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IN SHORT: Tim Burton delivers the goods. [Rated [R], 110 minutes]
As always, no comparison is made to the Source Material and that includes Disney's animated version of Washington Irving's story.
The poster for Tim Burton's Sleepy Hollow wasn't kidding when it promised "Heads Will Roll" 'cuz they roll fast and furious, beginning with a cameo appearance by a famous actor who meets his end before the opening credits. Poor sod doesn't even have time to Scream. In Tim Burton's StarTalk, we didn't get time to ask if that reference was deliberate, but there is enough affection in this work for Hammer horror films and for the work of directors James Whale (Frankenstein) and Tod Browning (Dracula) that any nod is a kindly one. We'll let every other reviewer spill their guts as to whose blood gets spilled.
Join us, won't you, in the New York City of 1799, where a Constable is fishing corpses out of the river. The New York of that time is a bustling town with a, shall we say, primitive sense of the Science of Criminology. They're not too deep on matters of cosmology, either; one cop referring to the coming calendar change to 1800 as the dawning of a new Millennium (!) The intelligent Constable, one Ichabod Crane (Johnny Depp), is an investigator to whom Logic and Reason are instrumental in the search for the answers to the question of who dunnit? Crane operates with the aid of a satchel filled with Chemical Powders and Arcane Instruments of Scientific Investigation, many of his own design. He is derided by contemporaries who prefer to beat out a confession and while he is known to mouth off before the judicial Burgomaster (Christopher Lee), Crane knows his place and accepts an assignment to journey to the up-country town of Sleepy Hollow, there to use his Scientific Methods to solve several murders by decapitation.
It's no mystery to the residents of Sleepy Hollow, who lock their doors and bar their windows at sunset; who aren't so God-fearing that they won't fall back on some book learned witchery, if necessary. The ghost of a Hessian mercenary (Christopher Walken), haunts the western woods. Twenty years earlier, this vicious beast had battled on the side of the Red Coats, caring less for politics than he did for the sheer rush of battle, bloodshed and his particular style of killing -- decapitation with a sword. Our side (the good guys) caught the villain and did unto him what he had done unto others -- and by his own sword no less. The ghost of the now Headless Horseman now roams the land, seeking the head which has been stolen from his unmarked grave.
At least, that's how it is explained by the town elders to Crane, who is far too scientific to believe such nonsense. As he settles into his investigations, he finds by his side the now-orphaned Young Maspeth (Marc Pickering) who seeks to avenge his father's death. He also attracts the attention of the fair Katrina Van Tassel (Christina Ricci), whose father (Michael Gambon) is one of prominent elders of the town and whose stepmother (Miranda Richardson) is most kind to the Constable.
In the hands of Tim Burton, we get kool killings and enough blood, gore, gray skies and fog to keep us happy. When the Horseman's sword goes to work, there is no cut away to a rolling head on the ground. The effect is total and, for reasons mentioned in the story, no blood spurts like a geyser from the gaping wound. The effect rates very high on any "oo" meter and is very cool.
As in the best "horror" films, there is the occasional giggle, characters carry talismans both good and evil, and deals with the Devil, seances with the dead, trees that bleed are all part of a murder-mystery that is as creepy as it is deep. Sleepy Hollow also features composer Danny Elfman's best score since he worked with Burton on Batman. Simply, you know what you expect from Tim Burton and he delivers the goods in excess.
Though many effects are courtesy ILM, the Horseman himself is not fully CGI. Two actors share the role, Rob Inch for horse riding work and Star Wars' Ray Park for the battle scenes, which are torrentially cool. Depp's Crane is a quirky li'l character. He's got puncture wounds on the palms of his hand. Suffers horrendous nightmares of the death of his mother and fights like a girl. Depp addresses that; Burton responds to our questions as to why Crane, in full gear, reminded me of Thomas Dolby -- the Blinded Me With Science guy -- all that and more in CrankyCritic® StarTalk with Tim Burton and Johnny Depp.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Sleepy Hollow, he would have paid...
A highly recommended $7 less the two bits we knocked off 'cuz of two glitches in the script: The Millennium "bug" mentioned above, and one "How Did He Know That?" involving the film's climax, which we won't spoil. Sleepy Hollow is such a visual stunner that we wouldn't mind seeing it again.
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