Sunday, July 21, 2013

Beetlejuly: Sleepy Hollow

Sleepy Hollow is Burton's return to his macabre roots. It marked the third time Johnny Depp appeared in one of his movies and the first time legendary actor Christopher Lee made an appearance in a Burton film. But aside from it being another adaptation of Washington Irving's classic tale, it's a film that will either have you captivated every second or puking in your popcorn bucket. This film is (literally) bloody, a blood fest, the darkest, most graphic version of Irving's tale that makes the Disney version look like the Barney movie. Sleepy Hollow has some of the most disturbing images ever shot for a motion picture and it's horrific nature may turn some people off of it all together. What do I think of the film? It's hilarious. I mean that, I really do. This is by far one of the most over the top movies I have ever seen and some of the film's scenes which are meant to be taken seriously fill me with tons of giggles. That doesn't mean the flick is terrible by any stretch of the imagination, it just means that it comes off as more of a horror comedy in my eyes and with a film that has Christopher Walken with sharp teeth in his mouth shouting NAAAAAA! every couple of seconds, you are guaranteed to get quite a few laughs from the people in the audience. Sleepy Hollow is a blast of a movie and one of the very few modern horror films that I watch ever so often.

Johnny Depp portrays Ichabod Crane, only instead of being a schoolmaster like he was in the original novel, he is more of a police officer and detective. He is sent to Sleepy Hollow to investigate a series of murders in which the victims' heads were severed from their bodies. At Sleepy Hollow, Johnny Depp meets several people including his eventual lover Katrina Van Tassel (played by Christina Ricci), Reverend Steenwyck (played by Jeffrey Jones), Masbath (played by Marc Pickering) and Katrina's father Baltus Von Tassel (played by Michael Gambon). Depp portrays Ichabod as an outspoken, no nonsense fellow who also has a tendency to get nervous and overexcited (much like Edward Scissorhands). But like many of the characters Depp portrays, Crane just wants to get to the bottom of things and succeed at whatever he wants to succeed at, using a set of nifty glasses and all. I love the scene where he is chopping at the horseman's tree and as he gets deeper and deeper, blood starts pouring out, some splashing on his face. He is shocked at first, but brushes the blood off as if it were nothing. Then all the horseman's severed heads come pouring out and Crane looks like he's going to puke at first, but he eventually gets ahold of himself and keeps his cool (yeh, I just found a bunch of severed heads, no biggy!) Several of the film's main players meet their end in this film, either by decapitation or another gruesome way. I like the way the Headless Horseman kills Richard Griffith's character, slicing his head off and causing it to spin on his body for several seconds just before letting it plop to the ground and picking it up with his sword. The Headless Horseman has got to be one of the swiftest villains in cinema history, moving as fast as Woody Woodpecker on an all sugar diet. With his head, he is portrayed by Christopher Walken in perhaps his most over the top performance. With a set of blackish eyes and pointy teeth, he'll stop at nothing to chow down on a woman's face or hurl his flaming jack o lantern at you to knock you out. And who could forget that classic "NAAAAAAAA!" noise he makes. He sounds reminiscent of the Frankenstein monster or Sloth from The Goonies. I'd like to see him order fast food from a drive thru window!

Without his head, he is portrayed by stuntman and martial artist Ray Park, who would also play Darth Maul in The Phantom Menace and Toad in X-Men. It's incredible how Park can move so fluently in that large black uniform and the way he waves that sword around, it's very reminiscent of how he wielded Maul's double bladed lightsaber. Speaking of Star Wars, the Emperor himself, Ian McDiarmid makes an appearance in this film as Dr. Lancaster who gets bashed over the head with a wooden cross. In the same scene, Baltus Von Tassel and Reverend Steenwyck meet their end at the hands of the Headless Horseman as the citizens of Sleepy Hollow watch in horror. It's scenes like this where I realize how scary and hilarious the film can be, for the Horsemen just storms into the church unexpectedly to claim a set of heads and leave (Thanks for the heads, bye!). All the time, the villagers are rioting and panicking as if the world's going to end. Then again, it's a guy with no head running around decapitating people. That comes close to the end of the world, don't you think? The look of Sleepy Hollow is your typical 1700s looking town, filled with dusty houses, elaborate stone grounds and deep, dark forests. I also think the film's late 90s computer effects are marvelous in their own right and give the film a bit more edge when it's in dire need of it. For example, there is a scene where a guy is sitting by the fire. He hears something outside and as he turns around, the fire blazes and for a split second, we can see several faces emerge from the fire. Talk about some freaky, deaky stuff! The scene where the Headless Horseman hurls his pumpkin is no where near as good as the pumpkin hurling in the Disney version, but it's still dazzling in all it's computer animated glory. But where the film really glimmers is it's buildup, suspense and savagery. You just don't know when that horseman will show up and when he eventually arrives, it's off with your head, CHACHINK! The most horrifying scene of the entire movie is the scene where the horseman arrives at a family home. The kid goes to hide underground as the horseman wipes out his parents. He decapitates the young boy's mother and her head rolls upon the floor, her eyes peaking through the wood boards. The horseman than goes to walk out of the house, just before busting through the floorboards and grabbing the young boy, riding into the night on his horse.

This film is without a doubt Burton's first slasher flick. Some of the techniques he used in this one would later be used in Sweeney Todd, but this is really his first film with a maniac murderer and a body count. Audiences had never seen something like this before from Burton and his love for the darkness made this film stick out from all the rest. Sleepy Hollow is a crazy flick with enough blood and gore to fill a swimming pool or two. It's suspense is legendary and it's death scenes are some of the greatest death scenes in any horror movie. It is also over the top to the point of comedy and even in the film's most serious scenes, there is always something to get a kick out of. The headless horseman, while an intimidating villain can be a goofball and a bit of a shrieking brute and Johnny Depp's Ichabod Crane is one anxious, yet optimistic fellow, just as Washington Irving originally conceived the character. This is one of those movies I like to watch at Halloween each year and every time I watch it, I'm ready to embrace it's terrifying nature and it's cheesiness all at once. It's a chilling, thrilling and fulfilling experience that has my mouth gaping open every time I watch it. It may not be one of my absolute favorites, but it's still a treat to behold and a different take on a classic horror story.

After Sleepy Hollow, Burton was ready to take his first whack at the sci-fi genre. Toon in next time and we're heading to a planet full of apes.

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