The Johnny Depp Archive

Sleepy Hollow (1999)

Starring: Johnny Depp, Christina Ricci, Christopher Walken, Michael Gambon, Miranda Richardson, Christopher Lee, Richard Griffiths, Jeffrey Jones, Ian McDiarmid

Directed by: Tim Burton

Rating: 1 2 3 4

Johnny Depp and the back of Christopher Lee's head

And so in my quest to review everything Johnny Depp's ever been in, we come to another Tim Burton movie: Sleepy Hollow, based loosely on the short story by American author Washington Irving.

Johnny Depp plays Constable Ichabod Crane, an uptight city policeman (in 1799?) obsessed with sense and reason, cause and consequence, who believes everything in life has a rational explanation. Banished to the farming town of Sleepy Hollow (by none other than the mellifluous tones of Christopher Lee) to solve a series of gruesome murders, Ichabod is at first convinced that the ghostly headless horseman the townspeople hold responsible is very much flesh and blood. A Scooby Doo solution, in fact, with Old Man Withers from the amusement park unmasked at the end.

Ichabod demonstrates some science

Wrongo. As ever in a horror movie, science and logic prove woefully inadequate and even ridiculous in the face of the spirit world. Equipped with a bizarre array of investigative gadgets and scientific apparatus, Ichabod sallies forth, inventing forensics way ahead of time. But his dogged adherence to sense and reason conceal a deep-seated fear of irrationality, along with a host of inner demons (his mother was accused of witchcraft and put to death in the Iron Maiden. Metal!). As well as facing up to the supernatural horseman (rational explanation: it's Christopher Walken with creepy contact lenses and pointy teeth) he must also confront and come to terms with his own past.

And all credit to the man, he does so with aplomb: once faced with the irrefutably ghostly nature of the horseman, he embraces the supernatural with the same gusto he once applied to science, and sets out to discover who can be controlling the monster's action.

SPOILER folks so look away if you've not seen the film: it's Miranda Richardson, excelling yet again in the wicked stepmother/evil witch role she does so very well. Although chances are the minute you saw her appear you knew she was responsible. She just doesn't seem to do nice these days.

Ichabod Crane at the horseman's grave

Like all Tim Burton creations, Sleepy Hollow is visually beautiful, set in a gothic fairy tale world of twisted trees and eerie buildings and filmed using a monochrome palette enlivened only by Ichabod's dream sequences and vivid splatters of blood. Usually ending up all over poor Johnny.

The cast is fantastic, a veritable who's who of fine character actors from Britain and the US. 'It's because we all look strange,' Michael Gambon explains in the 'making of' vignette. And of course no Tim Burton movie (except Ed Wood) would be complete without a fantastic score from Danny Elfman.

My one gripe would be that for a picture set so clearly in 1799, some of the costumes are about a hundred years ahead of their time (just because it's nearly the 19th century doesn't mean people wore bustles. Duh!) but what the hell, this is after all, a fairy tale.

Johnny Depp with heroine Kristina Van Tassel (Christina Ricci)

Like Washington Irving's original tale (which in fact never enlightens us as to the true nature of the horseman, ghostly or otherwise), Sleepy Hollow doesn't take itself too seriously. Imbued with a sly but gleeful sense of humour, the film doffs its cap throughout to the horror films of old: the 1930s black and white classics made by Universal and the lurid tales of Hammer (only in Hammer's Technicolor world is blood that icky bright orange colour.) Johnny Depp based his portrayal of Ichabod on the style of the classic horror actors, and shades of his old buddy Vincent Price and Colin 'It's alive!' Clive as Dr Frankenstein are clear to be seen. (As are his cheekbones, which are to die for. Sigh.)

Creepy, funny, beautiful, clever and exciting, Sleepy Hollow is a mad gallop through the history of horror and the crazy imagination of Tim Burton. So come along for the ride.

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