Thursday, October 29, 2015

MISTER SARDONICUS (1961)



PHENOMENALITY: *uncanny*
MYTHICITY: *fair*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *drama*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *psychological*


One of the best things about William Castle's adaptation of the Ray Russell source-novella-- aside from Castle's hiring Russell himself to write the screenplay-- is that he Castle chose to separate his own puckish, would-be-Hitchcock humor from the story proper. The two horror films Castle released directly before SARDONICUS-- 13 GHOSTS (1960) and HOMICIDAL (1961)-- have their merits, yet both seem stitched together out of disparate set-pieces. It's as if Castle, in trying to imitate Hitchcock's gallows-humor, came up with something closer to the concept of "camp"-- which Susan Sontag hadn't yet written about, though her famous 1964 essay claimed that the sensibility had been "in the air" since the 18th century.

Even though the "monster" of SARDONICUS is a man who can't stop smiling, the main body of the story, set in Europe in the late 1800s, is given a sober and dramatically centered treatment, in keeping with the Russell novella. The main source of humor is extra-diegetical, as Castle himself interrupts the story in his persona as the modern-day director. He does this twice. First, he appears at the film's outset, to stoke the audience's anticipations of the weird tale to come. His second appearance comes near the conclusion, where he invites the audience to vote in a "punishment poll" that would supposedly determine, at each theatrical showing of the film, whether the theater showed a version that punished Sardonicus or tendered him mercy.  Given that I haven't often liked Castle's sense of humor within other horror films, this sequestration suited me just fine.

The original novella and the film adaptation are very much framed by Freudian notions of traumatic obsession. We're introduced to Cargrave, a British doctor. He excels in the treatment of trauma, and is seen healing a young girl via his techniques. He might be seen as a positive inversion of the maker of horror stories, for instead of creating nightmares that haunt audiences, Cargrave frees his patients from irrational fears and promotes healing.

Cargrave gets a note from a former lady-love, Maude. Some time ago she married another man, whom Cargrave never met, and took up residence in his baronial estate in the fictional Middle-European land of Gorslava. Maude implores Cargrave to come to her assistance, so he's immediately off to Gorslava. In keeping with many of the Gothics from the actual 1800s, the estate is ruled over by the heavy hand of its master, Baron Sardonicus, whose tyrannies are administered through his one-eyed right-hand man, Krull. At dinner Cargrave meets Sardonicus, who initially hides his face behind a mask. Sardonicus ordered Maude to write Cargrave because the Baron wants to be healed of his affliction: his face frozen into a grinning rictus, not unlike that of Victor Hugo's THE MAN WHO LAUGHS.

Hugo's smiling monster was created by crude surgery, but Sardonicus-- who has taken his name from his affliction-- had his condition brought on by psychological trauma. He, his wife and his father once lived in poverty. Shortly after the death of Sardonicus' father, he and his wife learn that the deceased was buried with a valuable lottery ticket that could solve all their penury problems. The wife, like a lesser Lady Macbeth, eggs on Sardonicus not to kill a father-figure, but just to violate the peace of his grave. Sardonicus doesn't need much urging, but he's no less cursed than Macbeth for his trespass: his face assumes the frozen grin of his dead parent.

Castle's film doesn't cavil so much at this offense as at the things the cursed Baron does with his money: torturing servants with homemade experiments, and possibly killing a few local ladies just for amusement. And when Cargrave doesn't want to employ untried techniques on Sardonicus' condition, the Baron threatens to have his wife disfigured to force the doctor's hand. (Here Castle and Russell ratchet up the Baron's fiendishness somewhat from the novella, where Sardonicus simply threatens to have congress with the woman who has only been his wife "in name only.")  Cargrave appears to both give in to the Baron's demands and to cure him, which wins freedom for both himself and Maude. However, the Baron's own sense of sinfulness pursues him even after he's been cured of the grin-malady. Freudian guilt-repression results in a new flowering of the same trauma, and brings an end to the career of Sardonicus.

