Sleepy Hollow

USA/Germany 1999

Reviewed by Andrew O'Hehir


Our synopses give away the plot in full, including surprise twists.

New York, 1799. Ichabod Crane, a young constable, is sent to the upstate village of Sleepy Hollow to investigate a series of mysterious beheadings. Leading citizens, led by landowner Baltus Van Tassel, tell Crane the killings are the work of the Headless Horseman, a Hessian mercenary beheaded during the Revolution who has come back from the grave. Crane does not believe this until he sees the town magistrate killed by the Horseman. Shocked, he collapses, and is nursed back to health by Van Tassel's daughter Katrina with whom he falls in love.

Guided by a mysterious witch, he and Katrina discover that the Horseman emerges from the roots of a tree that seems to be a portal to hell. Crane suspects Van Tassel is behind the killings, then, after Van Tassel is killed, suspects Katrina of witchcraft and decides to leave Sleepy Hollow. Learning from a book she has given him that Katrina's spells are meant to protect him, Crane turns back just in time to save her from her stepmother Lady Van Tassel, the evil witch behind the Horseman. His missing head restored, the Horseman takes Lady Van Tassel to hell. Crane, Katrina and an orphaned village boy Masbath leave for New York City.


No longer a prodigy at age 41, Tim Burton has now become a problem; I still find myself watching his movies with bemused tolerance, thinking surely he'll be a great director when he grows up. Although it's loaded with pseudo-ghoulish detail and imbued with a distinctive atmosphere - both of which, as usual, seem drawn from a 70s teenager's comic-book and album-cover collection - Sleepy Hollow suffers from terminal vagueness and clutter. Its plot is a complicated skein of unrelated fairy-tale elements and coincidences, punctuated occasionally by balletic beheadings, its characterisation almost entirely haphazard.

There have been several previous film and television versions of Washington Irving's short story 'The Legend of Sleepy Hollow' (familiar to generations of American schoolchildren), and if nothing else Burton definitively captures its mood of wilderness paranoia. His opening scene, in which Martin Landau becomes the Headless Horseman's quarry as he drives a deserted stretch of road, is a classic of gothic terror. As the heads severed by the Horseman twist through the air, we always glimpse in them a moment of horrified comprehension - death (or something that may be worse) has come for them on the lonely edge of this dangerous continent.

Even Burton's vaunted visual sensibility gets him into trouble at least as often as it rescues him. His early vision of Ichabod Crane's Manhattan as a grey, fetid city crawling with crime and fever - where the authorities abuse miscreants and throw them into horrible dungeons with scarcely a gesture in the direction of justice - is so fascinating one feels disappointed when the film abandons it. There's a wonderful moment after Crane arrives in drab, severe, and dead silent Sleepy Hollow, throws open the doors to the inn and enters a crowded party pulsing with colour and gaiety. We understand at a single stroke that terror has driven the town's social life indoors. Burton never returns to this theme either.

Johnny Depp's Ichabod Crane is a man of many parts, never conclusively adding up to a whole. Depp's willingness to push his characters in unsympathetic directions is always engaging, and he plays Crane as a Clouseau-like incompetent, his face a mask of involuntary tics and twitches. His scientific aspirations are portrayed as foolish and grotesque; his bizarre toolkit seems borrowed from Jeremy Irons' mad surgeon in Dead Ringers; his goggles make him look like a demon from the Hellraiser series. Yet, as we learn in a series of tedious flashbacks, Crane is also another of Burton's damaged naifs, a survivor who finds inner reserves of strength and wins Katrina's love, despite the fact that he is entirely wrong about her, the Horseman and everything else.

