HALLOWEEN FAVORITES: SLEEPY HOLLOW (1999)

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SLEEPY HOLLOW (1999)

This Tim Burton directed classic is another of my Halloween Favorites and I like to watch it every year at this time, when I want a bit of a rest from the more intense horrors, but still want something with plenty of Halloween spirit and all the trappings…and this film has both.

Andrew Kevin Walker’s script, from a story by he and Kevin Yagher, takes a lot of liberties with the classic Washington Irving tale, but is still a lot of ghoulish fun. This version takes place in 1799 and transforms Ichabod Crane (Johnny Depp) from a meek local school teacher to a meek NYC detective with an interest in forensic science that annoys his superiors, who have a much simpler view of crime and punishment. His belligerent attempts at waking his peers up to the new age of police work earns him a trip up the Hudson River Valley to the small, remote village of Sleepy Hollow. A rash of decapitations has the entire town wrapped in a blanket of fear, as they are rumored to be committed by a headless fiend riding an enormous black steed. Upon his arrival, the skeptical Crane not only comes face to face with a very real headless horseman, but witches, black magic and a conspiracy of death and murder. Can Crane get to the bottom of who holds the horseman’s reigns and somehow keep his own head on his shoulders where it belongs?

Despite wandering greatly from the original The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow, Tim Burton’s ode to Hammer horror films…with more than a few nods to the Universal classics…is, if nothing else, a stunningly spooky visual feast that oozes Halloween from almost every sumptuous shot of Emmanuel Lubezki’s cinematography. Burton also brings dollops of atmosphere and a lot of spine tingling action, with a touch of fairy tale whimsy, as Crane overcomes his own fears to solve the mysteries around him and take on the supernatural head-hunting juggernaut. He also spatters the screen with a generous amount of the red stuff as we get quite a few beheadings, stabbings and slicings, as the undead Hessian mercenary tracks down it’s assigned prey in Terminator-like fashion. The gore FX are very well executed and there are only a few spots of CGI here and there to enhance the live effects occurring on screen. There is a great Danny Elfman score to add to the atmosphere and it’s all a great deal of fog-drenched, blood-spattered fun!

Burton also has a great cast to help him tell his tale. Depp is channeling his inner Peter Cushing as Ichabod Crane and he is a delight to watch as he takes his arrogant yet cowardly police inspector wading into supernatural territory far removed from the comfort of his science. Christina Ricci is charming and pretty as both love interest and suspect, Katrina Van Tassel. She and Depp have a nice chemistry, though I do feel Ricci could have been a bit livelier at times considering how over the top the rest of the cast is. Miranda Richardson is perfectly cast as Katrina’s step-mother Mary and Michael Gambon is properly bombastic as her father and chief suspect Baltus Van Tassel. We also get Casper Van Dien as Katrina’s jealous suitor Brom, Michael Gough, Jeffery Jones, Ian McDiarmid, Marc Pickering and Christopher Walken as the Hessian mercenary whose loss of head creates a demonic legend. Add in cameos from Martin Landau and the great Christopher Lee and you have an almost perfect cast that gets the tone of the material ghoulishly well.

What can I say, I love this flick. It drips Halloween from every frame and while it may deviate from the classic tale considerably, it is a lot of bloody fun and it has a good cast that embrace the tone of the script perfectly. It’s a great flick to watch during the Halloween season, when you need a break from the more intense horror films, but still want a movie that has everything you want in a flick for this time of year. A really fun and deviously gruesome treat.

Rated 3 and 1/2 (out of 4) horsemen!

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: THE PACT (2012)

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THE PACT (2012)

The Pact is an effective and, at times, very creepy, supernatural mystery chiller that achieves a lot of atmosphere on it’s small budget. Flick tells the story of Annie (Caity Lotz) who arrives at her recently deceased mother’s house to meet her sister, Nicole (Agnes Bruckner) for the funeral. But Nicole is missing and soon strange things start happening in the house. Annie begins to have strange dreams and there seems to be a supernatural presence there with her. As it increasingly tries to get her attention, Annie begins to find clues about their mother, a mysterious woman and a serial killer case from decades before. What does it all mean and what does this supernatural presence want from her?

To say anymore would spoil an entertaining little chiller as the film takes us along with Annie on the path to finding the truth. While not perfect, The Pact is very effective at times and actually provides us with a nice mystery to go along with the things that go bump in the night. The atmosphere of dread is well maintained by writer/director Nicholas McCarthy and the cast, including genre vet Casper Van Dien as a grizzled veteran cop, all do well with the material. There are some very spooky sequences and some good scares and it all leads to a tense and suspenseful last act. The FX appear refreshingly all in camera and work well, only a few dragging effects get overused a bit by the end and their effectiveness is also diluted since we’ve seen them used a lot lately with the Paranormal Activity series.

An enjoyable little horror/mystery from Nicholas McCarthy. A sequel has been announced though, disappointingly, McCarthy doesn’t seem involved, but this filmmaker to watch is coming out with a new horror called At the Devil’s Door starring Glee’s Naya Rivera later this year.

A solid 3 spooks!

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