I'm a Hessian with Lots of Aggression
How to Get a Head in the Afterlife Without Really Trying
Note: I pretty much slam the movie in the other two sections. Here, however, you'll find most of my praise for the film. Again, it's not that I didn't enjoy the movie, it's just that it could have easily been so much better.
If there's one place where the movie worked in spades, it has to be the depiction of the Headless Horseman, one of the great literary ghosts. Putting the Horseman on film has a couple of pitfalls, particularly in an era of filmmaking in which just about anything can and has been computer-generated on screen. One problem, as evidenced by Brom's attack on Ichabod, is that doing a headless horseman isn't all that difficult--All Brom needed was an XXXL cloak and a couple of sandbags. We expect a little bit more than that in today's movies, though.
Fortunately, though, the writers, misguided as they were elsewhere, had enough sense not to mess too much with the Horseman. He's the one character who undergoes the least amount of change in the transition to the big screen. His backstory is largely unchanged--just a little embellishment in terms of his savagery, and the inspired casting of Christopher Walken as the Still-Headed Horseman.
The main thing that made the Horseman so effective, though, was Burton's direction. Openly emulating the Hammer horror movies of the 50s and 60s, Burton created an opening sequence that was a masterpiece of suggestion. We don't see the Horseman, we see the mystic fog rolling in, we see the eerie blue glow. We don't see the Horseman, we hear him--we hear the hooves, we hear the horse, we hear the terrible sound of his sword slicing through a victim's neck, then the sound of that victim falling from the coach. When the Horseman kills Masbeth, although we see a little more of the Horseman, we never see him clearly--shots from the chest down, through the mist, etc. We create the Horseman in our minds, and the result is that the image in our mind far outstrips anything that Burton could have actually placed on film. When the horseman does finally appear, his actual image is enhanced by the audience's imaginations.
This gradual revelation of the Horseman is somewhat similar to the gradual appearance of the shark in Jaws. But in the case of the Horseman, that first sight is a red herring. What we first think is the Horseman turns out to be Brom in disguise, trying to scare off Ichabod. A nice bit of misdirection, as it plants the idea that Brom might be the real Horseman (yeah, right), but it also gives a tip of the cap towards the original story. The Horseman's chase of Ichabod across the countryside, over the covered bridge, finally ending with the Horseman hurling a flaming pumpkin towards Ichabod, is lifted almost directly from the end of the story. The story ends with Ichabod's disappearance, Katrina and Brom's marriage, and the townspeople's conviction that Ichabod had been spirited away by the Horseman. There's a good bit of evidence to suggest, though, that Brom, knowing how superstitious Ichabod was, had staged the attack to chase off his chief rival for Katrina's affections. So, really, the sequence isn't really a big change from the original. It also gave us THE shot from the trailer: Brom/The Horseman, rearing up on horseback, brandishing a flaming pumpkin. The sequence is also an addition to the original shooting script.
Even the revelation that the Horseman is being used as a demonic button man doesn't have a major impact on his ability to induce terror too much--he's a badass from head--er, make that neck--to toe.
Home | Back to Sleepy Hollow | Next