A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Sleepy Hollow is a 1999 Tim Burton-directed horror movie in which Johnny Depp plays an Ichabod Crane reimagined as an 18th-century detective sent to investigate a series of mysterious decapitations taking place in a rural upstate New York village. This is a very, very gory movie, with many headless corpses, lots of spurting blood, heads being sliced off and bouncing to the ground, various other murders, a couple of "boo!"-type scares, and of course characters perpetually in peril. The heads all show up eventually, too. There is a brief but non-explicit scene of a couple having sex, several very gross moments, and a scene of torture in an iron maiden. A witch slices off the head of a bat. There are some references to the occult and of characters selling their souls to Satan.
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What's the story?
Johnny Depp plays the honorable but easily frightened Ichabod Crane, not a schoolteacher in this version but a sort of 18th-century detective, committed to the use of science and logic. He is sent to Sleepy Hollow to investigate a series of murders attributed to the Headless Horseman, the ghost of a bloodthirsty Hessian soldier, who steals the heads of his victims because his own was stolen from his grave. Crane insists that the murderer cannot be supernatural -- until he sees it himself. Still, he analyzes the evidence to find the secrets that link the victims and the human force driving the Headless Horseman.
Is it any good?
SLEEPY HOLLOW is less the Washington Irving story than it is Scream set in post-Revolution times. The themes of science vs. supernatural and appearance vs. reality appear throughout the movie as Crane must understand his own past to see the truth. He describes himself as "imprisoned by a chain of reasoning." He keeps coming back to a toy given to him by his mother, a spinning disk with a bird on one side and a cage on the other. As it spins, the bird appears to be inside the cage, an optical illusion, and, not by coincidence, the very illusion (persistence of vision) that makes viewers think that the people in the thousands of still pictures that make up a movie are really moving.
Depp plays Crane with the right haunted look and rigid posture. But the ludicrousness of some of the plot turns and the exaggerated fright reactions leave him with the most outrageous eye-rolling since Harvey Korman's imitation of a silent film star. Indeed, the movie frequently brings to mind those sublime Carol Burnett Show movie parodies, especially when the villain ultimately finds time for a detailed confession as the planned final victim is waiting for the Headless Horseman to arrive. The wonderful Christina Ricci is wasted in an ingenue part.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about whether gore is ever necessary in a film. Is gory the same thing as scary?
In the original "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow," Ichabod Crane is a teacher, but in this movie, he is reimagined as a New York City detective sent to the upstate New York village of Sleepy Hollow to investigate a series of mysterious murders by decapitation. Why do you think some filmmakers take liberties when adapting classic stories into movies?
This movie was directed by Tim Burton, a director with a well-known style. How does this movie fit in with his overall style? Who are some other directors with distinct styles of moviemaking?
- In theaters: November 19, 1999
- On DVD or streaming: May 23, 2000
- Cast: Christina Ricci, Christopher Walken, Johnny Depp
- Director: Tim Burton
- Studio: Paramount Pictures
- Genre: Drama
- Run time: 105 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: graphic horror violence and gore, and for a scene of sexuality
- Last updated: September 21, 2019
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