Though I wasn't able to lay my hands on a copy of Russell's novella, it's my memory that the original Sardonicus had much more of a conflict with his father before the old man died. In the film the father of the future Sardonicus is a pretty jolly old fellow, so there's not as much resonance as in the original story's Freud-influenced paradigm, where the act of opening the grave is inherently a show of hostility to the dead man. Still, this slight alteration of the villain's psychology doesn't make him any less nasty. The facial appliance used to give the Baron his grin of death isn't overly convincing-- actually, I even preferred the one seen in the 1942 SMILING GHOST.  Actor Guy Rolfe can't really talk through the appliance, so for the most part he utters his on-camera lines when he's wearing the mask. Still, it's one of the few times an actor was able to create such a memorable character using only voice and body-language.

A minor note: I don't include this film under my trope-designation "perilous psychos" because I see no evidence that Sardonicus is truly insane; merely that he's both afflicted and cruel as a result.

ADDENDUM: I've now laid hands on a copy of the original Russell novella, and I have some corrections. Although I still think that there's a "Freud-influenced paradigm" in the situation of Sardonicus being "cursed" by his father's death-grin, it doesn't come about because the young monster, name of Marek, had an overt conflict with his father. The father described in Sardonicus' flashback is still a jolly old fellow whose one vice is his continuous purchase of lottery tickets, and the only hostility Marek feels is toward the custom that the oldest son gets the lion's share of the bequest:

"The good man had left few possessions, but these few were divided, according to his written wish, among his survivors, with the largest share going, of course, to the eldest son."

A little later it's evident that Marek feels the most acute resentment. When the family realizes the old man's been buried with a winning ticket, the mother refuses to let the sons dig him up. Marek pretends to agree with her, tricks her into letting him guard the grave against trespassers, and then proceeds to dig it up himself.

Also, I've changed my mind about Sardonicus being a "perilous psycho"-- not because the things he does to others are the result of madness, but because madness informs what his traumatized mind does to his own body-- a situation that compares slightly with that of the protagonist in 2010's BLACK SWAN.


Monday, October 19, 2015

THE NAKED GUN (1988), THE NAKED GUN 2 1/2 (1991), THE NAKED GUN 33 1/3 (1994)




PHENOMENALITY: (1) *marvelous,* (2) *uncanny,* (3) *naturalistic*
MYTHICITY: *fair*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *comedy*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *sociological*


I imagine that most fantasy-film concordances automatically leave out the NAKED GUN films for the same reason they would leave out the same filmmakers' AIRPLANE: because so many of the fantasy-triopes in all of the films are extra-diegetic. In one of my ARCHETYPAL ARCHIVE essays I wrote the following on AIRPLANE's "automatic pilot" joke:

I've mentioned that many comedy films toss out "impossible" occurences for the sake of humor, but that they are not "marvelous" because the impossible elements are not meant to be taken seriously.  An easy example of an unserious impossibility is the "automatic pilot" joke in AIRPLANE, who comes to life and smiles for a moment or two for the sake of a joke anyone reading this blog ought to know.

Dozens of jokes in the NAKED GUN series are of a similar nature, such as the famous scene in which Frank Drebin (Leslie Nielsen) tries to prevent his girlfriend (Priscilla Presley) from slapping him by grabbing both of her wrists-- only to somehow get slapped by a mysterious third hand.



However, not all of the fantasy-elements in the GUN series are extra-diegetic, or, as I style them, "fallacious fragments" in the naturalistic mode. Only the third movie lacks any diegetic fantasy-elements and thus lines up as "naturalistic" alongside AIRPLANE.


The 1988 NAKED GUN, for instance, concerns how villainous Victor Ludwig (Ricardo Montalban) plots to kill off the Queen of England. Early in the film Ludwig demonstrates how he can transform an innocent maid into a programmed killer with a special hypnotic device (allegedly "borrowed" from the serious Charles Bronson film TELEFON). This sets up viewers for the comic suspense at the film's conclusion, when Drebin must ferret out the new killer at a baseball game-- who is none other than Reggie Jackson.




