Saturday, October 31, 2015

NIGHT OF THE HEADLESS HORSEMAN

Well it's Halloween, and this year I'm going to review a rare nostalgic Halloween special that I recently uncovered to see if it holds-up. However, before I start talking about the special that I just found, I think it would be best to give you a short little history of a time when the classic Halloween story "The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow" made a huge come back to film and TV, which was a small craze at the time that I got completely sucked into.

 Image result for Tim Burton holding a head

In the year 1999 there seem to be a bit of a major hype for the release of Tim Burton's adaptation of "The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow", which was a film that I really wanted to see when I was a kid since Burton's films and the story itself were two of the things that I really loved as a kid (And still do now). However, I was sadly only 6 years old at the time and too young to watch an R rated take on one of my favorite stories being created by a director who I really admired. While I hardly witnessed how hyped the older crowd of people were about this movie, I did notice that the story was making a huge come back to film and TV. There was a live action re-telling of the story done by "Halmark"; a computer animated adaptation created for "Fox Kids"; and the classic Disney animated double-feature movie that had the classic Disney take on the story which was "The Adventures Of Ichabod And Mr.Toad" got re-released to VHS and sadly became the last Disney film to be part of the "Walt Disney Masterpiece Collection". With two made for TV films based on this classic ghost story and a re-release of arguably the best film adaptation of the story, it became clear that other studios wanted to cash-in on the hype surrounding Tim Burton's "Sleepy Hollow". When the Tim Burton film and the TV film adaptations were finally released to video, feeling bad that I was too young to watch a film that I really wanted to see (Despite that my Dad and Uncle let me watch a few clips from the film that were against my Mother's wishes) my parents were nice enough to buy me both TV adaptations of the story. Out of the two made for TV movies of "The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow" that came out at the time, the one that I really enjoyed as a kid and found to be the perfect substitute over the Burton film was the computer animated movie for "Fox Kids"...

Image result for Night of the headless horseman

While I still considered the Disney adaptation to be my favorite film version of the story as a kid; "Night Of The Headless Horseman" was the one that I thought was the darkest, scariest, and most mature adaptation of the story that was considered to be age appropriate, and up-until I saw Tim Burton's take on the story from beginning to end, this would be the dark and graphic take on the story that I was allowed to see. However, after seeing the Tim Burton version many years later and not seeing the CG animated version of the story ever again up until now, does it still hold up; ON WITH THE REVIEW!

Now for the very few of you out there who don't know the story, or have only seen the Burton film thinking that it's the traditional story when it’s actually miles away from it, I'll be nice and give you a quick summary of the story. Sleepy Hollow's odd looking new School master Ichabod Crane falls in love with the beautiful rich farm girl Katrina Van Tassel who seeks to marry her. However, another suitor for Katrina named Brom Bones stands in Ichabod's way and plans to do whatever he can to keep Ichabod away from her. After a party held at Katrina's house on Halloween, Ichabod rides home in the dark hollow to soon find himself encountering the infamous "Sleepy Hollow" ghost The Headless Horseman.

