Ink & Pixel: Sleepy Hollow

Last Updated on August 5, 2021

Ink & Pixel is a source of pride and joy for me as a writer and as such, I’m always striving to take this column further for those who read and enjoy it. In an effort to widen the reach of our continuously growing fanbase, Ink & Pixel has been granted permission to broaden its horizons with the inclusion of films from the Horror, Sci-Fi, and Fantasy genres. I hope that you enjoy this bold new direction for the column. Additionally, if you yourself, or anyone you know, helped to make any of the amazing feature films found within this column, I would love to talk to you to further my knowledge. Please contact me at [email protected] so we can discuss it further.

Heh. You know those people who have a tendency to not to let go of a holiday for weeks before or after it actually takes place? I’m going to be that guy this week, because I’ve got a lot of leftover Halloween spirit to expel and I’m in the mood to talk about Tim Burton’s SLEEPY HOLLOW. Not only is the film inspired by a real-life-folklore tale, it’s got plenty of makeup, digital effects, and blood to make for one hell of a good read. Okay, let’s not lose our heads before getting to the good stuff. Put on your patented Ichabod Crane steampunk inspection goggles and let’s start investigating this awesome film.ted Ichabod Crane steampunk inspection goggles, and start investigating this awesome film.

Released in the year 1999, and regarded as one of the last films directed by Tim Burton that didn’t leave audience members divided as to whether or not the legendary Gothic fantasy director was losing his appeal, SLEEPY HOLLOW aimed to bring the legend of the Headless Horseman to the silver screen like no one had ever seen before. Ah, but where did it all begin, you ask? How could something as paranormal and ridiculous as a vengeful horseman without a head who stalks his victims from atop an undead stallion possibly be even remotely true? Well then, perhaps it would be best if I were to familiarize you with the original tale of terror?

SLEEPY HOLLOW is, of course, inspired by the short story “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” by author Washington Irving. Published in the year 1820, the events of Sleepy Hollow appeared among a series of essays published by Irving that were later included as part of collection entitled “The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent”. Though he recanted the tale of the Headless Horseman while living in Birmingham, England, the details that lead to the creation of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” were said to have taken place in a village called Tarrytown, located within the town of Greensburgh in Westchester County, New York.

I think it’s important to remember that the circumstances leading to the creation of the Headless Horseman took place some time ago, the year 1790 to be exact. Those were different times, and the folk who resided in Tarrytown at that time might not have known what to make of all the animals that prowled the dark forests, emanating wild sounds that give you reason to believe that creatures are going bump in the night. The fact of the matter is that the settlers of Tarrytown were quite the superstitious lot. Many residents believed the town to have been bewitched long before their settlement, and that the dark energy surrounding the town still ran strong within its soil. Others were insistent that the dark magics and rituals of a Native American tribe were to blame for the village’s unsettling aura. The Headless Horseman himself relates to the specter of a Hessian trooper whose head was shot off by a cannonball during war times. He’s said to patrol the trails of Sleepy Hollow, ready and willing to sacrifice the head of any poor soul who crosses his path as he searches for his severed head.

Before we get into the details of Tim Burton’s SLEEPY HOLLOW, I thought I’d add to this article by telling you a bit about my own experience with Sleepy Hollow. Back in the Autumn of 2012, I took a day-trip to Tarrytown, New York with a friend of mine to visit the famous bridge where the Headless Horseman was said to ride, night-after-night, in search of his skull. The bridge in question is located deep inside a labyrinthine path of gravel, forest, and gravestones that surrounds the Philipsburg Manor House. To my astonishment, and maybe even a bit of disappointment, the wooded area that houses the bridge is heavily patrolled by local law enforcement. Oh, they’re not standing guard or anything, but the schedule permitting on-lookers is quite strict – and my friend and I were only able to marvel upon the historic site for a very short time. Today, the roof of the bridge no longer exists. Instead, what’s left of the fabled area is a tiny, wooden strip that would take you no more than a few decent strides to cross. Still, just being in the presence of that historic site sent a rush through my spine, and I was happy to be able to see it for myself.

