Sleepy Hollow.

Hello everyone and welcome back to Movie Monday. Today is the first #moviemonday of spooky season, and I am so excited about the next few weeks because there is a lot of fun, spooky, and different content to come here on Katelovesliterature.com. 

Today I am talking about another movie that was directed by Tim Burton – Sleepy Hollow.

Let’s dive into #moviemonday. 

This movie was released in 1999. 

I would say that Sleepy Hollow is a gothic horror film, and if you’d like to learn more about what makes a text a gothic text, then be sure to tune into this week’s Theory Thursday, because I am going to be talking about what it means to be a gothic text in more detail. Let’s get into the plot. 

Plot.

Sleepy Hollow is loosely based on The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving. The book was published in 1820. Set in 1799, the plot follows police constable Ichabod Crane as he sets off from New York to Sleepy Hollow to investigate vicious murders that have taken place there. The cause of death? Decapitation. When Ichabod arrives in Sleepy Hollow, he learns that the locals believe that the killer is a menacing, ghostly figure. Locals believe in the supernatural tale of an undead headless horseman, a soldier from the American Revolutionary War. They believe the terrifying figure is riding around Sleepy Hollow on his black steed, searching for his lost head. Ichabod continues to investigate as he is not content to believe this tale. 

Characters. 

Ichabod Crane is the movie’s main protagonist. Crane is a quirky character. He is very clever and very shrewd. He believes in incorporating science into police work. (Today, we would call this forensic evidence), and in most adaptations, he is a tall and lanky man. 

I think that Ichabod is quite a relatable character, and I would argue that audiences view Sleepy Hollow through his eyes. He is intrigued by the supernatural tale that the locals spin, but he continues to investigate, and something that I really appreciate is the fact that Ichabod is a squeamish man. I would also suggest that Ichabod is also a modern thinker, based on the fact that he believes that science will aid investigations. I would also argue that this belief in the need for modern science is what makes Ichabod a very gothic character as science and gothic are often linked – something that I will discuss in more detail on Theory Thursday. 

Katrina is Ichabod’s love interest. Katrina is kind and beautiful, but I would also say that she is not an overly important character. She is involved in the plot but I do not think she is integral to it. Unfortunately she is somewhat one dimensional, as I don’t feel she has much of an arc, however you could also make the point that this is not a romantic story, it is a horror story. 

The ensemble of characters that Ichabod meets in Sleepy Hollow all play different and important roles. There is the magistrate, the pastor, the notary, the midwife, the doctor, and the many locals that Ichabod gets to know during his time in Sleepy Hollow. 

Usually when I am breaking down the characters in a movie, I take some time to identify the movie’s antagonist. I talk about their actions, their reasons etc. Usually when I do this, the movie’s antagonist is introduced very early on in the movie and the plot plays out as follows; protagonist introduced, antagonist introduced, the body of the movie is protagonist vs antagonist. 

I have decided that I will not be discussing the antagonist of Sleepy Hollow because doing so would spoil the movie and as always, there will be no spoilers here. 

While this movie is a horror with supernatural elements, it is also in my opinion, a mystery. Ichabod is investigating the murders of Sleepy Hollow, and it is by doing so that he begins to put the pieces together, so the audience connect the dots along with him, and we begin to see who the antagonist is as he does, so I do not want to spoil the investigation. 

It is an excellent mystery with many twists and turns, and if you want to watch an intriguing, mysterious, and spooky movie in the run up to Halloween then I would highly recommend making some popcorn and watching Sleepy Hollow.

With that being said, let’s move onto themes. I am going to do my best to discuss the movie’s themes without giving away the mystery so wish me luck!

Themes. 

There are quite a few complex themes presented in Sleepy Hollow. I would suggest that the movie’s most prominent themes are the depiction of greed, and the want for revenge. 

I cannot really say who is greedy or who wants revenge, because that would reveal who the murderer is and if you wish to find that out – go watch the movie! I will say that the driving force behind greed, and the revenge, is money. The want for money, power, and status is what drives certain characters to do the horrific things that they do, and I suppose it could be suggested that horror movies like Sleepy Hollow could be suggested to be very intense metaphors that represent what greed can do to people. The lengths that some people will go to for money and power is very frightening, and I think that this movie demonstrates that fact particularly well. 

Another theme that this movie presents is the idea of questioning. Ichabod is not satisfied with the local tale of a ghostly headless horseman who is on a killing spree. He wants to find the truth, and so he investigates, and he continues to investigate despite the dangers that come with doing so. 

I would also argue that this movie presents a theme of religion vs the supernatural, and this is a common theme that does exist in gothic stories. 