I'm just going to start with the number one thing that doesn't hold-up that well and will indeed leave dozens of audiences mixed about the film, which is a huge problem with the film and that sadly is the CG animation. Ok let me start off by saying that this isn't one of the worst pieces of CG animation of all time. I mean granted if this film was made for the cinemas at the time it came out, it would definitely be considered to be bad since we've seen better computer animated films in the past compared to this film. Plus if it were made today for TV or film, it would actually be considered to be as bad as the CG animation for "Foodfight!". However, since this film is made for TV at a time when CG cartoons for TV wouldn't be as perfected as some of the CG cartoons that we have today, it does look decent. The dark atmosphere for "Sleepy Hollow" looks foreboding with the graveyards, woods, and fog surrounding it; the design for the Headless Horseman and Ichabod look pretty cool; and the movement for the characters and their motion captured facial expressions while not incredible, is still passable. With that said though, it's still pretty clumsy and looks very computerized instead of looking realistic. As much as I like the atmosphere, it still doesn't change the fact that the majority of "Sleepy Hollow" looks like graphics you'd see for a computer game made around that era. While the movement for the characters isn't as horrible and lifeless as the movement for the computer animated film "Foodfight!", there are still a good amount of occasions where the movements and expressions look lifeless, unnatural, questionable, stiff, and even at times unintentionally scary. Even the way the characters are animated look very computerized and video game like, instead of realistic. Some of their designs are also just as questionable as some of their movements as well. For example, after Ichabod dismisses the kids from his lecture as he's being pranked by Brom Bones, one of the kids that's leaving the school has an old prune like face with bushy white hair. Is that supposed to be a kid, or a perverted little old man? My final problem with the animation is the many times when the film re-uses its own footage. While the film's re-use of its own footage doesn't consume the film as much as how some of the Godzilla films I reviewed that re-uses both its own footage and stock-footage from previous Godzilla films did; its still done a good amount of times where it does become painfully obvious and lazy. Once again, I don't think this is one of the worst pieces of computer animation I've ever seen since it does look pretty neat and cool at times, but on the whole it is very clunky and will leave a good amount of viewers distracted by how computer generated and video game like it looks.

Aside from the animation, I think everything else for the most part is handled really well. Whether you find the animation for the characters good, bad, or passable, for me what really does give these characters life is the voice acting because in all honesty it’s incredible. The film is narrated by Clancy Brown who plays a mysterious man wearing a dark hood as he tells the story to a young Washington Irving (The author of the legend) and he does a perfect job at narrating the story. That dark deep monotone voice that he has as he narrates the story is so chilling and unsettling that it sets the mood and tone for the film perfectly. Don't get me wrong, I do prefer Bing Crosby's narration any-day along with his singing which is one of the many things that make the Disney cartoon of the story so rich, but Brown's narration really does indeed bring that dark and foreboding feel that sucks you into the story and its atmosphere. Brown also voices the Horseman both dead and alive, and he too does just as great of a job as he did with narrating story. When he voices the Horseman when he was alive, despite his phony over the top German accent, he does bring out the madness of the Horseman's joy of killing which is both fun and sadistic to listen too. When he voices the Horseman as a ghost, despite having very few lines of dialogue; having no German accent (Which I think is for the better); and mostly just laughing the whole time, he puts so much class, energy, and intimidation to whenever the Horseman speaks that it's terrifying. As for the evil laugh that Brown provides for the Horseman, just like his narration, it too helps give the special its horrifying atmosphere that sucks you in. I have to say, not only is the casting of Clancy Brown of the Headless Horseman great, but it also seems fitting since most of us (Aside from him voicing Mr. Krabs on "Spongebob") know him best as the Kurgan in "The Highlander" who's lived for thousands of years and enjoys killing people and cutting people's heads off, who (SPOILER ALERT) gets his head off in the end. Some who've seen "The Highlander" may see this casting choice as a distraction, but for me personally, it doesn't bother me at all. I think he was the perfect choice to play the Headless Horseman.

