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Review: 'Sleepy Hollow' -- Burton goes bump in the night

November 19, 1999
Web posted at: 2:03 p.m. EST (1903 GMT)

By Reviewer Paul Clinton

(CNN) -- Director Tim Burton, united once again with his muse, actor Johnny Depp, has created another off-center character living in a strange, altered existence. Their first collaboration was "Edward Scissorhands" in 1990. Their second was "Ed Wood" in 1994.

These two artists love to explore the bizarre. Both men seem to revel in their status as Hollywood outsiders and consider themselves filmmaking rebels. They're at it again with their new film "Sleepy Hollow."

Theatrical preview for "Sleepy Hollow"
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Depp stars as Ichabod Crane in this spooky, loose adaptation of Washington Irving's classic tale "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow." In some ways, this film works as homage to the cheesy horror films produced by Hammer Films in England in the 1950s and '60s. As in the past, Burton has populated his set with wonderful character actors. They have terrific cinematic faces and play people who live in an alternate universe that Burton generates by using splendid production design.

Something is rotten in upstate New York

The year is 1799. Depp plays Crane not as the original story's schoolteacher but as an inventive and fussy New York City constable with an avant-garde approach to solving crimes. He insists on performing autopsies and other procedures that are, in that day, controversially "modern."

Crane is sent to the hamlet of Sleepy Hollow to investigate three murders in which the victims were decapitated. The heads are missing.

Upon his arrival, Crane tries to debunk the town's myth of a "headless horseman." But he's soon convinced there's more here than meets the eye, especially an eye-catching young lass, Katrina Van Tassel, played fetchingly by Christina Ricci. Crane is transformed from sniveling coward -- Depp describes his character as "Ichabod Crane, girl detective" -- to local hero. He tracks down, and faces up to, the source of the horseman stories.

The horseman, when in possession of his head, is portrayed by one of the best bogeymen to grace the silver screen, Christopher Walken.

Tim terrific

This gothic 18th-century tale is a perfect showcase for Burton's strange sensibilities. Shot in monochromatic tones with splashes of bright red, "Sleepy Hollow" is a visual delight. Burton's special brand of the macabre inhabits every frame.

Once again, Burton turns to longtime collaborators to achieve his unique cinematic look. The period costumes with sweeping capes and rich textures are by Colleen Atwood. She has worked with Burton on four of his past films. The spectacular production design is by Rick Heinrichs. He worked with Burton in 1993, as visual consultant on "The Nightmare Before Christmas."

This reportedly $80 million movie is gleefully creepy, with a marvelous screenplay by Andrew Kevin Walker, who wrote "Seven" (1994).

A subplot exploring Crane's childhood and the murder of his mother seems unnecessary and is the only weak point in this otherwise delightful, witchy film. Maybe this subplot is just an excuse to include Burton's girlfriend Lisa Marie in the film. She plays Crane's mother and has also appeared in "Mars Attacks!" (1996) as Martian Girl and in "Ed Wood" as Vampira.



Jeffrey Jones, Michael Gambon, Ian McDiarmid and Christopher Lee (Dracula in several 1970s horror films), are all used to great effect. English actress Miranda Richardson plays Lady Van Tassel and Casper Van Dien ("Starship Troopers," 1997) plays Brom Van Brunt.

Depp and Ricci are in top form. As usual, Depp refuses to wear the label of a typical leading man, despite his drop-dead good looks. And Ricci, queen of mean in independent films ("The Opposite of Sex," 1998) gets to play a sweet young thing.

"Sleepy Hollow" is rated R (lots of stage blood) with a running time of 100 minutes.

Burton and Depp: Wide awake in 'Sleepy Hollow'
November 16, 1999
From 'Magnolia' to 'American Beauty,' fall films primp for Oscar
September 21, 1999
Star-studded 'Mars Attacks!' invades big screen
December 13, 1996

Official 'Sleepy Hollow' site
Paramount Pictures
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