A pleasing land of drowsy head it was,
Of dreams that wave before the half-shut eye;
And of gay castles in the clouds that pass,
Forever flushing round a summer sky.
The above poetic excerpt, “found among the papers of the late Diedrech Knickerbocker,” was used by Washington Irving to begin his most famous ghostly tale, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Director Tim Burton (Batman, Edward Scissorhands, The Nightmare Before Christmas) takes a fresh perspective on this popular story which seems to pop up on either the big or small screen in fresh form every decade or so. Johnny Depp is cast in the title role of Ichabod Crane, the errant schoolmaster -- uh, that is, constable - a sort of Sherlock Holmes for the story's bi-centennial New Englanders whose eccentric, non-mainstream approach to criminology (rather than his physical appearance) is what sets him apart like the proverbial fish out of water.
Christopher Lee's Cameo Appearance
Those who see this movie will have a special treat waiting for them during the scenes in New York City – a special appearance by famed actor Christopher Lee. As the burgomaster in the centuries old Big Apple, Lee's character is the one who sends Ichabod on his way to investigate the goings-on in Sleepy Hollow. Observes director Burton: "I've been lucky to meet people like Vincent Price and now Christopher Lee. These are the people who basically inspired me to do this and it's amazing to work with them. Christopher is hypnotic. He just looks at you with his eyes and you are compelled."
"I'm a big fan of all the Hammer horror films of the '50's and '60's and this script had a lot of classic beautiful horror images. What I liked about the script is that it's respectful of the original story but takes it into new territory. It also has a great mix of drama and humor. I had known the story of the Headless Horseman mainly from the Disney cartoon. It's one of the few American horror stories. I don't know what the power is exactly, but there's a certain reason why people always remember the Headless Horseman. He's a great symbol."
The Headless Horsemen Triumvirate
Second only to Lee’s appearance will be Christopher Walken's as the famed, decapitated Hessian Soldier. As the actor points out, this particular role was challenging psychologically-- and not because of that whole lost head thing: "I'm afraid of (horses) -- they don't particularly like me.” Walken, however, will be getting a little help in that area with stuntmen Ray Park (aka “Darth Maul” in Phantom Menace) and Rob Inch. Each man will portray the apparition during its fighting and riding sequences, respectively.
Creating Another World Across the Big Pond The production of Sleepy Hollow was filmed predominantly in England at the Shepperton Studios where the movie's “Western Woods” were constructed. In roughly three months, over seventy crew members constructed this disquieting yet bewitching set. Its trees of fiberglass and steel standing 30 feet in height were fashioned from molds of real oaks located in Windsor Great Park.
Not to be upstaged (indeed, it's the primary showcase of the film's architecture) is the village itself. Set on twenty acres of private English property, some eighty workers ranging from engineers to craftsmen spent four months creating this extraordinary town consisting of twelve buildings with some interiors as detailed as the exteriors.
A Timeless Legend Washington Irving's importance to American literature is significant. His works effectively created the short story format with a novel style of humor that strongly influenced subsequent writers. Many have already seen the 1958 Disney cartoon (which is brilliant), but fewer have actually read the tale authored by Mr. Irving. For those who've missed out, we strongly urge you here at Horror Online to buy it (or at least print it off the internet). Irving's mastery of the written word is-- well-- masterful, providing some of the funniest, most entertaining passages ever printed. In brief, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow a must read.