Hi everyone, this is a piece I wrote for my college interview a few months ago.
I must have been around the age of 5 when I first encountered the gothic horror, Sleepy Hollow. It was way past my bedtime and having been woken up by nightmares of Freddie Kruger – a regular occurrence in my childhood – I went through to the living room where my mum had dozed off on the couch. Knowing that I’d be sent straight off to bed if she woke up, I sat quietly on a chair in front of the TV and caught my first glimpse of what would soon become one of my all-time favourite films. My first encounter was brief. I only managed to catch around 5 minutes of the film before my mum woke up and put me back to bed. From what I remember, that 5 minutes involved a scene in which a young Ichabod Crane – the film’s protagonist – was dancing with his mother who gracefully spiralled into the air in a bewitching fashion. At this age, I was obsessed with witches and my favourite TV show was Buffy the Vampire Slayer – a programme which regularly involved spells and charms. For all intents and purposes; I was now obsessed with Sleepy Hollow. By the age of 8, I must have watched it about 100 times. As time went on, I obsessed over other things, but this film always meant something special to me. An older Finn would go on to rediscover this Tim Burton gem and recognise its worth.
Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow, a reimagining of Washington Irving’s ‘Legend of Sleepy Hollow’ was released in 1999 and is set in 1799 America. It stars Johnny Depp as Ichabod Crane, a bizarre and cowardly detective with a fondness for the new-born field of forensics. The film sees him shipped off from New York to the eerie village of Sleepy Hollow where he is set to investigate a series of beheadings which locals claim to be the work of the Hessian Headless Horseman – a title which happily rolls off the tongue. Ichabod, a man of reasoning and logic is quick to dismiss all of these theories and sets off to find answers. However, he will soon have to confront his disbelief of superstition. And if you’re a secret softie like me, there’s a sweet little love story thrown in between Ichabod and the endearingly mysterious Katrina Van Tassel played by Christina Ricci.
Some fans may notice that this film pays a lot of homage to the old ‘Hammer’ Horror films. The film even features the late Christopher Lee, who is practically the face of Hammer. In fact, his scene where he plays a head judge in New York cleverly makes use of a statue behind him to make him appear to have bat-like wings in one frame; a nod to his role as Dracula.
I love this film because in typical Tim Burton fashion, he mixes inventive fantasies with Gothic designs. It is aesthetically dark and menacing. The set is frighteningly beautiful with most of the film looking very black and white – minus the bright red blood of course. The mise-en-scène of the film is spectacular and some could argue is what really drives this horror flick. Johnny Depp gives a great performance and somewhat comfortably portrays the eccentric and sometimes frustrating hero. You can tell that he feels right at home in another one of Burton’s gothic productions.
From the dialogue and costumes to the dreary lighting and outstanding music score by Danny Elfman, Sleepy Hollow is very convincing in portraying an already familiar story of the Headless Horseman. Bringing in a mixture of comedy, gore, witchcraft, blood-soaked trees and a wonderfully berserk Christopher Walken as the headless horseman; Sleepy Hollow easily put me under its spell for so many years. Any fan of horror and especially Tim Burton should watch this film. Heads will roll. Quite literally.