As we moved away from the Romantic Age – I will explain the Romantic Age at some point in the future on a Theory Thursday, but for now all you need to know is that the Romantic Age celebrated wonder, emotions, individuality, and all things natural – the sun, the stars, the sky, etc. 

As we moved away from the Romantic Age, scholars began to look at science, at what science could do for society, and there is a particular tension that exists between science and we’ll say tradition, because some people feared that the evolution of science would interfere with what was ‘natural’. There was a tension between science and institutions such as the church, because churches felt that it is not up to any one of us to play God. 

Questions about science, and what it does for society, and how we need it, but also suggestions that at times it goes too far, appear in many gothic novels such as The Castle of Otranto, and the Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and of course Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein which is October’s #bookofthemonth. 

The subject of science and what it can do for society is also present in Sleepy Hollow as I’ve already stated, Ichabod Crane is a very inquisitive man who is all for using modern science to aid police procedures – at one point in time exhuming a body to search for evidence would have been viewed as immoral but today, forensic science is a crucial part of an investigation, and often it is the evidence found during a post-mortem exam that leads to an investigation being solved. We would not have things like DNA corroborated evidence if it were not for scientific advancements so we need enquiring minds. 

Structure.  

I love how this movie was shot. We are presented with what I would describe as an almost ‘eerie fairytale’ – which again, is very gothic as a feature of the gothic is inverting the idea of safety – I will elaborate on this on Theory Thursday. 

The movie is mostly set outside, and every shot is dark and misty. It is very picturesque, but in a really unsettling way. The movie is so dark, it almost looks as if it was shot in black and white, and I feel like this really lends itself to the plot. 

Ichabod Crane is out of his element. He is in a strange new place, he is the outsider in a small town – an idea that I love by the way. I will discuss this at some point in the future but I feel as though ‘stranger arrives in a small town where they are the outsider and all the locals are close-knit’ is a concept that always has the potential to be a really good story. 

Ichabod is the outsider. He is the ‘scientific one’. He is questioning everything in a place where the locals, especially the town elders would prefer it if he questioned nothing. He must do his job, he must learn who he can trust, and I feel as though the dark, eerie, monochromatic shots really heighten the outsider effect. The place looks creepy, it looks unsettling, it looks as though something is not right, and well something is not right. People are losing their heads. 

I love Danny Elfman’s score. I think the score is what makes the movie so scary. His score is haunting, and intense, and I think it is a brilliant example of how key a score can be to a movie, particularly to a horror movie, because I think it could be argued that a lot of the horror in horror movies does not come from the dialogue, it comes from the silence within the dialogue, and the spaces between the action. 

I’ll pose this question – which is scarier, the attack scene itself or the scene before the attack scene, where the victim is silent, and terrified, and hoping they will be left alone? 

I’m sure many people will have different answers to this and that is fine, it is a subjective question. I would argue that the scene before the attack is scarier. It is the build-up. It is filled with suspense. It is when we are holding our breath, wondering if the character will be safe. We may think okay danger is about to occur, but when? Pay attention to scenes like this, because I bet you will notice that in those moments, the score becomes very important. It will either get very quiet before a loud, scary, violent crescendo, or it will remain eerily quiet, and shrill to the ear. I could talk about scores in movies all day, and I think that Danny Elfman’s score in Sleepy Hollow is absolutely brilliant. 

I really like this movie’s pacing. It does not feel too long or too short, and I enjoy the flash-back scenes we get from Ichabod’s point-of-view, because they give us another insight into his background, and into his character, which is important because as I said, audiences experience Sleepy Hollow through his eyes. 

Final Thoughts

My overall thoughts are that this is a great movie to kick off the month of October. I would suggest that it is a great movie to watch if you’d like to dabble in the horror genre but you are quite squeamish. There are some bloody, violent moments. I won’t pretend otherwise, but coming from someone who hates gore, and cannot watch blood, I love this movie. 

It is eerie, and intriguing, and I think the investigation/mystery aspect of this movie is why I enjoy it so much, and why I can push myself through the bloodier moments, it is because the mystery is very compelling, and I think the way the dots become connected and clearer as we go on, is done in a very satisfying way. 

I’d also watch this movie to appreciate the score alone. So, if you’re looking for a new movie then I’d say give it a go, and if you do love horror and have not seen Sleepy Hollow yet then I’d say you are missing out. Go watch the movie and judge it for yourself!

This has been Movie Monday. I hope you enjoyed it. Have you seen Sleepy Hollow? Are you a fan of all things horror? Let me know. 

Kate xo. 

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