Personally, I never was a fan of horror movies because of the gory scenes, starling pop-ups, and haunting stories; however, my perspective of horror movies changed after watching the popular 1999 film on the legendary story of the headless horseman called Sleepy Hollow. A young man named Ichabod Crane, played by Johnny Depp, traveled to Sleepy Hollow from New York City to investigates the homicides happening in Sleepy Hollow and discovers that the town is haunted by the spirit of the headless horseman. Even though the storylines of the movie, short story, and Scooby-doo episode are not complete replicates of each other, the movie continues to intrigue and entertain the audience. Ultimately, this movie is difficult to resist watching because of the humorous scenes of blood being spattered onto the eccentric Ichabod Crane, the horrific scenes of the headless horseman, and the untangling scenes that explain the haunting of the headless horseman. In the movie, greedy humans are the real monsters of Sleepy Hollow not the headless horseman. Sleepy Hollow is an excellent representation of the headless horseman because of the breathtaking portrayal of the main characters, the unique storyline, and distinct message that the headless horseman is not the only monster in Sleepy Hollow.
This movie captures the original story of the headless horseman known as “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” which was written by Washington Irving. In the short story, Sleepy Hollow was one of the battlefields engulfed in the Revolutionary War. The headless horseman was the “legendary superstition” of the hessian soldier (a German soldier, fighting for the British) who was fighting in the war when a cannon-ball cut off his head. The headless horseman is described as a headless traveler wearing a “cloak,” “mounted on a black horse,” and carrying his head. Furthermore, the short story intentionally leaves the readers with ambiguity about the headless horseman. In the movie, the headless horseman, played by Christopher Walken, was a hessian soldier during the Revolutionary War, known for having a black steed named Daredevil, sharp teeth, and was notorious for lopping off his enemies’ heads with his sword. One day during the winter of 1779, the American soldiers killed the hessian soldier by cutting off his head with his own sword and buried him in the western woods. As a result, the headless horseman continues to haunt Sleepy Hollow because the hessian soldier is in search of his missing head. The movie adds additional features to the headless horseman, such as having sharp teeth, having a bag for heads, and being known for lopping off people’s heads with a sword to enhance the horror and violence of the headless horseman. If the movie lacked gory scenes of the headless horseman cutting off people’s heads, then the movie wouldn’t be a horror film because the audience would not be fearful of the villain.
Most monsters in horror movies always return in order to increase the audience’s fear because the monster is viewed as indestructible. Accordingto, “Monster Theory: Seven Theses,” by Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, he explains that “The Monster Always Escapes” (4). In this film, the headless horseman continues to haunt Sleepy Hollow when his skull goes missing from his grave. Until his head is rightfully returned, the monster continues to return even though he might have been shot or injured. The monster progressively becomes more monstrous, dangerous, and violent until the movie reaches the climax. Furthermore, the set intensifies the action-packed scenes of the headless horseman that take place during the night. Secondly, the setting of the film accurately illustrates the small, quiet, and dark town called Sleepy Hollow in New York. The set is in a small, dark town full of late eighteenth-century houses and woods, an old bridge, and a spooky graveyard. The movie requires the horrific scenes in order to accurately illustrate the headless horseman and evoke the fears of the townspeople in Sleepy Hollow.
Many people are fearful of the headless horseman because he is perceived as different compared to themselves. In thesis four of Cohen’s article, he explains that, “Monsters are never created ex nihilo, but through a process of fragmentation and recombination in which elements are extracted ‘from various forms’… and then assembled as the monster” (11). Additionally, Stephan T. Asma used the headless horseman in “Monsters on the Brain: An Evolutionary Epistemology of Horror,” as an example of “category jamming”(948), where “the sight of a combined normal (human) and abnormal (headless) creature bearing down on one is a mental confusion between what should be the case (having a head) and what is the case (no head). And perhaps this confusion produces fear as an automatic secretion from the cognitive tangle” (948). Ultimately, both Cohen and Asma explain that the headless horseman demonstrates an unusual and different figure compared to humans and the idea of a human without a head evokes an unimaginable horror which creates fear of differences. The short story by Washington Irving illustrates Ichabod’s fear when he encounters the headless horseman. Similarly, the movie illustrates this fear in the horror scenes when characters are encountered and chased by the headless horseman. These horror scenes of the headless horseman are used to explain why the townspeople are fearful of this monster. The headless horseman defies science because humans are not able to survive without a head, yet this monster is alive, riding a horse, and murdering people. The visual representation of the main and surrounding characters clearly explains and portrays their fear of the headless horseman. For example, in the movie, when Ichabod Crane (Johnny Depp) arrives to the Van Tassel mansion, the house keeper, Sarah, expresses her thankfulness for him coming to Sleepy Hollow to uncover the mystery of the headless horseman.