Thus, the NAKED GUN diegesis is marvelous, just as it is for 1962's ROAD TO HONG KONG, which *does* get mentioned in concordances for its SF-tropes-- even though it too sports all sorts of nonsense-non-sequiturs, like Hope and Crosby appealing to "wardrobe" to instantly change their costumes for them.



NAKED GUN 2 (life's too short to spell out the goofy title every time), however, has no SF-content. For most of the film, the plot of villain Quentin Hapsburg (Robert Goulet) involves only naturalistic resources, such as having a ringer impersonate the President's energy-advisor, so that Hapsburg and his energy-baron cronies can continue to control the country's destiny.  However, when goofball cop Drebin thwarts his plans, Hapsburg belatedly diverts the film into the uncanny domain, when he tries to blow up the energy conference with an "outre device" in the form of a small nuclear device. Such a device isn't the least bit marvelous, but it's as "uncanny" in the hands of an "anti-eco-terrorist" as it was in the hands of a gang of super-crooks in THUNDERBALL.

The final film in the Nielsen series took it back into the naturalistic phenomenality of the original 6-episode TV series POLICE SQUAD, where the only digressions from coherence and intelligibility are those the viewer isn't supposedly to regard as part of the diegesis. The opening gives an example of this by having Drebin and his squad take on a plethora of boogeymen...




...including "disgruntled postal workers," a joke which won't make any sense to anyone who didn't live through that particular era.

The main plot, though, is essentially naturalistic, even if it does involve a terrorist (Fred Ward) threatening to blow up the Academy Awards with a letter-shaped bomb.

As should be evident by now, I'm not reviewing the three films here except with respect to their phenomenalities. I like all of them to some extent, though none are as laugh-filled as AIRPLANE. Yet the GUN films fulfill the basic law of vaudeville: if you don't like one joke, wait a moment and you may like the next one coming right up.

In closing I'll note that I've seen some serial franchises that freely partook of all three phenomenalities whenever their authors so pleased, notably both the DICK TRACY comic strip and its various cinematic incarnations. But NAKED GUN may be the only franchise that had exactly three episodes, each of which fell squarely into one of the three phenomenalities.

Monday, October 12, 2015

THE MARK OF ZORRO (1920), DON Q SON OF ZORRO (1925), THE EAGLE (1925)



PHENOMENALITY: *uncanny*
MYTHICITY: *fair*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *psychological*


Zorro, who first appeared in a magazine serial by Johnston McCulley in 1919, seems to have been one of cinema's most durable "quasi-superheroes," rivaled only by Tarzan. While most costumed adventurers-- Batman, the Green Hornet, the Shadow, the Spider-- were confined to juvenile film serials, Zorro and Tarzan were apparently characters that adults could enjoy to some extent. That's not to deny that both characters did appear in serials, as well in cheap B-film vehicles. But you didn't see Batman or the Shadow get considered for even one A-level film.

The silent MARK OF ZORRO appeared the year after the magazine serial. with Zorro's adventure performed-- and scripted-- by Douglas Fairbanks Sr. Because the film became popular, it's alleged that when author McCulley wrote his Zorro sequels, he borrowed bits of film business, like Zorro's signature use of the "Z" carved with his sword.  Fairbanks only did one sequel, and for one reason or another Hollywood tended to remake the original rather than chronicling the swashbuckling hero's continuing adventures, as they did with Tarzan from the silent era onward. (Alternately, they frequently tossed out new versions of Zorro who were descendants of the original, as seen in ZORRO'S FIGHTING LEGION-- but none of these latter-day avatars enjoyed a second outing.)

