I haven’t been a loyal follower of Tim Burton’s career, but the films I have seen from him, I very much do enjoy. Sleepy Hollow is a very pleasant entry in his career, collaborating with Johnny Depp, that strikes the right balance between Burton’s quirky humor and dramatic gothic storytelling. It’s fun, exciting, and scary all at the same time.
Constable Ichabod Crane (Johnny Depp) of the New York police arrives in the small village of Sleepy Hollow in 1799 to solve a mystery of murders. With all the victims found with their heads missing, everybody in Sleepy Hollow is talking about the ghost of the “Headless Horseman.” He is supposedly out in the woods seeking revenge for his murder many years ago. Crane, believing only in logic, refuses to believe the public’s theory about the horseman and begins his investigations, only to find his faith shattered when he himself encounters the headless horseman. Yet, he is compelled to resolve his investigation after falling deeply in love with the beautiful young Katrina (Christina Ricci). Their fates intertwine as Ichabod attempts to unravel the supernatural and wicked mysteries that threaten everyone’s lives in Sleepy Hollow. It’s a magical tale of sense against myth.
While I think general audiences today are a little worn out on the repeated Burton-Depp collaborations, Sleepy Hollow is an excellent piece of work that’s worth your while. Depp does a brilliant job as Constable Crane. He brings a certain young naivety to the ambitious investigator. He has bold new ideas about using science and intellect to deduce crimes that his superiors lightly dismiss. The contrast of everyone’s grim, fearsome attitudes to Crane’s more upbeat mentality creates an amusing dynamic. Crane is definitely intelligent and educated, but Depp’s clever, delicate balance between the serious and the tongue-in-cheek tone of Crane makes him such a delight. True to the source material, Ichabod is somewhat cowardly, but he can muster up courage when it counts. Beyond all else, he’s determined to resolve this twisting mystery that seems to have an air of conspiracy about it. That’s what makes him a character to invest yourself in. Despite his own trembling fears, he picks himself back up and pushes forward to finish what he began. Depp shows a lot of sweet charm and humor making Ichabod a pure hearted hero that both amuses and inspires.
I will absolutely admit that I once had a fascination with Christina Ricci. She’s a beautiful and highly talent actress who doesn’t shy away from challenging material. What she gives us as Katrina is a lovely, graceful young lady that is indeed bewitching. She carries an ethereal aura about her reflecting Katrina’s depth and purity of soul. Ricci and Depp have a gorgeous chemistry that really lights up the screen, and enraptures an audience with their magic. They are such an excellent fit that I’d love to see more of them together.
At the time of release, it was kept a secret that the Hessian Horseman was portrayed by Christopher Walken. It was an added pleasant surprise when I first saw the film in 1999. Aside from some animalistic grunts as he slays his victims., the Horseman has no lines of dialogue, and doesn’t need any due to how he is portrayed and presented. It was a great idea to tell the Horseman’s story early on to have the bloodthirsty psychotic face embed itself in the audience’s minds. The Horseman filed his teeth to a razor sharp point that made him appear more frightening in his enemies’ eyes. It’s an amazing, ferocious design that sends a chill up your spine, especially in conjunction with Walken’s charismatic physicality. It’s also great that the Horseman is not the ultimate villain, but a weapon used by a treacherous conspirator.
Tim Burton really culled together a magnificent cast with several veterans of stage and screen as well as some fine young talents such as Casper Van Dien. Adding in some Hammer Films alumnus like Christopher Lee and Michael Gough was a very nice touch. Miranda Richardson has a wonderful turn in this film that she seemed very enthusiastic about throwing herself into. Her overall performance is marvelous.
The visual effects of Sleepy Hollow are astonishingly good. Just getting the Headless Horseman to become a reality on screen was a big challenge, I’m sure, and there is nothing but top notch quality on display here. The various decapitations and other gory slayings are phenomenally done. What else would you expect from Industrial Light & Magic? The effects never cease to impress throughout the entire movie. The film has a generous helping of blood and gore to make some squirm or jump in their seats while others will simply relish its exquisite glory. The practical effects are seamlessly integrated with the digital effects for a visually amazing experience. I cannot praise this work highly enough. While there are some silly moments with the visual effects, they are perfectly at home in a Tim Burton movie.
The gothic aesthetics of Tim Burton are realized in a magnificent way. The film has a slightly desaturated, gritty look giving way to a more grim feeling of looming danger. Sleepy Hollow is shot beautifully, strongly maintaining that dark tone of horror and tension. Yet, there are plenty of picturesque sequences, such as a series of dreams Ichabod has which further enrich the fantastical, and sometimes, enchanting aspects of the movie. This truly is a visually gorgeous film in a style that could only come from the imagination of Tim Burton. And of course, Danny Elfman created a powerfully grandiose score that fits perfectly with Burton’s gothic stylings. It is a stunning, sweeping piece of work that enhances all the dark, lovely, and magical atmospheres of Sleepy Hollow.
