In Sleepy Hollow, Ichabod Crane is a bold, yet squeamish 18th-century constable who visits a small hamlet to investigate mysterious beheadings. Villagers claim it's the work of a headless horseman. Skeptical, Ichabod sets out to unearth a more rational explanation, but is converted when he digs up a dark secret that connects the victims.
Could the brutal rampage be the act of a vengeful sorceress summoning a demon to kill her enemies? It could in this twisted literary hit-and-run. Leave it to macabre director Tim Burton to turn Washington Irving's humble folk tale, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, into an eerie feature full of occultism and graphic decapitations.
Burton seems to revel in his gruesomely choreographed noggin-lopping. One disturbing scene shows the merciless horseman slicing his way through a family of three—the child sees his mother's severed head roll into view before he is seized. Other murders are equally meanspirited.
The film also maligns Christian men by portraying them as hypocritical Bible thumpers. The local reverend has ritualistic sex with a witch and, in anger, uses a cross to bludgeon a man. All the while, occultism is presented as a more honorable alternative. The sweet heroine, Katrina, whips up potions and gives Ichabod a book of spells to protect him (he praises Katrina for her "white magic").
Sleepy Hollow (a bona fide $100 million hit) is stylishly designed as a modern echo of 1960s grade-B horror films. "Those are the kinds of movies that fed my soul," says Burton. It shows. The director has complained that this gothic slasher film deserved a PG-13 rating, which begs the question: Has he lost his head?