Of course Depp and Christina Ricci (resplendent in a lovely blonde wig) make a charismatic pair, smashingly done up in period costumes by Colleen Atwood, and audiences are likely to swallow almost any narrative strategy that sees them united by the film's end. Andrew Kevin Walker's screenplay, which bears little relationship to Irving's story, doesn't offer Katrina much to do beyond gazing at the bumbling Crane with what is meant to be a knowing, tolerant affection. Still, she's better off than Miranda Richardson as Lady Van Tassel, who scarcely appears in the film before being revealed as the wicked stepmother behind it all - and delivering a lengthy Dr Evil-style disquisition on her motives and methods. Similarly, such irreproachable actors as Michael Gambon and Jeffrey Jones make little impression against the scattershot story and Rick Heinrichs' alluring production design. Christopher Walken cuts a fine, fearsome figure in his cameo as the medieval-looking Hessian mercenary, his teeth sharpened to vampiric points.

As ever, Burton quotes from his favourite films - there's an elaborate restaging of the burning-windmill climax in the 1931 Frankenstein. Maybe there's something perversely honourable about this; Burton certainly isn't serving plot or character at such moments, just referring to a cherished memory for no particular reason, like a patient free-associating on a therapist's couch. Ever since Pee-Wee's Big Adventure in 1985, Burton has been all potential and no delivery (with qualified exceptions for Ed Wood and the first Batman film). Even with an almost mythic story at its foundation, Sleepy Hollow doesn't seem like the work of an eccentric visionary, as Burton has long been labelled. It's more like the good-natured mess produced by a shallow sentimentalist, an undisciplined imitator with a keen sense of style.


