Even when the narrative stalls from too many detours and decapitations, Sleepy Hollow is gorgeous filmmaking that brims over with fun-house thrills and ravishing romance. The classic Washington Irving tale of a headless horseman who rides at midnight to terrorize a New York village of Dutch settlers — it's1799 — proves a natural for Tim Burton. The director of Batman and Edward Scissorhands gives his film the fine burnish of a Bruegel canvas, topped only by eye-popping visual effects — how did they get that headless rider to emerge from a tree trunk at full gallop?
Irving, who died in 1859, won't just spin in his grave at Burton's delicious twists, he'll fire into orbit. From the moment Johnny Depp's Byronic Ichabod Crane gazes into the swelling cleavage of Christina Ricci's hot-to-trot Katrina Van Tassel — "Do you think me wicked?" she asks — the spindly schoolmaster and shy damsel of Irving's tale are history. Ichabod is now a big-city constable drawn to the sharp-tongued village heiress who helps him solve grisly crimes. To Irving, the horseman was merely a myth used by Brom (Casper Van Dien), a rival for Katrina, to scare off Ichabod.
To Burton, the crimes are dead serious: Heads roll, bodies pile up, and the horseman — played in flashback by a megaweird Christopher Walken — rises from the dead. Andrew Kevin Walker, who wrote Seven, turns Irving's Sleepy Hollow into one fucked-up farm town, filled with adultery, theft, murder and witchcraft. It's a Burton kind of place.
Sleepy Hollowhas been done as a cartoon and two live-action TV shows, but never like this. Leave it to Burton, inspired by the look of British scare flicks with Christopher Lee (who does a cameo) and his own feelings about isolation and loss, to make a lively art out of being alone in the dark.