Sleepy Hollow ★★★★½

Not necessarily Tim Burton's best film, or his most poignant, or his wildest. Or even all that good from a purely "objective" standpoint -- i.e., Does this even properly function as a movie-movie? (Of course, 'Suspiria' doesn't function all that well as a movie-movie either.)

However, damn if I can think of another film that captures in visual form the *feeling* of Halloween more perfectly, in all its creepy, ghoulish loveliness. Burton essentially takes the Hammer Horror brand of period gothic atmosphere, thoroughly Americanizes it, adds his slightly cartoonish spin, and then turns it up to 11. It's not the zenith of the form -- that would be when Guillermo del Toro took it to absolutely batshit rococo heights in 'Crimson Peak' -- but it might be the most perfect. The film has this gray, gestalt mood of exposure and smothering that might have only been possible at that moment in cinema history. The self-conscious artificiality of the design in Copolla's "Dracula' and then 'Sleepy Hollow' practically bookends 1990s horror, and it really hasn't re-appeared in this exact form again, outside of Laika Studio animation.

You can feel the Hudson Valley autumnal chill in every frame of 'Sleepy Hollow'. That crescendo in Elfman's score that comes right at the end of the opening credits -- as Ichabod's carriage thunders through swirls of dried leaves -- gives me the shivers every time.

Atmosphere isn't everything, but in some rare instances it makes everything else irrelevant: plot, character, pacing, logic, even cliche. I try to watch this at least once a year. I've never seen an Ernst Lubritsch film, people, and I've seen 'Sleepy Hollow' like ten times. Sometimes the heart and the gut trump the brain.

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