Voicing our lead Protagonist Ichabod Crane is Oscar nominated actor William H. Macy and he too is the perfect casting choice for Ichabod. He really does sell out the characteristic that we're all familiar with about Ichabod flawlessly from the daring and well educated charming personality who seeks beauty and fortune; to the clumsy and paranoid superstitious weakling that he is. You can almost say that he was born to play (Or voice) Ichabod. Tia Carrere as Ichabod and Brom's love interest Katrina surprisingly does just as great of a job as Macy and Brown. When I recently found out that the actress who played Cassandra in "Wayne's World" and the older Sister Nani in Disney's "Lilo & Stitch" is the same actress voicing Katrina, I was actually surprised because I never at all picked up on her Asian accent like I did in the previous films that I've seen her in. She actually does sound like a woman from the period that the film is taking place in, and on top of it, plays the character just as flawlessly as Macy and Brown does with voicing their characters. She just hits that classy, aggressive, and sassy personality right on the nail, while still making her likable, and the chemistry that she has with Ichabod and Brom is just as fun and interesting as you would expect it to be.Without counting Clancy Brown's performance, my favorite performance in the film has to be Luke Perry as Brom Bones. Every time I hear his voice acting, I can honestly feel everything that his character is feeling. I'm not saying I don't feel what the other characters are feeling as well; it's just that Perry's performance really strikes a cord with me whenever I hear his performance because of how determined he makes his character sound with getting Ichabod out of the picture. You can really feel his jealously and hatred towards Ichabod, and is his love and sorrow for Katrina. My favorite scenes that I think Perry really sells is when Brom's in the Hollow wishing for the spirits of "Sleepy Hollow" to get rid of Ichabod Crane; and the scene when Brom tells his tale about his encounter with the Horseman. He just really owns these two scenes with the amount of energy and passion that he puts into it, which is actually pretty haunting. Outside of the Horseman and our three leading characters, the rest of the supporting characters like Katrina's Father and Brom's comical dimwitted friend are just as memorable and well acted as our main characters. However, I think the best supporting character in the film has to be Mark Hamill as the Farmer that tells Ichabod  the origin stories of the ghosts that haunt "Sleepy Hollow" including the Headless Horseman's origin, and just like how Brown narrates the film, Hamill too does just as an effecting job that adds to the film's atmosphere.

In terms of following the story while adding something new to it, this film does a solid job at doing so. As we watch this CG recreation of the traditional story that we know and love with great casting and voice acting, the film does add a few new things that are both creative and scary. I've already mentioned the old farmer telling the origin stories for some the ghosts that haunt "Sleepy Hollow"; the fact that we see the Horseman alive before he became Headless; and that the film's narrator is a mysterious hooded figure that's telling Washington Irving the legend, which should be enough. But the film expands with adding new things to the story by giving us a nightmare sequence of corpses from the battle that the Horseman fought in that come after Ichabod in a graveyard; the Horseman having ghostly minions on his side to try to slow Ichabod down; Ichabod seeing some paranormal activity going on in the Hollow before his encounter with the Horseman; the Horseman chasing after a villager; and the Horseman himself actually being real, instead of being left ambiguous if it was Brom in disguise or the actual Horseman that was chasing after Ichabod. Despite this Special pre-dating the Burton film by a Month, I wouldn't be at all surprised if the people behind this movie read up on what Burton was doing with his film and maybe got a hold of a few clips from the movie before it was released and used some of Burton's choices for their film because some of these added choices to this CG TV adaptation of this classic ghost story do look and sound very similar to the choices that Burton was making in his film. I mean does having one of the characters making a deal with the Horseman to get rid of someone, or showing the Horseman's back-story of when he was alive as a Hessian who enjoys killing sound familiar to any of you at all? The Horseman even goes off and kills an innocent man in the film's opening scene much like how the horseman kills innocent victims in the Burton film. Speaking of an innocent victim getting killed by the horseman; that whole opening scene, along with a few other scenes does lead to another major problem that people may also have with the film which is for how gruesome it can get at times. I mean seriously for a Family friendly animated adaptation to a classic ghost tale to keep kids away from the Burton film, we don't only see some really scary imagery, but we see helpless wounded soldiers begging for their lives to only be mercilessly killed by a sadistic soldier; the opening scene with an innocent villager getting killed by the Headless Horseman, as we see blood leak out of his arm; and witness the Horseman losing his head with a bloody vertebrae sticking out of the Horseman's separate head. This is supposed to be a Family film right?! I mean granted I personally do think it’s cool (Especially when I was a kid who was forbidden to see the gruesome imagery that the Burton film had), but for a film that kids are allowed to see, this is way too graphic in the standards of Family entertainment. I can also sadly see some die-hard fans of the story hating the fact that the Horseman is revealed to be real in the course of the story, much like how they can get pissed off by the fact that some adaptations reveal that Brom was the one that scared off Ichabod. Sure the Burton film did that too, but let’s be honest, it wasn't at all trying to be faithful to the source material unlike this film.