MARK OF ZORRO was in one sense Fairbanks' successful attempt to "re-brand" himself, for many of his previous cinematic efforts had been comedies, though I assume a performer of Fairbanks' athleticism had used stunt-work before launching himself as an adventure-hero. Other such high-energy films followed ZORRO, not least 1921's THREE MUSKETEERS and 1924's THIEF OF BAGDAD, but ZORRO set the standard for Hollywood swashbucklers, and arguably upped the ante for all films of an adventurous mode.

Like the novel, ZORRO is a simple story of revolutionary heroism: Don Diego de la Vega. a caballero, has been for years absent from his father's home in Los Angeles during the Spanish colonial period. He returns, and presents himself to all as an educated fop who could not care less about the abuses of the Spanish government. As such, he's laughed at by cruel soldiers like Sergeant Gonzalez, and scorned by the haughty local beauty Lolita. But when he dons the mask and black outfit of Zorro, he becomes a crusader against evil-- and to be sure, even though this is a mostly bloodless film, viewers will behold some cruel whippings that inevitably cause them to side with the rebel hero against the corrupt but legal authorities.

That said, Fairbanks puts a great deal of humor in the film, particularly at the opening, when Gonzalez boasts to all the listeners in a bar about what he'd like to do to Zorro. Naturally,the masked hero promptly shows up to give him his chance, and of course thrashes the buffoon handily.  Scenes like this one still resonate today, and comics-readers will note how often Jerry Siegel wrote his early SUPERMAN stories to project the same sort of daredevil insouciance.

One interesting note is that the question of aristocratic "blood" is raised three or four times, particularly when Zorro breaks into a party of aristocrats. He condemns them as "idlers," "wasters," and "fashion-plates" for tolerating rampant injustice given that they possess "the blood of Aragon"-- while adding that, "I pledge you, my blood's as noble as the best!" From what I remember of the novel, this seems to be in accord with one of the ideals of Zorro; that of noblesse oblige.





DON Q SON OF ZORRO was based on a historical novel that had nothing to do with Zorro or any masked adventurer. Keeping with the idea that at the end of the first film Zorro revealed his true identity to the public, the producers may have decided that this revelation ended any possible use of the original hero. But even though Diego married, he could still give rise to a new hero-- though Cesar de la Vega (played by Fairbanks) never dons Zorro-like garb, as some viewers might expect. The action takes place entirely in Spain, as Cesar seeks the hand of a lovely young lady. Another suitor covets the same woman, and so frames Cesar for murder. Though Cesar is as athletic as his daddy, and sports skill with a whip, the closest he comes to Zorro-like action is that he fakes his death and persecutes some of his enemies as a mysterious presence, until it becomes known that he's still alive. The film was quite popular in its time, and shows some technical improvements over the earlier work. However, it lacks the fevered romanticism of the original, and although Fairbanks was only five years older, he doesn't succeed in infusing Cesar with as much charisma as either Zorro, or most of the actor's better known heroes. The only thing that qualifies this as a metaphenomenal film is that toward the end, Daddy Zorro journeys to Spain and, assuming his black costume once more, helps his son fight a bunch of soldiers.



Rudolf Valentino enjoyed his ascension during the same period as Fairbanks, but his best known roles are entirely naturalistic in tone and content. Until I watched THE EAGLE, I had no idea that it even contained-- albeit only for a few minutes-- a sequence with a Zorro-like masked hero. The story was adapted from an unfinished Pushkin novel about a noble Cossack soldier named Vladimir, who is forced to flee the service when the Czarina Catherine came on to him. In the film Vladimir assumes the masked identity of "the Black Eagle" to keep from endangering his family while he and his fellows battle the authorities. Since it's said this identity was not in Pushkin, it's almost certain that it was an addition made by the producers to give it a little Zorro-flavor-- possibly in anticipation of the year's new ZORRO-related film.