This movie really is a lot of fun. Burton doesn’t take it too seriously as he applies his own dark comedy to the more violent, gruesome moments. So, while the Horseman is chasing down and chopping off the heads of hapless victims, there’s usually a humorous quirk in there, but Burton keeps it in check. He never allows it to compromise the dramatic integrity of the story, and instead sort of does it at Ichabod’s expense, which is entirely fitting. Said story has plenty of mysterious aura and thrilling moments of tense horror and suspense. The Horsemen, head or no, is very scary and intimidating. He’s mercilessly violent and very smart. There are superbly executed plot twists that are never cheap. This is a smartly crafted screenplay which weaves its way around these solidly conceived characters. The secrets and manipulations abound under the surface of this quiet village make for a fertile ground for this sort of story. How everything is unraveled in the end is quite wicked.
That said, this has a hell of a great climax with plenty of fiery action and dramatic revelations. Characters are kept in serious peril as it becomes a race to save lives while the Horseman in unleashed once again. Action and suspense build up to a highly energetic and exciting level, and the pay-off is quite ironic and fitting. It is all very satisfying tying up all the plot and character threads with that classic Tim Burton wit and charm.
This is a beautifully crafted film in every aspect. It’s a visual masterwork backed by an excellent script written by the deeply talented Andrew Kevin Walker with a story co-developed by Kevin Yagher. The latter of the two also worked on the creature effects here, and doing a remarkable job at it, too. There are many tried and true Tim Burton talents who were involved with this film which instilled it with an amazing depth of artistry and talent. The film definitely delivers on exciting tension and fearsome scares with a light air of dark, quirky humor. It also weaves an enchanting love story through its haunting and startling mystery. I really, really like Sleepy Hollow because, beyond everything else, it’s just a fun watch with plenty to take pleasure in. This is truly one of Tim Burton’s finest outings, and I’m glad that Johnny Depp was along for the ride. They both do a brilliant job through every frame of this film. I give Sleepy Hollow my full recommendation. It’s more than worth your while.
This film was based on the novel A Stir of Echoes by Richard Matheson, and David Koepp, the screenwriter and director, made a hell of solid and smart thriller out of it. Koepp has plenty of fine credits to his name ranging from generally good to great films. While there are a few black marks on his filmography, he showcases a vast amount of solid talent with this nicely crafted supernatural thriller that is Stir of Echoes.
Tom Witzy (Kevin Bacon) lives with his wife Maggie (Kathryn Erbe) and his son Jake (Zachary David Cope) in Chicago. They live in a neighborhood with a good reputation, but at a party with a bunch of his neighbors, the narrow-minded Tom dares his open-minded sister-in-law, Lisa (Illeana Douglas), to hypnotize him. She does, but when she implants a post-hypnotic suggestion for him to ‘open his mind’, he begins to see disturbing and confusing visions. His son has an imaginary friend called Samantha (Jennifer Morrison), but Tom soon realizes that she is not imaginary. She is the ghost of a young girl that is now terrifying and driving Tom towards strange ends. As the horrific visions intensify, Tom realizes they are pieces of a puzzle, echoes of a crime calling out to be solved, but when his other-worldly nightmares begin coming true, Tom wants out. He desperately tries to rid himself of his eerie, unwanted powers – only to be seized by an irresistible compulsion to dig deeper and deeper into the mystery that is consuming his life.
Kevin Bacon absolutely does an incredible job in this role. He really absorbed himself into it adopting a subtle Chicago accent and a textured blue collar working man appearance. His physicality is very raw, and it helps that he seemed to be in excellent, lean shape for this film. He pushes the performance through every fiber of his body with a powerful nervous energy and charisma that is electrifying. Bacon portrays the increasing obsession and near psychotic behavior amazingly well. His manic intensity becomes scary like he is going off the deep end, which is quite the truth. On the flip side, he shows the heart of Tom Witzy with a lot of genuine depth. Beneath this crazed obsession, he is a deeply caring husband and father with a touching levity of heart. It’s good to see the real man before this psychic awakening occurs, and thus, we get full context on how drastically he changes and what he’s jeopardizing with his crazed behavior. There’s ultimately a lot of compassion and humanity in this man who starts out with a bit of an abrasive attitude.
