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Since the entirety of October is officially Halloween this year (shut up, you!), we at Psycho Drive-In have decided to attempt to fill the month with thirty-one recommendations for horror-related movies, comics, books, TV shows, toys, games, and everything in-between. It’s gonna be a grab-bag of goodies we feel you should be exposed to, whether you like it or not! But don’t expect your standard suggestions for Halloween fun, we’re digging into some stuff that we love in the hopes that you might make this October a little bit weirder than usual.

Weirder in a good way. Not like what’s going on outside in the hellscape of 2020.

Tim Burton’s 1999 Sleepy Hollow is a movie that strikes a very aesthetic alchemy. Burton was at the height of his powers as a director while also feeling the drive to make a movie. His famously ill-fated Superman Lives had just fallen apart after years of pre-production. Then Burton gets handed a screenplay by Andrew Kevin Walker, the screenwriter of 1995’s landmark Seven.

The film gets rushed into production, but none of that is on screen except Walker’s script is a little convoluted and at some point on every rewatch, I essentially give up on truly caring about the thrust of the story. As it opens it is abundantly clear that Burton is a perfect match for the Washington Irving story. The film, which Burton initially wanted to be shot in Black & White Academy ratio, presents like a moving painting. Every detail is slaved over, meticulously crafted to build a world that is both past and present, eventually convincing you that you are watching a fever dream of the creator.

The tangibility of the world Burton builds is a miracle. A few years later and this would all be rendered into a flat CGI creation. But Burton obsesses over the tactile and fleshes this world with a fully imagined set. The choice to have Ray Park to be the body of the Headless Horseman lends an additional weight of reality particularly when he is physically cutting off an actual head.

There is a true Hammer Horror feel to a lot of the proceedings, especially the casting. Burton fills out the supporting cast with a wealth of British stage legends that lend an heir of respectability. The casting of Johnny Depp as Ichabod Crane, who at the time was a bit of a Hollywood outsider, is almost too on the nose now. At the time though, Depp was a reach for Burton to get and this leads to one of his most human characters. Depp’s Crane is utterly convinced that the supernatural is easily explained with science, but he shows quite a bit of cowardice in his inability to rise to any heroic moment.

This isn’t Burton’s best film, but it might be the one that is the most drenched with his visual inventiveness. Yes, the script could’ve used a few more passes. The suspense and horror of the first half could certainly be sustained for the full length, but even as the second half doesn’t grip the audience quite like the opening, Burton’s relentless attention to detail make the movie aggressively watchable.

Upon release, the movie did well financially but featured a bit of critical ambivalence. It was mostly well-liked, but not necessarily well-loved. If this came out today I think it would be a benchmark achievement that could level the cinematic playing field for films that eschew CGI. Much of that would come from the current landscape of Hollywood films being a sequel, a CGI fest, or remake. Sure, Sleepy Hollow is an adaptation of Washington Irving’s early American classic, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, but Walker’s script takes the names and idea of the Headless Horseman and that’s about it. The film is all Burton and it feels original.

He isn’t in the same tone really, but the recent work of Robert Eggers (The Witch, The Lighthouse) is probably the closest modern horror has gotten to this type of immersive ingenuity. This is one of the last few films that really work from Burton. Somehow, in the midst of becoming a true box office juggernaut, CGI diluted his imagination. Burton needs to strip down and relearn to paint with blood like he does in Sleepy Hollow.

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