THE EAGLE is not a swashbuckler at all, having very few action-sequences. Like the best-known Valentino films, it's first and foremost a romance, about Vladimir trying to find happiness with Mashka, who happens to be the daughter of an evil nobleman. Vladimir manages to infiltrate the nobleman's household under an assumed identity, which leads to the film's most psychologically interesting scenes: Mashka being torn between her love for Vladimir and her reluctance to see her father punished for his misdeeds. In the end Vladimir and Mashka are allowed to find happiness, but there's no climactic battle at the end. Therefore, although the presence of the masked crusader does mark THE EAGLE as a "marginally metaphenomenal" film, it's not even marginally combative, unlike the previous two films cited here.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

THE OLD DARK HOUSE (1963)



PHENOMENALITY: *uncanny*
MYTHICITY: *poor*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *comedy*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *psychological*

For a long time I disdained William Castle's 1963 remake of James Whale's same-titled film from 1932. It's true that director Castle and screenwriter Robert Dillon aren't in Whale's class as far as depicting weirdness and perversion, which is the main attraction of the original OLD DARK HOUSE. The focal characters in both films are the "Femm family,"a weird group of relatives living in a crumbling English mansion (Wales in 1932, Dartmoor in 1963). In Whale's hands the Femms are mad and potentially dangerous; in Castle's, most of them are a harmless bunch of English eccentrics. (I've no idea what they were like in J.B. Priestley's source-novel.)

Other changes abound. In the first film, a group of American travelers end up taking shelter from the elements at the Femm house. In the second film, there's just one American, Tom Penderel (played by Tom Poston in the second of two leading-man films he made with Castle in the early 1960s). Tom, rather than being a traveler, has been based in England for some time as a car salesman for an American company, and he's been rooming with an Englishman named Casper Femm. For reasons that are never entirely clear, Casper stage-manages things so that Tom ends up delivering a newly-purchased automobile to Femm House, little aware as what he's getting into.

Throughout his career Castle showed a penchant for gimmicky plots revolving around assassination, and so does this old HOUSE. Tom learns that the eccentric Femms are forced to live together by a bequest from their piratical ancestor, who predicted that they would have to stay together until the house was destroyed. In the 1932 film the house simply gets burned down. Since Femm House is built in a marshy area, one might wonder if Castle thought about giving the viewer some HOUSE OF USHER-like denouement. However,the prophecy turns out to be a no-show.

Tom unhappily discovers that in the time it took him to drive to Dartmoor, Casper Femm has been murdered and is lying in state in the mansion. Tom reluctantly agrees to stay the night, and the list of eccentricities is quickly reeled out: the eldest female in the family does a lot of knitting, another member thinks that the near-constant rain means that another Noah-level flood is on the way (he even builds an ark for the occasion), and Casper seems to come back to life-- except it's actually his twin brother, Jasper. The 1932 film had a ferocious, unspeaking butler named Morgan, but this time, Morgan's one of the family. He still doesn't speak (much) in this film, but he's constantly seeking to do Tom an injury for coming anywhere near his daughter Morgana. Morgana is one of two sexy young women-- the other, name of Cecilia-- whose charms encourage Tom to stick around. One of the Femms theorizes that Tom himself may be distantly related to the family based on a physical resemblance, and this is as close as one gets to an explanation for Casper's bringing Tom to this haunted house.

However, Tom soon learns that there are perils in being a Femm. His appearance for some reason sets off a killer within the brood; a killer who repeatedly knocks off other members of the family in order to clear the way to the inheritance. Nothing is said about why the killer waited until Tom's arrival to commit all these dirty deeds, or how the killer hoped to maintain the illusion of innocence once all the other inheritors were dead.  Tom, in typical American-slapstick style, is forced into the position of ferreting out and defeating the mystery murderer.

