Underrated Horror? Sleepy Hollow (1999)

If you take a look back at the final year of the 20th century, 1999 was full of good horror films and could honestly go down as one of the best of the decade.  But, it feels like many are forgotten and even a Tim Burton film gets kind of buried horror history.  Burton is a director known for dark and disturbing imaginary and odd choices in films that turn out to be brilliant, Sleepy Hollow may be the film most forget about and one of his very best.


Set in 1799, “Sleepy Hollow” is based on Washington Irving’s classic tale “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” Faithful to the dreamy custom-bound world that Irving paints in his story, the film mixes horror, fantasy and romance and features an extraordinary cast of characters that dabble in the supernatural.

The things I really want to touch on in this article are the things that really grab me and why I gravitate towards a movie like this.  I’ve talked about this numerous times and frankly, Sleepy Hollow is a love letter to the Gothic Horror film released between 1957 to around 1976 from Hammer films.  It is no secret that I adore Hammer Horror films.  I grew up with Peter Cushing as Frankenstein or Christopher Lee as Dracula rather than Lugosi or Colin Clive as Frankenstein.  But, of course I love both Universal and Hammer the same now.

The film begins with a carriage chase in the middle of the night and it grabs you immediately, shades of the opening to Dracula AD 1972 when Van Helsing and Dracula are having their “iconic” chase.  One of the great things about the scene are the images of the scarecrows with jack-o-lanterns for heads and with that and the color grading of the film it sets the tone for atmosphere from the jump.  We also get a familiar face in Martin Landau as Peter Van Garrett, who was in Ed Wood as Bela Lugosi.

Soon after we meet Ichabod Crane(Johnny Depp) who is sent on assignment to Sleepy Hollow by a Hammer Horror all star, Christopher Lee as the Burgomaster, but it’s when we get to Sleepy Hollow itself where the cast really gets fleshed out.  Michael Gough is Notary Hardenbrook who most remember as Alfred from Burton’s Batman, but also starred along side Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee in The Horror of Dracula (1958).  Further we have Ian McDiarmid, Palpatine from Star Wars, Michael Gambon as Baltus Van Tassel and known for Albus Dumbledore in Harry Potter, as well as Richard Griffiths Harry’s uncle Vernon.

Johnny Depp is the star of Sleepy Hollow and he plays Ichabod Crane beautifully, he is both brave and scared, which we see in the fight with the Headless Horseman and Brom, where Brom gets split at the waist.  I do think Johnny Depp and Christina Ricci play well together, something about both actors look lends to a Gothic Horror atmosphere, Ricci herself is gorgeous and adds a Dream like quality to every scene she enters.  Christopher Walken plays brutal Hessian aka the Headless Horseman in scenes where his…head is attached, Ray Park does the stunt work, Ray Park of course played Darth Maul in Star Wars Episode I The Phantom Menace, also released in 1999.

One of the biggest draws to Sleepy Hollow is the production design.  Holy shit!  This film is gorgeous is a very dark and dreary way.  The color grading and score help the set that conjures thoughts of the spooky season and what we would imagine Halloween to look like in 1799 it the early 1800s.  The set design is near perfect, and in a way it probably looks almost like a hyper-realistic 1799, but I love it and the color temperature of the film looks so cold, you feel a chill every time you watch the film.

Sleepy Hollow is the ultimate love letter to Gothic Horror, whether we’re talking Hammer Horror or even the Corman Poe cycle. Between great performances all around, set design and the atmosphere along with Danny Elfman’s score, Sleepy Hollow feels like it was made for me. It is these things that have me wishing I lived in this world created by Washington Erving and crafted by Tim Burton. Sleepy Hollow is the perfect Halloween time movie.

Our followers on Facebook love Sleepy Hollow and give it an average of 89% and it is well deserved.  59% are 5-star rated, pretty overwhelming.

Check out our episode of the Horror Syndicate Discourse.  We discuss what makes this movie great live.

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About Ray Marek III 699 Articles
I have been watching horror films since I was 6 years old. The story, one Saturday night, my mom and I were watching movies and she fell asleep on the couch. We had the channel set on HBO and the movie we were watching ended and the next one, A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge. This was some time in 1986. I watched then entire film, I was sitting on the edge of my seat. When my mom woke, she asked me what just ended and I told her, “Freddy”. That was all I talked about for weeks and finally she broke down and rented more horror films for me. She rented, the Texas Chainsaw Massacre part 2, Re-Animator, Friday the 13th VI: Jason Lives and Halloween II. I watched all and fell in love with horror films forever. 5 Horror Films to Watch Inferno (1980) A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) The Beyond (1981) Friday the 13th VI: Jason Lives (1986) Horror of Dracula (1958)