In 1799, New York City police constable Ichabod Crane (Johnny Depp) is dispatched to the Dutch hamlet of Sleepy Hollow, which has been plagued by a series of brutal decapitations: Peter (Martin Landau) and Dirk Van Garrett (Robert Siella), a wealthy father and son, and a widow, Emily Kinship. He is received by the insular town elders: wealthy businessman Baltus Van Tassel (Micahel Gambon), town doctor Thomas Lancaster (Ian McDiarmid), the Reverend Steenwyck (), notary James Hardenbrook (Micahel Gough) and magistrate Samuel Philipse (Richard Griffiths). Baltus tells Ichabod that locals are sure who the killer is: the undead apparition of a headless Hessian mercenary from the American Revolutionary War who rides a black steed in search of his missing head.
Skeptical of the paranormal story, Ichabod begins his investigation. He boards at the home of Baltus Van Tassel and his second wife, Lady Van Tassel (Miranda Richardson), and is taken with Baltus’ spiritual daughter, Katrina (Christina Ricci). When a fourth victim, Jonathan Masbate (Mark Spalding), is killed, his son, Young Masbate (Marc Pickering) , pledges himself to serve Ichabod. Ichabod and Masbath exhume the victims on a tip from Philipse and discover that the widow died pregnant. Soon after, Ichabod witnesses the Horseman killing Philipse. He then ventures into the Western Woods with Young Masbath and finds a crone (Cassandra Farndale) living in a cave, who reveals the location of the Horseman’s grave at the “Tree of the Dead”. Ichabod digs up the Horseman’s grave and sees that the skull has been taken. He deduces that it was stolen by someone who now controls the Horseman and that the tree is his portal into the living world.
That night, the Horseman kills village midwife Beth Killian and her family. As it leaves, it ignores Katrina’s suitor Brom but kills him when Brom attacks it. Ichabod notes that the Horseman murders only specific victims and hypothesizes that those he kills are linked by a conspiracy. He and Masbath visit Hardenbrook, who reveals that the first victim, Peter Van Garrett, had secretly married the widow and written a new will that left his estate to her and her unborn child. Ichabod deduces that all subsequent victims except Brom are either beneficiaries or witnesses to this new will, and decides that the Horseman’s master must be Baltus. As a Van Garrett relative, Baltus would have inherited the estate under the previous will.
Upon discovering the accusation, Katrina burns the evidence. Hardenbrook commits suicide, and Steenwyck convenes a town meeting to discredit Ichabod. Baltus bursts into the assembly at the church, announcing that the Horseman has killed his wife. The Horseman attacks the church, but is unable to enter. In the chaos, the remaining elders turn on and attack each other. Steenwyck and Lancaster are killed, and the Horseman harpoons Baltus through a window, dragging him out of the church before taking his head. Katrina faints and the villagers see a large diagram she drew on the church floor. Ichabod had earlier found the same diagram under his bed at the Van Tassel house.
Ichabod decides that it must be Katrina who controls the Horseman. He then discovers that her diagram is one of protection, and not for summoning the Horseman as he imagined. He also concludes that a wound on “Lady Van Tassel’s” body was made post-mortem. Meanwhile, Lady Van Tassel, alive and well, reveals herself to Katrina; the body assumed to be hers was in fact that of Sarah, a maidservant she had murdered and dressed in her clothes. Lady Van Tassel abducts Katrina and explains her true heritage: from an impoverished family, evicted years ago by Van Garrett when he favored Baltus and Katrina instead. She swore revenge against Van Garrett and all who had wronged her. When she later witnessed the Horseman’s death and burial, she pledged her soul to Satan if he would raise the Horseman to murder those obstructing an uncontested claim to the Van Garrett and Van Tassel estates. Manipulating her way into the Van Tassel household, she used fear, blackmail, and lust to draw the other elders into her plot. Having eliminated all other heirs and witnesses and her sister, the crone who aided Ichabod, she summons the Horseman to finish Katrina.
Ichabod and Masbath rush to the windmill as the Horseman arrives. After an escape that destroys the windmill and a chase to the Tree of the Dead, Ichabod retrieves the Horseman’s skull from Lady Van Tassel and returns it to him. This restores the Horseman, breaking the curse and setting him free from Lady Van Tassel’s control. The Horseman spares Katrina and takes Lady Van Tassel back to Hell with him to fulfil her end of her deal. Ichabod returns to New York with Katrina and Young Masbath as the new century begins.
I don’t remember when I first saw this movie but I want to say it was around the same time I first saw Edward Scissorhand. I love Johnny Depp’s work. He is just a multi genre brilliant actor. He really makes his characters come to life and relatable. Don’t get me wrong, there are many talented actors out there but something about Depp’s characters. Its almost like a custom fit. Any who, I also forget Christina Ricci is in this filmy as well, best known for her role as Wednesday Addams. I think this film was so well made with reflecting back in time. I really want to go to Sleepy Hallow during Halloween, I doubt I will this year, but it would be awesome. I also want to do a ghost hunting session there. Anyway, despite the spookiness of the headless horseman, it is also a romantic movie. It is great for kids 6 and up. It really isn’t that scary either. Anyway I love this scene because it actually explains how animation began with illusions.