For a special Halloween-edition of this ongoing feature, we stretch the rules – just a British inch – to include a movie that used our name and our story, but rejected our actual setting.
Tim Burton, a lifelong fan of all things dark and creepy, including “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” was in talks with to use the 18th century working farm for the drama set in that very period. But, Burton backed out and after scouring a few other sites in this country made his way to the outskirts of southwest London to create his own dark and dreary village from the ground up. Bahumbug, if only there was a word for this in Halloween-speak.
Rob Schweitzer, Public Relations Director of which owns and operates the site, said this movie was before his time there, but “They came to Philipsburg Manor and liked it and were interested in taking over the site for a couple of months. We were open to the idea. They did want to paint the Manor House, which would have been problematic for us (but not impossible). Afterwards, Tim Burton decided he preferred to create his own Sleepy Hollow…and that's what he did.”
Those familiar with the Manor acreage can see how it would have excelled at those old-farmy shots of a pond and herds of sheep and working mill. But you can also see why the very visual director did well to give himself free reign to fly his Burton flag and create his gloomy Tudor/thatched roof/stonework Sleepy Hollow in a more foreboding valley. England cloaks his faux village in the necessary fog and damp, the effect bolstered by the tombstone palate used for most outdoor shots.
The color upgrades to warm browns when we enter the Van Tassel house on the hill (whose name you may recognize from Sleepy Hollow of yore and the adjacent to McDonalds). Finally, blood is blood red, white is shocking white, and the sky declouds in vivid dreamy flashback scenes of a child Ichabod Crane with his beloved, if witchy, mom.
The women in this movie are all a bit witchy, and there’s a constant tension between the science Constable Crane (Johnny Depp of course) believes and the supernatural world that seems to keep testing his resolve against it. The undead Headless Horseman, once a filed-teeth, crazy-eyed Christopher Walken when the Horseman was still Headed as a brutal Hessian soldier, is now wrecking havoc on this village. Big-city oddball investigator Crane is sent up the river to investigate.
“There is a town upstate, two days journey to the north, in the Hudson Highlands. It is a place called Sleepy Hollow,” say Crane’s boss ominously. “Have you of heard of it?” (“I have not,” says Crane.) “An isolated farming community, mainly Dutch. Three persons have been murdered there within a fortnight. Each one found with their head lopped off. (“Lopped off?” he gulps). “As clean as dandelion heads apparently.”
And so Crane makes his way to the terrorized village and the opening credit sequence is as close to Sleepy Hollow as the movie ever really comes; the corn fields were created in a Yonkers sound stage.
Crane and town bigwig Van Tassel’s daughter, Katrina (played by Christina Ricci, always very Addams Familyesque), are bound to hit it off with their pale and creamy prettiness. Ricci mentions in the DVD’s bonus materials that the storied Ichabod was quite ugly, which Johnny could never be. Depp plays his role with his trademark mix of humor and animated eccentricity, which often makes him seem a bit mad.
Burton notes he liked the contrast between adversaries – a man too much in his head vs. a headless one. The headless horseman in most scenes is not Christopher Walken but a man whose head is lopped off by way of CGI technology. Burton wasn’t satisfied with the old man under a cape routine (sorry current SH Horseman, whoever you are) since the body proportions would be all wrong.
So we have a perfectly proportioned Horseman and a pretty Depp and together they both find a happy and romantic ending (not with each other).