Saturday, October 11, 2014

'90s Horror Poll: Day 10 - Sleepy Hollow

#9 (Tie) - 5 Votes

One of the best moviegoing experiences I've had was seeing Sleepy Hollow on opening night with a sold-out audience who jumped and screamed in all the right places. I loved the movie as a teenager, and I still like it, though it's easier to see the movie as a turning point in Tim Burton's career. The director's first decade was one of the best streaks any filmmaker has enjoyed, but his last film, Mars Attacks (one of his best), was a box office bomb, and Sleepy Hollow followed his aborted attempt at making Superman Lives with Nicolas Cage. As much as Sleepy Hollow was a good fit for Burton's visual sensibility, it also feels distinctly like a for-hire gig. While even the Batman movies, especially Returns, feel like blockbusters made with a personal vision, Sleepy Hollow feels like it could have been made by any number of directors. On top of that, it suffers from clunky dialogue ("Perhaps there is a bit of witch in you, Katrina, because you have bewitched me" - barf) and an overload of convoluted plotting and nonsensical action sequences, like an exploding windmill that has no effect on the plot and was seemingly just included as an opportunity to blow something up. I think Burton's recent work gets a bit of a bum rap - it's just that his worst movies, outside of Batman and Batman Returns, are his highest-grossing ones - but Sleepy Hollow was the first of his films that was visually striking but emotionally and thematically, er, hollow.

Still, there's a lot to like about it. Ichabod Crane is one of Johnny Depp's most interesting performances, and I love that he cited Jessica Fletcher as an inspiration. The supporting cast is terrific; when you put Richard Griffiths, Michael Gambon, Jeffrey Jones and Michael Gough together in a scene, you've already done half the work. Christopher Walken is fun as the Headless Horseman (when he has his head, that is). It's great eye candy, thanks to Rick Heinrichs' production design and Emmanuel Lubezki's gorgeous, monochromatic cinematography. Also, I have to appreciate any big-budget movie that is this gleefully bloody. It's a fun ride with some effective scares, but it never sticks with me for long after watching it. It's as infused with Burton's love of classic horror as any of his movies, but beyond the visual references to Hammer and Mario Bava, it feels for the first time like Burton is coasting; it's a pretty good movie nonetheless, but if it had a heart, it'd be one of Burton's best.

U.S. Release Date: November 19, 1999 (Also opening that day: The World is Not Enough, Liberty Heights)

What critics said at the time:

"The galloping eruptions of the headless horseman, played by Christopher Walken, are startlingly ghoulish, and the cast, which also includes Christina Ricci as a dour dumpling with eyes for Ichabod, is chosen with a horror maven's eye for terror. It's a peculiarly adolescent conception of terror, though: Burton, for all his skill, never ranges beyond the thrills of the obvious; he doesn't enlarge the meaning of the horror he shows us, the way a Brian De Palma might. As a filmmaker, he's in a perpetual state of Halloween: a sicko treat-or-treat specialist." - Peter Rainer, New York

"The plot falls short on discernible logic now and then, but that’s hardly an issue. 'Sleepy Hollow' is all about visuals, music and mood, about being swept away by what’s on the screen. Danny Elfman’s music is haunting and jaggedly elegiac, the perfect underpinning to the movie’s look. Cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki brushes nearly every frame with a bluish cast: This Sleepy Hollow is a wonderland of misty coolness, of horizons defined by craggy trees, of shaded woods holding tight to their secrets. The Horseman himself is a magnificent and horrifying creature, galloping out from the maw of nowhere, his sword brandished like a warrior’s spear, his cape floating around him like malevolent squid ink." - Stephanie Zacharek, Salon

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