The Ichabod Crane of Washington Irving’s story ”The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” is haunted by his imagination and harassed (most likely) by a rival in beheaded getup. Sleepy Hollow infuses this slip of Halloween folklore with witchcraft, bloodlust, and Freudian fantasy. Here, Ichabod Crane (Johnny Depp) is an investigator dispatched to an upstate New York hamlet menaced by a headless Hessian horseman. Allied with a cherubic and precocious local girl (Christina Ricci), he snoops about. But the undistinguished plot is beside the point.
Director Tim Burton marshals elements of his signature styles – comic book expressionism, childlike neo-gothicism – to pay homage to his beloved Hammer Films, schlock that is somehow compelling in its weird vividness. Which is not to say that the movie is either camp or horror. The kitschiness of Depp’s Ichabod (who’s given to lip pursing and general comic squeamishness), like the unsubtle radiance of Emmanuel Lubezki’s cinematography, is an invitation to be seduced by the movie’s theatricality. The blood doesn’t seem meant to shock so much as to transfix with fairy-tale atmosphere. Burton and company haven’t merely adapted ”Sleepy Hollow” for the screen; they’ve amplified the charm of its legend.