Star Wars prequels which may be why
the fights shares some similarities
with the lightsaber duel at the end
of The Phantom Menace.
As Ichabod recovers he has a flashback to when he was young and he saw his father leaving a torture chamber
(it is cleverly shot so that his father's
head seems to disappear). Ichabod sees his mother's dead eyes
staring out at him from the iron maiden.
His hand goes down on a spiky
chair (explaining the marks on his palms)
and the iron maiden opens, unleashing
his mother's body and an incredible
torrent of blood in one of the film's most memorable images.
The plot does lose momentum from here
on, as the mystery subplot becomes the
main plot. Ichabod writes down random
ideas on a paper, not realising that
the finished order of words reads: "The
secret conspiracy points to Baltus".
He and Masbath go to the Notary Hardenbrook's
office and find him hiding in a closet.
They uncover what links all the murder victims, which I won't bother explaining here.
Before a meeting of the town elders,
Baltus thinks he sees his wife being
killed. They all go into the church
before the Horseman arrives. He cannot
enter the church, but much carnage still
ensues, including three more deaths.
Ichabod sees Katrina has drawn the evil
mark on the floor and believes she was
behind it all.
However, Katrina's stepmother is still alive (bet you didn't see that coming! Oh, you did?) and takes her stepdaughter to the windmill, where she
calls the Horseman to kill her so she
can finally claim her inheritance. Then
she helpfully explains the whole plot.
There're two problems with Lady Van
Tassel being revealed as the person
controlling the horseman. First of all
it takes some of the mystery away from
the Horseman himself, making him a mere
pawn in someone else's scheme.
Lady Van Tassel's scheme makes no sense.
Presumably she raised the horseman to
kill her enemies because she couldn't
do it herself. But then we learn she
killed the servant Sarah and her own
sister, so she obviously has no problems
with getting her own hands bloody. She
also fakes her own death at the horseman's
hands, which has no clear explanation
and would probably make it harder for
her to claim her inheritance later on.
Despite these criticisms, the film does
manage to end on a high note. Ichabod
rescues Katrina and Masbath and the
windmill explodes with the Horseman
inside (why it explodes is unclear).
Of course that doesn't finish him (because "he was dead to begin with")
and there's a rousing carriage chase
through the woods.
The horseman's head
is returned to him (his regeneration
is a somewhat cartoony effect) and Lady
Van Tassel gets her comeuppance finally.
He gives her a bloody kiss and then
takes her back into the tree (and presumably
Hell) with him. It's a perfect Brother
Grimm dark fairytale ending (though
the final scene in New York is so bright
and upbeat it doesn't really fit).
Johnny Depp, in his third collaboration
with Burton, turns in another inspired
performance as Ichabod Crane. He manages
to be camp and heroic in equal measure,
and provides most of the film's laughs
(though perhaps he faints a few too
Although Ichabod was somewhat
squeamish in the screenplay, Depp played
up that aspect of the character a lot
more on screen. He also based some of his performance
on Angela Lansbury. Reportedly,
Depp originally wanted to wear a prosthetic
snipe nose, big ears and long fingers
to portray the character as described
in the story, but the studio vetoed
approved of the rather feminine take
on the character from Depp, commenting
"We may have the first male action-adventure
hero who acts like a 13-year-old girl".
Despite the silliness, there is a more
haunted quality to him, especially in
the marks on his hands that are revealed
to tie in with a very traumatic event
in his childhood.
Ricci is bewitching as the love
interest, though she does struggle with
the accent and an underwritten role.
She also speaks too fast at times, making
the exposition she has to utter somewhat
difficult to follow. She certainly fits
Washington’s physical description
of the character, though ("a blooming
lass of fresh eighteen, plump as a partridge,
ripe and melting and rosy-cheeked as
one of her father's peaches").
The supporting cast is mainly made up
of talented British character actors
such as Miranda
Gambon (who said in interviews he
believes he was chosen because he had
the funny look of a 18th century small
town person) and Ian
McDiarmid, who all add some class
to the film. Michael Gough even came
out of retirement for Burton.
all is Christopher
Lee as the Burgomaster, though
some were disappointed by the briefness
of his role. Marc
Pickering is also very good as Young
Masbath, once again showing Burton's
affinity for getting good performances
out of child actors.
The American supporting actors (and
Burton regulars) include Jeffrey Jones
and Christopher Walken (in a non-verbal,
cameo as the horseman when he still
had a head). Walken has a fear of horses,
and in many of his scenes was riding
a mechanical horse with the same body
as one used in the Elizabeth Taylor
film National Velvet (1944).
Lisa Marie and her incredible cleavage
also appear again in a series of dreamlike and vaguely erotic flashbacks to Ichabod's youth.
The script (with an uncredited polish
Stoppard) is full of witty dialogue
and a few groaners that were probably
put in as an homage to Hammer Horror,
such as Ichabod telling Katrina, "You've
Burton is back to his familiar style
here, almost as a gift to the fans that, judging by the box office,
were put off by Ed Wood and Mars Attacks! For the most
part he does a very good job, especially
in the comedic and action scenes. His
handling of the mystery subplot is more
routine - it's clearly not the part
of the film Burton was most interested
His direction also isn't very scary,
which is a surprise as the creepier
elements of Beetlejuice and
the Batman films seemed to
indicate Burton would be a natural at
directing horror. Burton does take glee in the gore, though.
He even splattered Depp with blood personally
for many scenes.