Still I must admit, as gruesome as some of the imagery is; some of the scenes and ideas looking like they were taken from the Burton film; and the fact that this version takes the liberty of making the Horseman real instead of a mystery; aside from how gruesome this "Family" adaptation gets, I still think its all done well. The film knows how much to stay truthful to the source material, and when to add in new stuff and take liberties that are both scary and creative, and while I'm sure that the people behind this film somehow took some ideas from Burton (I really doubt that this was all coincidental) I do think they did a good enough job with making these ideas their own. The origins story of the Horseman, as similar as the sequence and idea is, is still a really good accurate telling of the Horseman when he was alive, and how I would picture the story to play out. The idea of the Horseman being a real ghost that Brom made a deal with instead of it being left as an ambiguous mystery may once again turn off die-hard fans of the story, especially when considering the fact that the mystery element of the story is what makes the story so interesting, along with the idea itself being a little similar to the plot twist of a character using the Horseman to kill people in the Burton film; is still an awesome and creative concept that blends both of the mysterious aspects from the legend together where the twist itself leads into another cool twist.

The last thing I want to talk about before summing up my final thoughts on the film is the music score. For a made for TV animated film the music here sounds so great that much like the narration from Brown, it really sucks you into the film's atmosphere, along with the sound effects that are heard in the background as the music plays. Just hearing this epic and yet horrifying music with that powerful choir as we hear background noises like a Wolf howling, the eerie wind, thunder and lightning, and the Horseman's evil laugh, are all what help create a dark and foreboding atmosphere along with the scary visuals (That is, if you can overlook how computerized it looks). The music of course isn't always dark, there a few scenes where it sounds nice and pleasant, and the best piece of music in the film that isn't played out for scares is the music that's played at Katrina's party. Whenever I hear the violin solo that plays as we enter the party, to hearing the orchestra play as Ichabod and Katrina dance together (Which is actually a well animated sequence) really puts me at ease and makes me feel happy before we reach towards our grim and thrilling climax with Ichabod’s encounter with the Horseman.

After all these years of not seeing this film and finally having the chance to dig-up this movie up to see how it holds up, it for the most part does. There are some things in it that may leave audiences mixed, especially with the film's CG animation playing a big part in that; as well as the film at times getting a little too dark and gruesome for younger audiences, but on the whole it actually is a really good adaptation to this classic ghost story. The voice acting and casting is great; the music is haunting; the balance of staying true to the source material, while also taking creative liberties is balanced out well; the new things that the film adds to the story are creative and cool, despite how similar that some of the choices are to the Burton film; and the CG animation does at times look nice if not great. Sadly the only way to get this film is on VHS which isn't easy to find, nor do I think the majority of you who are reading this review even still have a VCR, which is a real shame because I do feel like this underrated and obscure adaptation to this classic Halloween story should get some kind of DVD or Blu-Ray release and a little more recognition. Still as much as I praise this CG animated adaptation, there are indeed better film adaptations of the story that do outrank this version. If you want to see the classic story being animated and for the most part staying truthful to the source material while being fun and scary, the Disney one is the best one to see since the CG animation here isn't all that great. If you want to see a version of the story that's full of blood, guts, and violent and intense scenes with the Horseman actually being real, Tim Burton's version is the perfect choice for you, since this film offers little violence. However, if you want to see a version that mashes these two versions together that don't truly reach the same level of greatness that you would get from the other films, but still makes for a very good combination that's as fun, creative, entertaining, and scary as the other versions while also diving into more of the supernatural world of "Sleepy Hollow", then this is the perfect version for you to see!

RATING 3/5

HAPPY HALLOWEEN EVERYONE!

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