Though HOUSE isn't any sort of comic masterpiece, I found it blandly amusing on a recent re-watch. Perhaps once I abandoned any notion that the film was trying to be scary, or even creepy, the comedy was easier to take on its own silly terms. Poston is no Jerry Lewis, but he handles the slapstick reasonably well, and HOUSE is certainly better than the Castle-Dillon comedy-film released earlier the same year: 13 FRIGHTENED GIRLS.  About a year later Dillon scored much better with two beach-comedies for William Asher, but even in HOUSE one can see some of the forced antic-ness that dominated the Asher comedies. At one point, Tom gazes at a seal, one of the critters owned by the guy making his own ark-- and for some reason, Tom imagines the face of seductive Morgana superimposed on the head of the seal. I think the weirdness of that association beats out all of the fictional eccentricities of this particular Femm family.


Friday, October 9, 2015

HANNIBAL: SEASON 2 (2014)



I've just run through the Season 2 DVD of HANNIBAL. As with my review of the previous set, I'm not going into a lot of fine detail here, since only a detailed survey of all three seasons could do any justice to the series as it stands now.  Some details, however--

As I've not read the Harris novels I'm not sure how much of the characters' dialogue stems from the original creator of "Hannibal the Cannibal." Harris may or may not evoke the pronouncements of the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, but I assume at the very least the author framed his monstrous creation with a complete disbelief in God or any values attached to religion, even as did Nietzsche. I caught one direct reference to the German philosopher in Season 2's eighth episode, where Hannibal, at the time consulting for the FBI, draws a comparison to how prey-animals are made stronger by the predator's pursuits, calling a school of fish "Nietzschean" in that respect. Presumably this was a reference to the philosopher's aphorism, "That which does not kill us, makes us stronger." As Nietzsche references go, this one was just average, but I found myself much more impressed by a line Haniibal utters to Will Graham, the FBI consultant who's seeking to find proof of the psychiatrist's serial-killing habits:

“You’ve been applying yourself to my perspective, as I’ve been applying myself to yours.”

While the "that which does not kill us" line has become so widely circulated as to almost become banal, Nietzsche's doctrine of "perspectivism:" that all human ideas are formed from particular perspectives, so that none of them is particularly valid except from said perspective. Hannibal doesn't just disbelieve in God; he disbelieves in any values save the ones he happens to hold. For instance, after being exposed to the "rudeness" of the character Mason Verger, who is paying Hannibal to give his sister therapy, Hannibal determines that Verger deserves to be eaten for this reason:

“Whenever feasible one should always try to eat the rude."

On another front, the writing of HANNIBAL remains as spare and disciplined as the work of Nietzsche himself in his mature, post-ZARATHUSTRA phase. Whenever such topics as "God" or 'good and evil" come up, Hannibal blithely disproves them as examples of poorly reasoned logic, just as Nietzsche insisted on the necessity of the "ubermensch" transforming himself to a state "beyond good and evil." Will Graham and his various allies are sometimes able to match Hannibal "pith for pith," so to speak, but they're never able to refute his sociopathic obsessions.

I'll add that this season, in addition to further deepening the main character's appealing madness, the scripters remain just as devoted to devising weird serial murders to be performed by either Hannibal or one of the other psychos who seem to be flocking to Minnesota. I'm particularly fascinated by the "bizarre crime" with which the second season opens: a killer's mural made of dead bodies, and arranged in a mandala-shape in emulation of similar designs in, of all things, Busby Berkeley films.

I can't help but draw a quick comparison to the teleseries LOST. Philosophical questions not infrequently arose on that series as well-- yet, partly because the series was so overloaded with characters and plot-threads, it failed to deliver a satisfying resolution in its final season. HANNIBAL is more narrow of focus, but arguably it achieves more by virtue of keeping to a more limited "perspective."