The cinematography is beautiful, perhaps
the best of any of Burton's films. The
muted use of colors is a nice touch
- it makes the town appear as if it
has been drained of life. The color
scheme also makes the splashes of red
(the blood was actually orange on the
set because of the blue filters used)
stand out even more. The dream sequences
in particular are gorgeous to watch.
Unusually for a modern film, many of Sleepy
Hollow's exteriors were
filmed inside, but the stage bound film
rarely gives away its artificial locations.
Sleepy Hollow looks and feels like a
real upstate New York town in the 1700s.
Of course there are plenty of Burtonesque
touches, such as the crooked houses
and batwing sails on the windmill.
Ichabod's wonderfully designed forensic
equipments recall the similarly creepy
props in Cronenberg films like Dead
Ringers. The costumes are lavish and
beautiful, especially for the ladies,
who all get to display ample cleavage.
The makeup effects are grisly and effective,
with each beheading given a different
spin (no pun intended). The heads were
closely modeled after the actors, giving
them an authentic grisly feel.
The editing is pretty good, especially
in the first half where the plot keeps
moving swiftly. A great deal of plot
and character development was cut out
both at script stage and during postproduction.
Katrina in particular had a lot more
dialogue in the original script. Many
of the scenes are cut up so much they
make little sense, especially when compared
with the screenplay.
For example, the
courtroom scene near the beginning was
originally much longer, with Ichabod
trapping an inventor in his own interrogation
device and getting a false confession
from him. In the final version, this
and many other scenes are cut down to
the bare minimum.
The effects are subtly impressive, especially
the removal of the horseman's head (Ray
Park played him for the non-horseback
riding scenes, wearing a blue hood).
Not only did they have to paint out
the stuntman's head and replace the
background, but also a digital collar
was created to complete the illusion.
Elfman's score is lush and haunting.
The themes aren't as immediately apparent
as his earlier scores for Burton, and
for that reason the score works better
with the film's images rather than listened
to on its own. It marked a transition
in Elfman's style as composer, moving
away from the catchy themes that typified
his earlier scores.
Burton puts in some more serious stuff,
such as commentary on the justice system
pre-20th Century and the persecution
of Crane's mother by her religious zealot
husband (these haunting dream
sequences reveal how Ichabod lost his faith).
However unlike some of the director's earlier
outsider-based films there doesn't seem
to be any serious exploration of the
characters. Burton said that he was
interested in examining "a character
that lives in his head vs. a character
with no head", but this is never
really developed. The film is mostly
beautifully shallow entertainment.
Interestingly, the film does offer some
hints of what a third Batman film would
have been like if Burton had directed
it. Sleepy Hollow also features a
detective haunted by a tragic incident
in his childhood who faces a sinister
super villain terrorising a community.
There's even a Robin like sidekick in
the form of Young Masbath.
One of the coolest things about the
cast is that three (count 'em, three)
Sith Lords appear in it. Christopher
Lee (later to play Darth Tyranus in
the Star Wars prequels) has a superb
cameo at the beginning, and Ian McDiarmid
(Darth Sidious) has a small role as
the town doctor. But you'd be hard pressed
to recognise Ray Park (Darth Maul) without
Aside from the Hammer influence, the
film also references Black
Sunday (1960), another favourite
of Burton's. The frog croaking Ichabod's
name is an homage to the Disney version
of the story featured in the film, The
Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (1949), as is the flaming pumpkin.
Tim Burton's first true horror film
is a superb gothic entertainment that
just misses out on being a classic.
Technically this is up there with Burton's
best. The visuals are as creepy as you'd
expect. The action and sword play are
impressive, as well as the special effects.
This certainly is the ultimate film
for fans of beheadings.
The film is almost like a greatest hits
compilation in parts, with the flashback
structure taken from Scissorhands and the scare Ichabod gets from the
witch of the western woods definitely
seems like an homage to the infamous
Large Marge scene in Pee-Wee.
Indeed, it has something
for everyone, whether you love blood
and female cleavage or period costumes
However, despite Burton’s love
of the genre, it doesn’t really
work as a horror film compared to, say,
Se7en. As Kim Newman wrote
in Sight and Sound magazine, “What
it isn't, and this may be a failing
of Irving's conception, is very frightening.
Heads are lopped off regularly (the
inevitable poster line is "Heads
will roll") and human corruption
is everywhere. But Ichabod Crane is
terrified for intellectual and psychological
reasons we can't really share and Burton
has his hero overcome all his fears
so he can come up trumps in the extended
Additionally, the weaknesses
in the plot, especially in the last
act, prevent it from being more than
a dazzling but flawed commercial effort
from Burton. It's an enjoyable film,
but the characters don't linger in the
memory as much as those in his best
Sleepy Hollow marked something
of a comeback for Burton, earning good
reviews and over $100 million at the
US box office. It was also nominated
for three Oscars (winning for best art
direction). While it could be argued
that Burton played it safe with this
film, giving his fans exactly what they
wanted, it was the commercial decision
he needed to make to restore some of
his clout in Hollywood.
In 2000, Burton directed the series Stainboy,
six shockwave cartoons released on the
net and based on his 1997 book of poetry
and art, "The Melancholy Death
of Oyster Boy". They were something
of a return to his roots, and great
fun. Burton's next film, on the other
hand, would be more trouble than a barrel
CHAPTER: JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH;
CHAPTER: PLANET OF THE APES