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'Sleepy Hollow' DVD Review
Regular reviewer Kevin Ross has checked in with his review of Paramount's DVD release of Tim Burton's Sleepy Hollow. Here's what Kevin thought:

SLEEPY HOLLOW
Paramount DVD

When I saw this film in the theater last fall I thought it was the best horror film I'd seen in years. It was certainly the most nostalgic, with its deliberate touches of old Hammer horror films. Of course with Tim Burton at the helm it also had more than its fair share of morbid whimsy, making it all the more enjoyable.

All the requisite Burton touches are here -- Sleepy Hollow is a maniacal stew made up of horror, adventure, humor, and fantasy elements. Andrew Kevin Walker's (Seven) script takes Washington Irving's original American folk horror story and spins it off in an entirely different direction. If the film has a flaw it's that Irving's Headless Horseman is given a different motivation for his favorite pastime; that this horrible apparition can be controlled by a human agency deprives the Horseman of some of his unnatural power.

The film overcomes this drawback by offering an excellent cast, a marvelously eerie atmosphere, several startling visuals, incredible special effects, and some dazzling action sequences. Johnny Depp is great as New York City police constable Ichabod Crane, sent to the small Dutch farming village of Sleepy Hollow to investigate several decapitation murders. Depp plays Crane as a fussy, frequently cowardly know-it-all who finds out he really doesn't know it all. He seems for all the world to be channeling the spirit of the late Hammer Films star Peter Cushing, who played Baron Frankenstein, Dr. Van Helsing, and Sherlock Holmes with exactly the same sort of twitchy, almost hammy fervor Depp shows here. It's a brave performance, especially since in the supplementary materials Depp and Burton both compare Crane to a scared little girl. Hell, he faints three or four times throughout the movie. How's that for an action hero?

The rest of the cast is just as good. Christina Ricci is more beautiful than ever, and barely recognizable in blonde tresses. Marc Pickering is quite good as Crane's young assistant, Masbath. Also included are Michael Gambon, Miranda Richardson, Casper Van Dien, Michael Gough, Jeffrey Jones, Richard Griffiths, Ian McDiarmid, and, in brief cameos, the great Christopher Lee and (though uncredited) Martin Landau. The Horseman is played for the most part by British stuntman Ray Park, best known as Star Wars: The Phantom Menace's Darth Maul. Of course, you can't tell that, because he's missing his head. And when he has a head, it's Christopher Walken's. Yah!

The special effects are also impressive. You WILL believe that this is a murderous Headless Horseman, a deadly two-fisted fighter with hatchet and sword. The fight scenes are fast and furious, especially the breathtaking one pitting Depp and Van Dien against the Horseman. The decapitations are also incredible, each one slightly different than the last, all VERY believable.

The sets are wonderful too. The village was actually built from scratch in England, and it looks great: hazy, muddy, creepy -- even BETTER than the sets of those old Hammer horror movies. Scarecrows, haystacks, weird dead trees, and that bloody windmill! Much of the film was shot on soundstages, perhaps adding to the weird yet beautiful atmosphere of Sleepy Hollow.

There are scares aplenty too. From the village guard's eerie watch as the fog snuffs out torches and deer scatter before the approach of SOMETHING, to the Horseman's bloodcurdling visit to a midwife's family, to the flight up through the windmill (though the original script handles this slightly better), Sleepy Hollow is undoubtedly Tim Burton's scariest movie. And the coach/horse chase near the film's conclusion is probably the best of its kind on film, perhaps surpassing even the chariot race in Ben Hur.

The DVD release of Sleepy Hollow has oodles and gobs of extra features, and these don't disappoint either. There are two different trailers, scene selection with 19 different chapter breaks, biographical sketches of several cast members, and a rather humdrum photo gallery. The best bits are two "making of" documentaries, a shorter one consisting mainly of interviews with cast and crew, the second a more elaborate and informative 30-minute behind the scenes piece which aired on cable when the film was in theaters. Finally, there is a running commentary of the film by Tim Burton which is also very enjoyable. Burton invokes everything from Hammer horror movies to The Outer Limits, silent movies, classic horror films like Mario Bava's Black Sunday and Roger Corman's Pit and the Pendulum, and fairy tales, among other things. It's good to hear a filmmaker talk about genre traditions and history rather than just special effects, for a change.

In short, I thought this was the best horror film of 1999 (yes, I KNOW there was another, more popular candidate, but I prefer an emperor with clothes, thank you very much). It looks and sounds great on DVD, and there are a bunch of cool extras. If you're a fan of old-fashioned horror films, you'll love this. Gore and action fans will find much to like about Sleepy Hollow too. Get it.

Watch your heads!

Kevin Ross


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