Thursday, October 1, 2015

SLEEPY HOLLOW (1999)



PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
MYTHICITY: *fair*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTIONS: *psychological, metaphysical*

Given that I was a baby boomer, "my" Headless Horseman was inevitably the Disney version. I'm pretty sure that I'd read the Washington Irving short story in school, but it was just OK. Disney's version was THE LEGEND OF SLEEPY HOLLOW, one of two long cartoons created for the 1949 feature THE ADVENTURES OF ICHABOD AND MISTER TOAD. I don't doubt that I saw Disney's version of SLEEPY HOLLOW on the "Wonderful World of Disney" teleseries, and the Horseman remains one of the scariest things the company ever brought to life, what with its demonic-looking horse, ghastly laugh and murderous sword. The cartoon, like the original story, ends in an ambiguous manner, and I've seen an argument online for the possibility that the Horseman was a true ghost.  That said, I've always tended to regard the Horseman in both media to be a put-up job arranged to scare away schoolteacher Ichabod Crane. Thus, even though I once asserted that I thought the Horseman was the star of the story, even though I deemed him an illusion, a part of me always wished that the Horseman-- perhaps the first original boogieman produced in American prose fiction-- could take on a definitively real presence.

And in 1999, Tim Burton and his writers delivered just such a "real boogieman" in 1999's SLEEPY HOLLOW.

Burton seemed tailor-made for such an assignment, having rocketed to success in the world of high-profile Hollywood projects with his version of Batman and original film-characters Beetlejuice and Edward Scissorhands. Arguably he also introduced the real-life figure of Ed Wood to audiences that would never have heard of the "so bad he's good" director.

1999's SLEEPY HOLLOW is just as well mounted as any of the "big pictures" Burton had previously directed. But since the original story doesn't allow for a bonafide supernatural menace, Crane becomes a New York constable sent to investigate a series of decapitation murders in the small Dutch town of Sleepy Hollow. The date of the original story, 1790, is moved down nine years so that the film's story can take place in a millennial year, just like the release-date of the film. This Crane, instead of being jittery and superstitious, is a resourceful believer in modern science and forensic methods. Like many Burton characters, Crane has a past clouded by parental issues: his mother was falsely accused of being a witch, and his own father, apparently a priest, surrendered her to be executed.  Given that horrific background, Crane does not want to believe that the supernatural is anything but delusion and hoaxes.

He meets the assorted quirky denizens of Sleepy Hollow, and forms an attachment to young heiress Katrina Von Tassel, despite some competition from local bully-boy Brom Bones. And he also encounters the Horseman, witnessing how the headless rider easily chops off the heads of its victims while resisting assaults by sword and gun. In a second encounter both Crane and Brom Bones attempt to fight the Horseman, and the battle ends with Brom's death, efficiently signaling to the audience that this story departs in other ways from the Irving tale.

Still, Crane continues to believe in the validity of deductive logic, as he realizes that the murderous ghost can have no good motive for targeting the citizens he slays-- and that, therefore, the creature must be the pawn of a mortal summoner. Crane doesn't exactly pin down the right suspect at the first crack-- indeed, Burton allows for Crane to take a few pratfalls, keeping him a reasonably human hero. But in the end, the reality of the supernatural does not invalidate the applicability of logic to the matter of human motives.

There's a great deal of high-octane action throughout the film, though it allows for fair amounts of quirky humor and touching romantic moments. The psychological issues are not deep, and it may be that the only reason for Crane's backstory re: the witch-persecutions was to serve as a red herring; to make the reader anticipate a culprit who would reflect the hero's daddy issues. But overall SLEEPY HOLLOW does not disappoint in any major way.

That said, it's still not the "real boogieman" film I hoped for, and it's because the Horseman has no agenda of his own, as all the best monsters do. He's a catspaw here, and that's not necessarily all that much better than being an illusion: in both cases there's some puppet-master pulling the strings.
Further, the film is much more focused on the hero than the monster, which is one reason I deem it "adventure" rather than a horrific drama, just as I did with Steven Sommers' Mummy trilogy.

More disappointingly, SLEEPY HOLLOW proved much less ambitious and heartfelt than Burton's previous directorial efforts. However, given that the next film he did was the critically panned PLANET OF THE APES, this adventure of Ichabod Crane is a classic by comparison.