Tim Burton
Scott Rudin
Adam Schroeder
Andrew Kevin Walker
Screen Story
Kevin Yagher
Andrew Kevin Walker
Based on the story The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving
Director of Photography
Emmanuel Lubezki
Chris Lebenzon
Production Designer
Rick Heinrichs
©Paramount Pictures and Mandalay Pictures LLC
Production Companies
Mandalay Pictures presents a Scott Rudin/American Zoetrope production in
association with Dieter Geissler film
In association with Karol Film Productions GmbH & Co. KG
Executive Producers
Larry Franco
Francis Ford Coppola
Kevin Yagher
NY Unit Line Producer
Celia Costas
Associate Producer
Mark Roybal
Production Supervisor
Ramona Diaz-Sanchez
Production Co-ordinators
Lorraine Fennell
2nd Unit:
Vicki Harvey-Piper
NY Unit:
Shirley Davis
Unit Production Managers
Dusty Symonds
NY Unit:
Jan Foster
Unit Manager
2nd Unit:
Ben Link
Location Managers
Keith Hatcher
NY Unit:
Declan Baldwin
Post-production Supervisor
David Dresher
2nd Unit Director
Alan Munro
Assistant Directors
Chris Newman
Ben Howarth
Janet Nielsen
2nd Unit:
Edward Brett
Trevor Puckle
NY Unit:
Thomas Reilly
Patrick J. Mangan
Script Supervisors
Jayne-Ann Tenggren
2nd Unit:
Natasha Coombs
Ilene Starger
Susie Figgis
Kim Miscia
Brendan Donnison
2nd Unit Director of Photography
Peter Hannan
Directors of Photography
NY Unit:
Conrad Hall
NY 2nd Unit:
Conrad Hall Jr
Camera Operators
Nigel Willoughby
NY Unit:
Pat Capone
Bruce MacCallum
2nd Unit:
Bob Smith
Visual Effects
Jim Mitchell
Mark S. Miller
Richard Friedlander
Special Visual Effects
Industrial Light & Magic
Computer Graphics Supervisor:
Robert Marinic
Computer Graphics Sequence Supervisors:
Robert Weaver
Joel Aron
Computer Graphics Artists:
Michael Di Como
Raúl Essig
Tom Fejes
Howard Gersh
Christophe Hery
David Horsley
Chris Horvath
Polly Ing
Jennifer McKnew-Bartels
Michael Min
Pat Neary
Ken Nielsen
Mayur Patel
Scott Prior
Kim Ross
Frederic Schmidt
Sean Schur
John Stillman
David Weitzberg
Visual Effects Art Director:
Scott Leberecht
Lead Digital Compositor:
Eddie Pasquarello
Digital Compositors:
Barbara Brennan
Catherine Burrow
Tami Carter
Sabre Compositing Artists:
Dean Yurke
Catherine Tate
Kela Hicks
Computer Graphics Animators:
Kyle Clark
Peter Daulton
Neil Michka
Digital Matte Painters:
Caroleen Green
Jonathan Harb
Rick Rische
Digital Artists:
Shadi Almassizadeh
Louis Katz
Jonathan Rothbart
Lead Visual Effects Co-ordinator:
Theresa Corrao
Visual Effects Co-ordinator:
Julie D'Antoni
Digital Timing Supervisor:
Bruce Vecchitto
Visual Effects Editor:
Bill Kimberlin
Digital Modellers:
Alexander Pouchkarev
Stephen Aplin
Digital Texture Artist:
Terry Molatore
Lead Digital Paint/ Roto Artists:
Jack Mongovan
Susan Kelly
Digital Paint/ Roto Artists:
Trang Bach
Chris Bayz
Kate Turner
Scott David
Susan Goldsmith
Patrick Jarvis
Aaron Muszalski
Elsa Rodriguez
Joseph Salazar
David Sullivan
Zachary Sherman
3D Camera Matchmovers:
Lanny Cermak
Joseph Metten
Jason Snell
David Washburn
Film Scanning:
Randy Bean
Model Maker:
Richard Miller
ILM Senior Staff:
Gail Currey
Jeff Mann
Digital Visual Effects
The Computer Film Company
Visual Effects Producer:
Drew Jones
Visual Effects Line Producer:
Libby Hazell
Supervising Visual Effects Designer:
Paddy Eason
Visual Effects Designers:
Adrian De Wet
Dan Glass
Kat Szuminska
Mark Nelmes
John Thum
Gavin Toomey
Paint Artists:
Alex Payman
Ian Fellows
Siobhan Lo
3D Animators:
Dominic Parker
Stephen Murphy
Richard Clarke
Chris Monks
Roz Lowrie
Tabitha Dean
Rob Hall
Digital Scanning/Recording:
Jan Hogevold
Steve Tizzard
Adam Glassman
Scott Marriott
Special Effects Supervisors
Joss Williams
NY Unit:
Ron Ottesen
Special Effects
Manex Efrem
Kenneth Gittens
Roger Nichols
Jonathan Angell
Rodney Fuller
Brian Morrison
John Brown
John Holmes
Matt Roberts
Mathew Horton
Stephen Paton
Derek Tomblin
David Allum
Carmila Gittens
On-screen Galligrapher
Bernard Maisner
Film Editor
Joel Negrõn
Supervising Art Director
Les Tomkins
Art Directors
John Dexter
Ken Court