Playing perfectly off of Kevin Bacon is Kathryn Erbe. She also shows a strong range from loving, bright wife and mother to woman of fire and conviction when Tom goes further out of control. Erbe and Bacon have very honest and heart-filled chemistry which is a main strength of the movie. Zachary David Cope was a fine young actor here. While he has an appropriate innocence and cuteness, he proves to have a mindful intelligence to portray the nuances of the role. Acting opposite thin air to an unseen ghost is definitely a challenge, but Cope really showed a lot of promise here. Sadly, it was only second and last film acting role. The remainder of the cast does equally fine jobs building up a realistic community of dimension characters that ground the film very firmly.
Stir of Echoes is definitely a spooky and startling film with a tight pace. It keeps a nice unsettling atmosphere going as Tom is very unnerved following his hypnotic awakening. As the visions begin inflicting more graphic images upon Tom, the more freaked out he gets, and the more the tension of the film rises. It’s an entertaining and fascinating descent into manic hysteria which just drives the film’s suspense and danger to a more chilling height. When the film hits those peaks, it gets the heart pounding very strongly. It winds itself up to a frightening full head of steam once the third act slams itself upon the audience. While it’s not a rousing climax that is practically horror-based, it definitely resolves itself properly. It builds upon the more underlying qualities of the film, namely the characters and the community they inhabit.
Thus, I really like the character driven strength of this supernatural thriller. It’s a ghost story that doesn’t boil down to defeating an evil specter, but instead, helping find justice for an innocent soul. Showing the quality of this seemingly tight knit Chicago neighborhood plays an important role in the story, and it’s nicely developed and demonstrated to ultimately explore the heart and soul of these people, no matter where they might lie.
Admirably, this film boasts some very good visual effects. From the ghoulish effects to make Samantha a frightening apparition to the hypnosis sequence in the theatre, these are all consistently top notch effects. The ghostly make-up effects work done on actress Jennifer Morrison are very haunting and unsettling. She did a fine job in that aspect as well as the living Samantha in the flashbacks late in the film. She was a very sweet, shy young woman that is a worthy of the sympathy and tragic value put on the character. While the “shot in reverse” movement is a clichéd trick to give a creepy quality to her ghost, it is still very effective.
Now, I also have to admit I find a bit of pleasing notoriety from the theatre scenes when Lisa hypnotizes Tom. They were shot at the Rialto Theatre in Joliet, Illinois where my high school graduation was held the year before this film’s release. I really love that the filmmakers shot on location throughout the Chicago area bringing a real authentic feel to the neighborhood and other locations. There’s one shot where Tom’s up on a telephone pole making a call to Lisa, and it pulls back to reveal the Chicago River and Metra trains rolling by. It’s a location I am very familiar with, and it just creates an honest sensibility that I commend. Chicago really is a diverse and beautiful city that deserves to be shown off more prominently in film and television, and this is a small gem that takes pleasant, if small advantage of that.
While David Koepp is the sole on-screen credit for the screenplay, there was some work on it done by Andrew Kevin Walker (Se7en). So, I would like to share my praise for the quality of the script with them both. I’ve never read Richard Matheson’s novel that this was based on, but Koepp and Walker clearly had an intelligent foundation to build upon. The story never goes for cheap clichés of the genre, and instead, stays focused on its smart supernatural thriller path. The film makes it a point that it is very focused on Tom Witzy from early on, and the script follows that path very steadily. It keeps the audience in tune with what he’s experiencing, and we are able to relate to him even when he becomes more irrational and brazen. He’s intensely driven to uncover whatever it is he needs to in order to shut these psychics visions down. He himself becomes connected with Samantha, even if he doesn’t entirely know what his purpose in all this is. So, we follow him on this haunting journey that is exceptionally well executed by David Koepp. It surely helps this film that there was a highly effective score put together by the immensely talented James Newton Howard.
While this turned out to be a bit shorter review than I usually post, I think the quality of Stir of Echoes has been well conveyed. It’s not a very complex story, but it lacks no depth of character or scares. It won’t slam bang you with horror, but it has a solid atmosphere, some startling, graphic imagery, and air of compelling supernatural mystery that is very satisfying. Seeing the film is worthwhile for Kevin Bacon’s exceptional and amazing performance alone. He really showed a very wide breadth of talent and commitment here that I find incredible. The only iffy aspect is that I’m sure the climax would feel stronger if there was an actual supernatural element added into it instead of a straight physical confrontation. However, I’ll say again that it suits the more character based sensibility of the story, which is somewhat refreshing to see, and does support the idea of needing a living person to resolve things instead of a vengeful spirit stalking and killing people. So, I certainly do not knock the climax one bit, but an audience could feel like a little extra punch was desired after all the spooky paranormal happenings throughout the film. There’s just not much of a climactic pay-off for the scary elements in the film. Overall, I do highly recommend Stir of Echoes as a smart and suspenseful film that has some refreshing turns on the old ghost stories premise.