The storyline of Sleepy Hollow has certain differences compared to the short story and the Scooby-Doo episode. First, the movie’s description of the hessian soldier is very similar to the original short story, except for the way the hessian soldier dies. In the movie, the soldier dies by sword, whereas the soldier dies by a cannonball in the short story. Secondly, Ichabod is a police officer in the movie and Ichabod is a teacher in the short story. The movie changes Ichabod’s occupation to a police officer mainly because a police officer made the movie to be a murder mystery and horror movie. The addition of the murder mystery helps to captivate the audience when horror scenes are absent. Lastly, the movie is extremely violent, whereas the short story and Scooby-Doo episode focus on the creepy and ambiguous story of the headless horseman; however, the violence is necessary to label this film as a horror movie. In all honesty, the movie provides a reason for the appearance of the headless horseman, a solution to stop the headless horseman, and a happy ending. If the movie ended with an ambiguous ending, the audience would have left with a lingering fear of the headless horseman because it was an unsolved mystery. In Asma’s article, he explains that, “Good monster stories can transmit values to us by showing us examples of dignity and depravity without preaching or proselytizing” (954). The movie demonstrates this by spreading the implicit message that greedy humans are the real monsters, while leaving the audience with a happy ending by showing the protagonist overcome this monster.
“It is truth, but truth is not always appearance.” – Ichabod Crane
In the movie, the main message is highlighted when Ichabod Crane illustrates that, “It is truth, but truth is not always appearance” (36:36) whereas the townspeople claim “seeing is believing” (18:30) which is a faulty reasoning. Inthesis seven of Cohen’s article, he contends “The monster stands at the threshold… of becoming” (20). The storylines of the 1999 movie, the short story, and the Scooby-Doo episode all illustrate that the headless horseman isn’t the only monster. In the movie, Lady Van Tassel is the ultimate antagonist because she uses the headless horseman to obtain all the inheritance of the Van Garrett and Van Tassel families. Similarly, in the short story, Ichabod Crane was mainly attracted to Katrina’s inheritance, and in order to compete with Brom Van Brunt for the heart of Katrina, Ichabod used his brains and devious manner to sway Katrina towards him. One night, Ichabod left the party on his horse while drunk. As Ichabod was traveling home, he was attacked by the headless horseman. The townspeople never found Ichabod’s body or head, they only found his hat and smashed pumpkin. Many townspeople believe that Ichabod was taken by the headless horseman or Brom was involved in Ichabod’s disappearance in order to marry Katrina. The short story’s ambiguous ending might signify that Ichabod’s greed caused the headless horseman to take him or caused Brom to discourage Ichabod from marrying Katrina for her wealth.
Similarly, in The Scooby-Doo Show, “The Headless Horseman of Halloween,” this episode captured the story in a child friendly version of the headless horseman. The Scooby-Doo gang attends a party at Crane Manor in Sleepy Hollow. Ichabod Crane, the great-great grandfather of Beth Crane, was haunted and chased by the headless horseman, never to be found again. The legend continues to haunt the Crane family who are fearful that the headless horseman might return. During the Halloween party, the Crane family’s worse nightmare unfolds, as the headless horseman appears and scares all of their party guests (except for the mystery gang). Fred, Daphne, Velma, Shaggy, Scooby-Doo, and Scooby-Dum decide to stay at Crane Manor in order to uncover the mysterious appearance of the headless horseman. As the gang looks for clues, the mystery begins to unravel, and the gang starts to discover that the headless horseman is not a ghost, but a masked criminal intending to steal the Crane family fortunes. The headless horseman turns out to be Elwood Crane, the cousin of Beth Crane. Lady Van Tassel, Ichabod Crane, and Elwood Crane from each of these representations illustrates that humans are also monsters because of their unethical desires for wealth and possessions.
A good representation of a monster is when a text illustrates the unethical actions and poor choices of a monster in order for the readers or audience to learn from the main message. Accordingto thesis five of Cohen’s article, he explains that monsters can be used to discourage people from certain actions because “The Monster Polices the Borders of the Possible” (12). In this episode of Scooby-Doo, Elwood Crane uses the idea of the headless horseman to discourage people from discovering he was stealing Mrs. Crane’s necklace. The headless horseman was a distraction, so Elwood Crane could conceal his unethical actions. In the movie, Ichabod starts to develop romantic feelings for Katrina Van Tassel, the daughter of Baltus Van Tassel, and he becomes entangled in a love triangle. Brom Van Brunt, terrorizes Ichabod by pulling pranks on him in order to scare him off or highlight Ichabod’s unattractive qualities because Brom is also in love with Katrina. One of Brom’s pranks involved him dressing up as the headless horseman in order to scare him out of Sleepy Hollow. This scene demonstrates Cohen’s thesis five because Brom attempts to use the story of the headless horseman to prevent Ichabod from getting closer to Katrina. Despite Brom’s effort to win Katrina’s heart, Ichabod and Katrina’s relationship grows stronger throughout the film.
