Heads Will Roll.....
There’s something about the tale of Ichabod Crane in the small Dutch colonial town of Sleepy Hollow located in New York state in the year 1790 that I find irresistible.
It’s a story that I wasn’t aware of in my childhood, but I think I was vaguely aware of there being a Disney cartoon. It was years later on the Disney Channel that I saw the story for the first time, which prompted me to seek out the original short story by Washington Irving - oddly, that was the first purchase I ever made from Amazon dot com during one of my first tentative scavenging forays on the new fangled internet thingy. Well, THAT impulse buy sure opened up a can of worms and I’ve been on a mission to break our postman’s back ever since.
But I digress - the point is, from my first exposure to this story it’s been a firm Halloween must. It’s as much a part of October for me as watching horror movies, carving pumpkin lanterns and running Shocktober.
The story tells of Ichabod Crane, a superstitious schoolteacher who arrives in Sleepy Hollow (and yes, there really IS such a place, and yes, it is on my list of places to visit - certainly in October one of these years) He falls for the local heiress Katrina Van Tassel, but the local rowdy ringleader Brom Bones also has his eye on her.
There’s a local legend of a headless horseman, a slain Hessian soldier, who haunts the area and in a magnificently descriptive scene, the horseman chases Crane as he leaves a Halloween party. Crane is never heard of again, but the implication is that the "horseman" is actually Bones in disguise, ridding himself of the competition for Katrina’s hand.
It’s literally that simple a story, but the magic is of course in its telling and I urge you to read it. In fact, here’s a link to an online version of it. Don’t say I never do anything for you.
So, Ichabod and Mr Toad. A Disney classic. I love this movie. Yes, I am unashamedly an animation nut and openly a traditional, hand drawn animation freak to boot. I don’t hide it.
This film was made back in 1949. A time when Disney was struggling financially and found it easier economically speaking, to release shorter films which could, if necessary be cut into even smaller features, hence Irving’s classic tale found itself as one half of a feature that also boasted an adaptation of a Wind in the Willows story. From the point of view of the quality of animation and artistry, I’d have to say that Mr Toad is the better executed, with Ichabod Crane seeming more stylised - but the fact remains that the whole of the story is right there on screen, and the scenes with the Horseman chasing Crane and its preceding build up are among the most atmospheric that Disney has produced. It’s up there with the terrifying chase through the woods that was seen in Snow White or the underwater scenes with Monstro the Whale in Pinocchio (Man, those scenes scared the crap out of me when I saw them in the cinema as a child.) Adding to the overall pleasure of this film is the narration. Mr Toad is narrated by the late Basil Rathbone (in my opinion the one and only Sherlock Holmes worth watching) with Bing Crosby doing the honours on Ichabod. The framing sequences set in a library are perfect scene setters.
You can buy it here, but as it’s Halloween - why not hit YouTube and watch it for free? (But don’t tell Amazon I said so.)
Now, it was fifty years later that Tim Burton stepped up to the challenge with HIS version of the tale.
Sleepy Hollow (1999) is a loose adaptation of Irving’s story, rather than a slavish word for word translation to the screen. Ichabod Crane (Johnny Depp) is a policeman sent to investigate a series of decapitations in Sleepy Hollow. The main plot of the original text is dispensed with very early in the film, when Crane is chased by the horseman who throws his "head" at him - in reality a flaming pumpkin.
That’s only the beginning though - because in this version - the horseman is all too real and is an avenging spirit conjured up by Lady Van Tassel (Miranda Richardson) in a plot revolving around land rights and revenge. The horseman’s origins are also shown. He is a Hessian mercenary played by an unbilled Christopher Walken who was beheaded, though the actual headless horseman himself is played by Ray Park (Darth Maul, for you Phantom Menace fan out there, wherever you are. Also he played Toad in X-Men). The Horseman’s appearance from the roots of a huge, blood filled tree are as impressive as seeing the batmobile roar out into the night in Burton’s earlier Batman (1989).
The film boasts an impressive line-up of supporting players in Christopher Lee, Michael Gough, Michael Gambon, Martin Landau - but it’s Christina Ricci who I find unnerving. Used to seeing her as a brunette, it’s not her blonde look in this film that I find spine chilling, it’s the fact that her eyebrows have been bleached as well - to the point of her not appearing to have any. I find people without eyebrows impossible to read - their faces look perpetually blank and a little bit reptilian.
Overall, it’s a great Burton movie - with most of his usual stock players involved, with of course a stunning score by Danny Elfman, another person whose music I play a lot at this time of year. In summing up, watch Sleepy Hollow for a cool, atmospheric, autumn evening’s entertainment. You won’t come up short (unless you lose your head). But if you want to watch a great rendition of what Irving wrote - it’s Disney all the way, baby.
Next time, let’s get some Zombie action back in Shocktober and take an overdue look at what Rob did with his version of Halloween.
Copyright © 2010 - 2012 Robin Pierce. All Rights reserved.