This is a blog which primarily gives some attention to movies that I find were overlooked (for whatever reason) or are simply underrated. I also comment on other, mainly movie-related issues as well. I welcome any suggestions for films to be added to this distinguished list.

One word of warning: The films listed below contain spoilers, so caution during reading is required.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (1980)



"You've come to the wrong place. Sleepy Hollow is about as exciting as fried mush. If it wasn't for the ghosts, there'd be nothing to say between hello and goodbye."
-Fritz Vanderhoof.




Washington Irving's classic short story The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, published in 1820, may have been the first American ghost story. The best-known film versions of the story are undoubtedly the Disney cartoon from 1949 and Tim Burton's Sleepy Hollow (1999).

Ironically, it's the Disney cartoon that's the most faithful to Irving's story. Like many others, this is the version which introduced me to the story, and Disney's depiction of the Headless Horseman rightfully became famous.

While the cartoon is great Halloween viewing, it is Burton's film that provides even more shocks, which is one reason is my favorite version of the story. Although Burton adds loving nods to the Disney version in the film, the story has quite a few departures from the Irving story. For instance, Ichabod Crane, played by Johnny Depp, is a policeman who doesn't believe in ghosts, rather than the superstitious school teacher of Irving and Disney. The Burton film also leaves no doubt that the Horseman is a supernatural force, whereas the Irving story suggests the possibility that the havoc is brought about by more human means.

In between those two versions came this TV-movie which appropriately aired on Halloween 1980 and, in a way, combines elements of both the Disney and Burton versions. Like Depp's Crane, Jeff Goldblum's Ichabod is a skeptic when it comes to matters of the supernatural. This film, however, has the same basic setup as Irving's story: Crane arrives at the town of Sleepy Hollow to begin his new teaching job. His attraction to beautiful Katrina Van Tassel (Meg Foster) angers muscular but pompous Brom Bones (Dick Butkus), which prompts him to plot driving Crane from Sleepy Hollow with the legend of the Headless Horseman.

Like Burton's film, though, there are a few liberties taken here. Irving's story and Disney's cartoon kept the Horseman's origins vague, whereas Burton's film drew up an elaborate tale of witchcraft and revenge to explain the Horseman. This film doesn't go into the Horseman's backstory either, but, like Burton's film, new characters are added, none of which, happily, are irksome.

Crane is attracted to Katina, but he also catches the eye of widowed Thelma Vanderhoof (Laura Campbell), whose son is one of Crane's students. Her father Fritz (John Sylvester White) meets up with Crane upon his arrival in Sleepy Hollow and informs him of the ghosts which are part of the town's folklore. Later on, he chastises Crane for destroying the garlic in his school (which are also his living quarters) which was meant to protect him from spirits. The school (which is appropriately small given the time period) is also inhabited by an owl which Vanderhoof says is the spirit of an Indian, one Chief Running Buffalo.

Crane later informs them of his sightings of a strange man (Michael Ruud), whom they inform him is Wintrop Palmer, Crane's predecessor whom Bones supposedly killed for his attraction to Katrina.

The latter half of the film deals with Crane beginning to slightly doubt his sanity, thanks mainly to tricks by Bones. He also declares his love for Katrina and Bones's plans to rid the town of him by disguising himself as the Horseman. Like Crane, Bones doesn't believe in the Horseman, which makes his reaction when he actually sees the Horseman at the film's climax rather amusing.

The Horseman himself is visually well-done, especially considering that CGI didn't exist in 1980. The story is really turned on its head when the Horseman pursues Bones and Crane, in turn, pursues the Horseman, thinking it's really Palmer (who earlier told Crane that he faked his death to plot revenge on Bones and the Horseman). Bones escapes and Crane ends his pursuit when he sees Palmer being taken into custody after Katrina and her father (James Griffith) find him.

Again like Depp's Crane, Goldblum's ends up with Katrina and, amusingly, Bones ends up with Thelma after she and her father find him in his Horseman disguise and blackmail him into a union so his reputation isn't ruined.

The great final shot of the film is the Horseman riding through the countryside. Perhaps more than the other versions, this one views the Horseman as the progenitor (of sorts) to future fiction boogeymen like Michael Myers: a supernatural force that just won't die!

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