The three best Tim Burton films are Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, Big Fish, and Sleepy Hollow (keep in mind that Nightmare Before Christmas was directed by Henry Selick and Ed Wood would be a close fourth). While Big Fish, to me, is his finest, Sleepy Hollow has been terribly underrated.
Okay, let me get the facts out of the way. Sleepy Hollow, directed by Tim Burton, starred Johnny Depp (natch) opened on November 19, 1999. There’s the first problem—a Halloween centered story opened after the holiday. Did the distributors take the Fox’s Simpsons approach to releasing Halloween related episodes after the 31st of October?
Anyways, the R-rated film had a $100 million dollar budget fronted, in part, by Francis Ford Coppola’s American Zoetrope production company; Coppola got an executive producer credit. The gross numbered around $206 million, with $101 mm coming domestically and $105 mm international. Thank you, Boxofficemojo.com.
Every year at this time I hold my viewing of Halloween-centric films. I included Sleepy Hollow a few years ago and continue to watch it yearly. With this year’s viewing, however, I saw the film in a different light. I realized that it is one production that has more stories needing to be told in its universe.
Sure, the film is far from perfect. Lady Van Tassel’s plot gets thick and difficult to follow, for one thing. But among the many flaws lies a potential for a batch of stories that would mix the spooky with the entertaining.
I will explain why in this list that shows the strengths of the film and the reason why Hollywood should continue telling tales of Tim Burton’s version of Ichabod Crane.
|More stars than a Betty Ford clinic waiting room|
1) The Casting
Susie Figgis and Ilene Starger put together an amazing collection of actors for Sleepy Hollow. Let me run through to show the acting power that formed the cast:
Christina Ricci-The Addams Family
Casper Van Dien-Johnny Rico, Starship Troopers
Christopher Lee-Saruman LOTR
Richard Griffiths-Uncle Vernon, Harry Potter
Ian McDiarmid-Star Wars
Michael Gough- Burton’s Batman
The Christopher Walken
Rob Zombie and Tim Burton share the affinity for finding actors that we have temporarily forgotten. The filmmakers remind us that these people still act circles around the good looking latest faces that look great but can’t act worth a Twilight. Getting Figgis and Starger together again would mean culling another group of actors to make the continuing story of Ichabod Crane fun.
2) The R-Rating
Sure, Sleepy Hollow’s R-rating probably lots it $100 million in box office revenue. The bonus for adult filmgoers who don’t need to be coddled by a censoring committee was a Headless Horseman story where the title character beheads his victims. Imagine if some sanitizing for the sake of money studio handled the movie; the Headless Horseman would go around hugging people to death. If I had kids I would allow them to see this movie because the violence is supernatural—well done but wholly unbelievable. Any person seeing the film and wanting to go ride horseback to behead victims is crazy in the first place and not inspired to do so from the film. So with no gratuitous sex or nudity (but damn did I want to see Christina Ricci’s awesome breasts), the film delivers an honest story with thrills and chills for the sake of fright and story telling and not exploitation. Any film capable of doing that automatically deserves sequel rights. I respect Sleepy Hollow for being responsible to the notion of storytelling. And I would be in line opening day for another film about Ichabod that does the same.
|Christina Ricci's lovely, um, acting abilities|
|The Horseman after (tastefully) beheading the Midwife's whole family.|
3) Ichabod Crane
Johnny Depp made The Pirates of the Caribbean a billion dollar franchise. He brought life to a character that would have been uninspired in the hands of any other actors except Sam Rockwell and Patton Oswalt. Likewise, when one watches Sleepy Hollow closely, one can see that Depp’s nuanced performance shows great potential.
Depp brought new levels of humor to the investigator who adheres to logic and detecting in the face of supernatural threat. In most scenes of peril, Ichabod Crane finds safety behind the young Maspeth and Katrina Van Tassel. He’s not the strong, daunting hero but the timid, swooning constable.
And there’s another reason why Ichabod Crane needs to keep detecting. As a period piece, a sequel would follow Crane going through the emerging city of Manhattan solving crimes and running afoul of the supernatural with his partner, Maspeth.
Crane, in Burton’s interpretation, follows that logic because of his religious preacher father. Yet his mother had a magical element to her; that side led to her death at the hands of her maniacal husband. So much story remains open with Ichabod coming to terms with the dualistic nature of his character by way of the two parents’ upbringing.
|Ichabod finds safety|
4) Unabashed Supernatural
The town fathers of Sleepy Hollow try to convince Ichabod Crane that the Horseman is supernatural—and real. When Crane encounters the Hessian, he sees that the paranormal does exist. And that’s the beauty of the world of Burton’s Sleepy Hollow: the supernatural is not a figment of the imagination. So much of the enjoyment of the film emerged from the creepy elements like the witch in the woods and the Tree of the Dead. Burton never makes an excuse for the things that can’t be explained by Horatio’s philosophy. Many films want to explain away the supernatural and take the fun out of it by making it a mental malady. Burton doesn’t. That’s why we need more stories out of this world where things go bump in the night.
|This would be great in 3D with updated CGI|
|This tree's offspring would later become the Poltergeist tree|
5) Beautiful Visuals
So many scenes from Sleepy Hollow could be still framed and used as paintings in a museum. The look of the town, the shadowy interiors, and the foreboding forest provided the perfect setting for Ichabod Crane to explore. Add to that the constantly overcast skies and the stormy nights, and the film portrays more eeriness than a whole franchise of slasher movies. Shots that particularly stand out include the scarecrows in the fields, the jack o lanterns lighting the party scene, and the phantasmagoria used by the midwife’s son prior to the family’s encounter with the Horseman. Burton’s visual styling would make the emerging city of Manhattan as frightening as a Fritz Leiber novel. We know how many stories are possible from a New York in 1800; adding the supernatural would multiply that number by twenty.
|Is this an Erasure video?|
This would be a tough pitch. The R-rating and the availability of Depp would be factors that would cripple the project moving forward. But, damnit, if a sequel to Bettlejuice could get greenlit, then the story of Ichabod Crane should move forward.
If only I ran Hollywood…