Overall, the entire movie exceeded my expectations because it intrigued and captivated my attention, even though I am not a horror fanatic. In the movie, the special effects of the movie are out-to-date compared to current special effects; however, this flaw highlights the technological advancements of special effects from the twentieth to twentieth century. In addition, the movie added scenes of Ichabod’s childhood, which weren’t absolutely necessary or relatable to the original story; however, the movie still provided outstanding visual representations of the headless horseman, the main characters, and the setting while leaving with the main point: the real monster in Sleepy Hollow is a greedy human. I strongly believe this movie is a great representation of the headless horseman and realistically brings the story to life; therefore, on a scale of one to ten, I would rate this movie a nine. The mysterious horror movie of the headless horseman almost perfectly depicts the main message of the original story because of the elaborate visual scenes of Sleepy Hollow, and the essential horror scenes of the headless horseman, and the artistic actors and film director, Tim Burton.
“# Headless Horseman.” Wifflegif. Accessed 16 April 2018. https://wifflegif.com/tags/171146-headless-horseman-gifs
I use this GIF of the headless horseman to illustrate his violence actions.
“Scooby Doo: The Headless Horseman of Halloween.” Biohazard Films. Web. 17 January 2015. Accessed on 16 April 2018.http://radioactive-studios.com/biohazard-films/?p=2818
I used this source for the photo of the headless horseman interrupting the Crane family’s Halloween party and the photo of the headless horseman riding a horse in the cartoon.
“Sleepy Hollow.” Dir. Tim Burton, Perf. Johnny Depp and Christina Ricci. Paramount Pictures, 1999. Redbox. Web. 6 April 2018.
This movie is based off the original story of the headless horseman. In 1799, various murders took place in a town called Sleepy Hollow. A police officer named Ichabod Crane was sent to investigate the murders and find the murderer; however, he soon discovers that the town is haunted by the headless horseman. Rather than giving up, Ichabod is determined to find a solution to stop the headless horseman from terrorizing Sleepy Hollow. In my essay, I use this as my main primary source to evaluate the representation of the headless horseman in this movie. This source is extremely reliable because it the real movie of Sleepy Hollow.
“The Headless Horseman of Halloween.” The Scooby-Doo Show, Dir. Charles A. Nichols, Hanna-Barbera Productions, Inc., 9 Oct. 1976. Accessed on 31 Mar. 2018.
In this episode, the mystery gang visits Crane Manor for a Halloween party. Unfortunately, an uninvited guest (the headless horseman) shows up and scares away all the party guests except for the mystery gang and Crane family. The mystery gang becomes determined to figure out the mysterious appearance of the headless horseman and eventually suspect a person is involved. In my essay, this source is a primary source to evaluate the representation of the headless horseman and compare this source to the 1999 horror movie. This source is reliable because it is the real episode of Scooby-Doo.
Asma, Stephen T. “Monsters on the Brain: An Evolutionary Epistemology of Horror.” Social Research: An International Quarterly, vol. 81, no. 4, Winter 2014, pp. 941-968. Accessed April 6, 2018. https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Stephen_Asma/publication/281036214_Monsters_on_the_Brain_An_Evolutionary_Epistemology_of_Horror/links/55d258f108ae0b8f3ef8df26.pdf
This academic journal explains the origin of fear, the biological and psychological reasons humans produce fear, and the reasons humans desire or dread monsters. Furthermore, this article accounts for political or natural fears of monsters and the continuous cycle of monsters realigning with current culture. In my essay, I use this source to explain the movie portrayal of the headless horseman because he is difference (headless), which creates fear for the audience. Additionally, I use this source to illustrate the movie chose a happy ending instead of a scary ending since the movie has an important message about ourselves. This source is reliable because it is a peer reviewed academic journal from google scholar. Asma’s research uses social science in order to get an idea of human society and the monsters we create. I assume himself and his research on us makes it a reliable source for my essay.
Chitwood, Adam. “Why Tim Burton’s ‘Sleepy Hollow’ is an Underrated Gem.” Complex Media Inc. Web. 27 October 2017. Accessed 16 April 2018. http://collider.com/sleepy-hollow-underrated-tim-burton/
I used this source for the photo of the character Ichabod Crane, Katrina Van Tassel, and Brom Van Brunt.
