Nerds Gets Spooky: Don’t Lose Your Head in ‘Sleepy Hollow’
To celebrate the spookiest month of the year, we here at Nerds and Beyond are revisiting our favorite horror movies to get you into the Halloween spirit!
With Sleepy Hollow coming up on its 20 year anniversary, I would like to pick this one up and dust it off for you. While there are tons and tons of legends of the headless horsemen, this Tim Burton classic is based on The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving, first published back in 1820. The gothic short story centers around schoolmaster Ichabod Crane, who is trying to win the hand of Katrina Van Tassel. When he fails in his endeavor, he encounters a headless horseman on his way home, resulting in an intense chase that ends with Crane failing to get away from the horseman.
Starring Christina Ricci and Johnny Depp, this movie is beautifully shot in that way we have come to expect from Tim Burton. It switches between dark and dreary scenes into bright colors denoting dreams and flashbacks to happier times. The movie is scored beautifully by Danny Elfman. On top of Ricci and Depp, you will definitely recognize large parts of the supporting cast. Christopher Walken (Hairspray), Christopher Lee (Lord of the Rings), Richard Griffiths (Harry Potter), Michael Gambon (Harry Potter), Ian McDiarmid (Star Wars), and Miranda Richardson (Blackadder) all make appearances.
Sleepy Hollow does not follow the exact storyline from the original short story. Here, Ichabod Crane is a constable sent from New York to the small town of Sleepy Hollow, as a form of punishment after standing up to his superiors in court. Upon arrival, he discovers that the murders he has been sent to investigate turn out to have a far deeper supernatural meaning than what he was first lead to believe. Crane starts his own investigation to try and discover what has truly happened, and shows off a blend of 17th century police work and questionable science. This is honestly one of my favorite parts of the movie; I love all things steampunk, and while Sleepy Hollow isn’t a pure steampunk setting, I can see a lot of inspiration in there. Granted, most of the equipment Crane uses throughout the movie has absolutely never been used in police investigations, historical or not, but I think the prop department had a great time coming up with these gizmos!
Another part that I truly love about this movie is the comedy that sneaks its way in there. Most of Tim Burton’s movies do have this feature, and in Sleepy Hollow it mostly shines through in Ichabod Crane. Everything from facial expressions, offbeat comments, or simply coming to the conclusion that the headless horseman truly is headless and promptly fainting has me laughing. Really, Crane is very much a scaredy-cat. He would be an ill fit for the job of constable if it hadn’t been for his sheer stubbornness, and that truly brings out hilarity. It is also refreshing to watch a movie where there is a clear “damsel in distress,” but that damsel is Ichabod Crane jumping on chairs, hiding behind corners, and at one point, even hiding behind Katrina Van Tassel.
Despite the comedy, this movie sits comfortably somewhere in the middle of the spooky versus gory scale of horror. There is a quite a lot of gore: heads being lobbed off left and right. This movie might not be for you if you’re squeamish about squirting blood. The scenery is what sets the spooky tone in the movie. A small village surrounded by woods that are absolutely haunted? That’s scary stuff. Add a couple of witches, a gateway to hell, and a headless horseman hell-bent on chopping your head off and your Halloween movie-night is all set with this classic.