Andrew Nicholson
NY Unit:
John Wright Stevens
Set Decorators
Peter Young
NY Unit:
Debra Schutt
Stuart Kearns
Julie Pitt
Tracey Holmes
Christine Parkin
Susan Wexler
Gerald Sullivan
Mariko Braswell
Concept Illustrators
Ravi Bansal
Jonathon Rosen
Adam Brockbank
Mauro Borrelli
Martin Charles
Simon Murton
Scenic Artist
James Hunt
Storyboard Artist
Michael Jackson
Costume Designer
Colleen Atwood
Wardrobe Supervisors
Suzi Turnbull
NY Unit:
Ingrid Price
Joanna Brett
Wardrobe Master
Anthony Brookman
Wardrobe Mistress
Lou Durkin
Make-up/Hair Designer
Peter Owen
Chief Make-up Artist/Hairdresser
Elizabeth Tag
Make-up Artist/ Hairdressers
Tamsin Dorling
Astrid Schikorra
Kirsty Stanway
2nd Unit:
Sue Parkinson
Key Make-up Artist
NY Unit:
Bernadette Mazur
Make-up Artist
NY Unit:
Don Kozma
Human/Creature Special Effects Creator/ Consultant
Kevin Yagher
Human/Creature Special Effects Creation/Design
Kevin Yagher Productions, Inc
Studio Manager:
Mark C. Yagher
US Crew
Effects Supervisor:
Mitch Coughlin
Mario Torres
Feather Fabricators:
Pamela Cveticanin
Zachariah Cveticanin
Mold Makers:
Tony Acosta Jr
Frank Diettinger
Johnnie Spence
Evan Brainard
David Miner Jr
Hair Technician:
Jill Crosby
England Crew
Effects Supervisor:
Gary Tunnicliffe
Kate Hill
Shaune Harrison
Kate Murray
Graham High
Howard Swindell
Mold Makers:
Jonathan Klahr
Brian Best
Barry Best
Mechanical Designers:
Jason Reed
Tamzine Hanks
Hair Technicians:
Andrea Hochgatterer-Kowland
Sarah Brunsdon
Foam Technician:
Andy Lee
Day Murch
Chief Hairdresser/ Make-up Artist
Paul Gooch
Key Hairstylist
NY Unit:
Colleen Callaghan
Title Design
Robert Dawson
Digital Main Titles
Digital Artists:
Grady Cofer
Lawrence Carroll
Rob Blue
Brennan Prevatt
Opticals/End Titles
Pacific Title/Mirage
Adult Choir
Metro Voices
Boys Choir
The London Oratory School Schola
Orchestra Conductor
Allan Wilson
Conrad Pope
David Slonaker
Albert Olson
Steve Bartek
Mark McKenzie
Marc Mann
Music Score Co-ordinator
Craig Anderson
Music Production
Graham Walker
Liz Schrek
Music Editors
Ellen Segal
Nic Ratner
Music Recordist/Mixer
Shawn Murphy
"The Swallow/The Colly Flower", "Argeers" by/performed by Hesperus
Sound Mixers
Tony Dawe
NY Unit:
Gary Alper
Harry Higgins
Bob Olari
Re-recording Mixers
Lee Dichter
Skip Lievsay
Frank Morrone
Shawn Murphy
Robert Fernandez
Supervising Sound Editor
Skip Lievsay
Dialogue Editors
Fred Rosenberg
Todd Milner
Sound Effects Editors
Sean Garnhart
Lewis Goldstein
Richard L. Anderson
John Pospisil
Craig Berkey
Paul Urmson
Ted Swanscott
David Boulton
Bob Baron
Lisa J. Levine
Marissa Littlefield
Sarah Monat
Robin Harlan
Dan O'Connel
John Cucci
Linda Lew
Randy K. Singer
Jim Ashwill
Supervising Editor:
Thomas Small
Michael Dressel
Scott Curtis
Matthew Harrison
Tammy Fearing
Stunt Co-ordinator
Nick Gillard
Richard Hooper
Horse Master
Steve Dent
2nd Unit Animal Wrangler
Mike Cullin
Johnny Depp
Ichabod Crane
Christina Ricci
Katrina Van Tassel
Miranda Richardson
Lady Van Tassel
Michael Gambon
Baltus Van Tassel
Caspar Van Dien
Brom Van Brunt
Jeffrey Jones
Reverend Steenwyck
Richard Griffiths
Magistrate Philipse
Ian McDiarmid
Doctor Lancaster
Michael Gough
Notary Hardenbrook
Christopher Walken
Hessian horseman
Marc Pickering
young Masbath
Lisa Marie
Lady Crane
Steven Waddington
Claire Skinner
Beth Killian
Christopher Lee
Alun Armstrong
high constable
Miranda Richardson
Mark Spalding
Jonathan Masbath
Jessica Oyelowo
Tony Maudsley
Van Ripper
Peter Guinness
Lord Crane
Nicholas Hewetson
Orlando Seale
Sean Stephens
Thomas Killian
Gabrielle Lloyd
Doctor Lancaster's wife
Robert Sella
Dirk Van Garrett
Michael Feast
spotty man
Jamie Foreman
thuggish constable
Philip Martin Brown
constable 1
Sam Fior
young Ichabod Crane
Tessa Allen-Ridge
young Lady Van Tassel
Cassandra Farndale
young crone
Lily Phillips
girl 2
Bianca Nicholas
little girl
Paul Brightwell
Martin Landau
first victim
Pathé Distribution
9,484 feet
105 minutes 23 seconds
Dolby digital/Digital DTS sound
Colour by
Last Updated: 20 Dec 2011