Burton’s SLEEPY HOLLOW borrows much from the American legend of old, but also sees to adding its own spin on the tale by offering its audience detailed information about the townsfolk of Sleepy Hollow, as well as a bit of comedy to brighten its darkest of moments. The film stars Johnny Depp as Ichabod Crane, an investigator whose unique merging of the law and experimental sciences may yet prove invaluable to discovering the truth behind a series of be-headings that have come to pass in the township of Sleepy Hollow. In his search for the truth, Ichabod encounters a woman of untold beauty by the name of Katrina Van Tassel (Christina Ricci). Though much to Ichadob’s dismay, Katrina soon becomes directly involved in the sordid search for the truth in ways that no methods of rational deduction can surmise. It’s then that Ichabod, Katrina, and a iron-willed boy by the name of Young Masbeth (Marc Pickering) must take up arms against the supernatural forces that govern the Horseman (Christopher Walken)’s rage in the hope of bringing peace to Sleepy Hollow.

To create the ghastly be-headings featured in the film, the effects department began by constructing plaster casts (starting at the shoulders and ending at the top of the skull) of each victim. This process takes hours to complete – with the subject needing to be wrapped in multiple layers of plasticine, gauze, and tubing for hours before the materials harden. Once the cast is set, the mold is then removed from the actor and painted using silicone based solutions, sealants, and paints. Adding hair to the head is also an arduous process as each individual strand must be plotted and manually punched in by-hand. After that, eyeballs made of plastic and glass are set into the eye-holes of the skull, followed by a set of acrylic teeth which mimic those of the actor. The shoulders of the cast are then removed and the neck is fitted with a series of tubing which then allows blood and even smoke to escape from the wound.

Furthermore, Burton gave his effects team explicit instructions when designing the way in which each victim’s body would respond to the Horseman’s fatal blow. First, the head of each victim would comically spin around before toppling to the ground. Following this, the body would be left with no choice but to crumple to the ground in submission to their fate. With regard to the bodies, armatures of different size and stature were made using magnetic materials, that, with the push of a button, could then be made to demagnetize and fall down on command.

In addition to the varying and wild makeup techniques used throughout the making of SLEEPY HOLLOW, there was also a matter of Christopher Walken’s fear of horses to contend with. I mean, how are you going to potray the role of the Headless Horseman when you grew up roaming the concrete jungle that is New York City? Okay, yes, you could steal a police officer’s horse and go for a joy ride – but I think we can all agree that it would be most un-wise. Instead, for the scenes in which the Hellmount was at its most unruly, the technicians borrowed a prop from Elzabeth Taylor’s NATIONAL VELVET film in the form of a mechanical horse. The horse was then outfitted with updated materials, skinned and furred to resemble the Horseman’s hellish-looking black stallion. Controlled entirely via remote-control, the mechanized mount was then able to buck, thrash, gallop, and display all the necessary movements that would help bring it to life.

With Ichabod and Katrina safely out of harms way and the spirit of the Headless Horseman put to rest, Tim Burton’s SLEEPY HOLLOW retired from its theatrical run with a worldwide total of $206,071,502, thereby earning more than double its $100 million dollar budget. Following its release, the film also received several awards for its outstanding excellence, including (but certainly not limited to): Best Production Design at the 2000 Academy Awards, Best Actress (Christina Ricci) at the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Film Awards, Best Cinematography at the Boston Society of Film Critics Awards, the Excellence in Period/Fantasy Costume Design For Film at the Costume Designer’s Guild, as well as several more.

Personally, I think SLEEPY HOLLOW stands among the best of Tim Burton’s directorial efforts. Visually, the film never misses an opportunity to embrace its macabre sensibilities and supernatural roots. Being a fellow New Yorker, I can’t help but be fascinated by the film’s location, characters, and questionable history. After all, it’s not every day where a place regarded as being “one of the most haunted locations in the world” is a mere 3 hours away from your home. I’ve been there, and have felt the un-ease of Sleepy Hollow first hand. For me, SLEEPY HOLLOW grabs at the heart of Gothic Horror filmmaking and squeezes it until its last, sputtering beat. There’s no doubt that Burton and his crew were firing creatively on all cylinders for this one, and lest you lose your head should you think otherwise. Until next time, folks.


Source:, visitsleepyhollow

About the Author

Born and raised in New York, then immigrated to Canada, Steve Seigh has been a editor, columnist, and critic since 2012. He started with Ink & Pixel, a column celebrating the magic and evolution of animation, before launching the companion YouTube series Animation Movies Revisited. He's also the host of the Talking Comics Podcast, a personality-driven audio show focusing on comic books, film, music, and more. You'll rarely catch him without headphones on his head and pancakes on his breath.