Cohen, Jeffrey Jerome. “Monster Culture: Seven Theses.” Monster Theory: Reading Culture. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996, pp. 3-20. http://www.englishwithtuttle.com/uploads/3/0/2/6/30266519/cohen_monster_culture__seven_theses__3-20.pdf
This academic journal captures the cultural impact monsters have on our past and present society by deterring us from certain actions and making us fearful of difference. Additionally, this source illustrates that monsters create fear and desire for us, as well as humans are vulnerable to become the monsters we create, fear, or desire. In my essay, I used this source to illustrate that the action and horror scenes in Sleepy Hollow presents an inhumane and immortal version of the headless horseman that continue to return with destruction. Furthermore, I use the portrayal of the headless horseman to illustrate that the headless horseman is difference, which creates fears for regular humans that are not headless. Additionally, I use this source to explain that the headless horseman is used in the movie, short story, and Scooby-Doo episode to discourage characters (and even movie-goers, readers, or viewers) from certain actions. Ultimately, this source is used to prove the movies message that humans are the real monsters of Sleepy Hollow. I assume this source is reliable because the author, Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, wrote a book on monster theory where he studied monsters and their impact on our culture.
Graves, Sabina. “The Most Memorable Christopher Walken Movies.” Comingsoon. Accessed on 16 April 2018. http://www.comingsoon.net/extras/features/664637-christopher-walken-movies
I used this article for the image of the headless horseman, played by Christopher Walken.
Irving, Washington. “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” 15 Mar. 1820. Accessed on 31, Mar. 2018. http://blogs.britannica.com/wp-content/pdf/The%20Legend%20of%20Sleepy%20Hollow.pdf
This short story recounts the original and fictional tale of the headless horseman. In a small town called Sleepy Hollow, it was one of the battle zones of the revolutionary war in the United States verse Great Britain. A hessian soldier (German soldier for the British) head was chopped off by a cannonball; as a result, the soldier haunts Sleepy Hollow in search of his head. In 1799, Ichabod Crane encounters the headless horseman, disappears without a trace, and the headless horseman is suspected as a possible culprit. In my essay, this source is one of my primary sources. I use it to compare the representation of the headless horseman in the 1999 movie. This source is reliable because it is the legendary short story told by Washington Irving.
Richards, Evan. “The Cinematography of Sleepy Hollow (1999).” Evan Richards. 23 July 2009. Accessed 16 April 2018. http://evanerichards.com/2009/1355
I used this source for the image of the town of Sleepy Hollow used in the movie. It shows the church, graveyard, woods and houses. It also shows the dark and foggy background.
Sullivan, Joe. “Who Murdered Ichabod Crane? Solving the Mystery of Washington Irving’s ‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow’.” Cemetery Gates Media. Web. 25 October 2017. Accessed 16 April 2018. https://cemeterygatesmedia.com/2017/10/25/who-murdered-ichabod-crane-solving-the-mystery-of-washington-irvings-the-legend-of-sleepy-hollow/
I used this source for the drawing of the headless horseman chasing Ichabod Crane while both of them are riding a horse.
Tim-burton-fan. Optical illusion GIF. Tumblr. https://www.tumblr.com/search/tim%20burtons%20sleepy%20hollow
I use this image because it was in the scene where Ichabod states “It is truth, but truth is not always appearance.” This saying relates with this optical illusion he illustrates in the movie because the bird is not a cage. The image of the bird and the cage is separate, but when moving they combine to look like the bird is in the cage.
Turner, Mike. “Moment of appreciation (1999) Sleepy Hollow!!” Imgur. 6 Dec. Accessed 16 April 2018. https://imgur.com/gallery/sxNPa
I used this online post for a GIF of the headless horseman killing a character in the movie to show the violent horror scenes.
Vanderpoel, Michael. “Sleepy Hollow (1999) (fantasy, horror, mystery).” The Moving Pictures Review. 7 October 2016. Accessed on 16 April 2018. http://michael-movie-review.blogspot.com/2016/10/sleepy-hollow-1999-fantasy-horror.html
I use this source to give an illustration of the headless horseman in the movie.
YouTube Movies. “Sleepy Hollow- Trailer.” Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 7 May 2012. Web. Accessed 17 April 2018. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dDThtjvIp8w
I include the trailer of the 1999 Sleepy Hollow film to give the readers an idea of the movie if they have not watched it. This video gives a good representation of the characters, the headless horseman, and the theme of the movie. This is a credible source because the author is YouTube Movies and the provider (Paramount) is mentioned.