Today’s Prayer Focus

Sleepy Hollow

also known as “La leyenda del jinete sin cabeza,” “A Lenda do Cavaleiro Sem Cabeça”
MPA Rating: R-Rating (MPA) for graphic horror violence and gore, and for a scene of sexuality.

Reviewed by: Maggi

Very Offensive
Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Adults Teens
Horror Mystery Romance Adaptation
1 hr. 45 min.
Year of Release:
USA Release:
November 19, 1999 (wide)
Copyright, Paramount Pictures click photos to ENLARGE
Relevant Issues
Copyright, Paramount Pictures

FILM VIOLENCE—How does viewing violence in movies affect families? Answer

horses and horsemen







loss of father

ghosts in the Bible


final judgment

witches in the Bible


enchantments / spells

What is the Occult? Answer

THE OCCULT—What does the Bible say about it? Answer


arachnophobia / insectophobia

portal to hell

Featuring Johnny DeppIchabod Crane
Christina RicciKatrina Van Tassel
Miranda Richardson … Lady Van Tassel/Crone
Michael GambonBaltus Van Tassel
Christopher WalkenHessian Horseman
Christopher LeeBurgomaster
Casper Van DienBrom Van Brunt
Jeffrey Jones … Reverend Steenwyck
Richard Griffiths … Magistrate Philipse
See all »
Director Tim Burton
Producer Paramount Pictures
Mandalay Pictures
See all »
Distributor Paramount Pictures

“Who will it come for next?!”

I was a bit leery at first when going to see “Sleepy Hollow”. Many questions came to mind, considering that the film is not the same as the Washington Irving story and it does have an “R” rating. I wondered, “has this been turned into another graphic horror movie?—Has Hollywood once again taken a classic and turned it into a piece of trash?—Is it just going to be lots of gore and violence?” After all, Hollywood seems more interested in making a buck then in telling a compelling story. I found my fears were unfounded. “Sleepy Hollow” is an interesting and fun story, though quirky at times.

Graveyard Scene from Sleepy Hollow
Unlike the animated version, the character of Ichabod Crane (Johnny Depp) is a New York City constable, dispatched to the upstate village of Sleepy Hollow to investigate a string of murders where all the victims have been beheaded. When he arrives in Sleepy Hollow, Crane hears the story of a Revolutionary War mercenary who beheaded American soldiers, until he himself was beheaded. Now, the locals of the town believe that the horseman rides through the night, cutting off people’s heads to replace his own.

This film does have its moments of gore. The trailer/commercial states, “heads will roll,” and roll they do. In fact, most of the gory scenes are when the headless horseman is chopping the heads off of his victims. These scenes can be pretty gruesome and bloody at times. Another part of the film that some Christians may object to are scenes of witchcraft and spells, as well as the pastor of the local church being an adulterer. One sex scene is also included, though it may be considered mild by today’s “R” rating standards (an aerial view of a couple enganged in sex, including movement). There is also a scene in which Crane tells of his Bible-thumping father killing his mother and then using the Bible as an excuse for the murder. Crane then states “I was 7 when I lost my faith.”

However, the church is shown as a refuge in which one can be safe from the feared horseman. I personally was not offended at any of these scenes because I believe that it added to the story. It was also refreshing to sit through an entire movie and not hear any obscenities, especially the “f” word or God’s name being used in vain.

Tim Burton is an oddball when it comes to making movies. they’re quirky and silly, but they’re also serious when they need to be. And that’s what “Sleepy Hollow” is. It has its moments of silliness, and its moments of seriousness, and Johnny Depp is the perfect actor to play the main character. I was never much of a Depp fan, but seeing that he’s also a bit of an oddball, it was as if he didn’t even need to act when playing the role of the quirky and strange Ichabod Crane. To my surprise, this film exceeded my expectations. It is not for the weak of stomach, however, nor those who are easily offended.

See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.

Viewer CommentsSend your comments
pleasantly surprised… I walked into the theater preparing for an hour and a half of blood and gore. However, much to my surprise the movie was somewhat tame (compared to todays standards). I certainly see the “R” rating, but to see a movie with no language or nudity is a welcome relief. As for the witchcraft… this movie is set in early America where witchcraft was real and practiced. I believe the story was totally factual and didn’t “glamorize” witchcraft at all… My Ratings: [3/5]
Tommy Kilpatrick, age 18
violence is largely comic; witchcraft is more of a parody… One of the best ghost story-to-cinema translations I have ever had the pleasure of seeing, “Sleepy Hollow” generates the perfect mood for just such a scary tale. More eerie and uncanny than terrifying, horrifying, or thrilling, Tim Burton’s latest step to the fore delivers that which is missing from so many modern spook stories: numinous (that indefinable fear of the unknown). Burton, that master of atmosphere adds enough twists to the old “Legend” to keep a taut audience. “Sleepy Hollow” is of course Rated-R and so, unsuitable for children, but most of its points of difficulty should be acceptable for many adults. The violence, while gory (how can decapatations be anything but?), is largely comic and exagerrated. The witchcraft is more of a parody of witchery (of the “Bubble, bubble, toil, and trouble” brand—eye of newt, feet of crow, and all that…) than a reflection of the real thing. And the sex scene is so brief and inconsequential that I had to read the above review to remember that it was even there. My Ratings: [3/4]
Seth T. Hahne, age 26
beautifully filmed, but disturbing… It’s kind of a weird joy to see any Tim Burton film. They each create their own little world, from “Gotham City” to the highly stylized suburbs of “Edward Scissorhands.” And you can tell that Burton is in love with all the worlds he creates. This love really shows in “Sleepy Hollow.” Every frame pretty much screams of Burton’s bizarre sensibilities. Although I’m really not a fan of horror films, I really enjoyed this one; it is sumptuous and beautifully filmed, with great stylized dialogue and acting. The violence, although pretty gruesome, isn’t very horrific; it’s too tongue-in-cheek to be really offensive. I was pretty disturbed by all the occultic references, however. And the story left a little to be desired. Overall, not much I can recommend from a Christian standpoint. However, it still is a very enjoyable film about (to quote Burton) “A man who lives in his head versus a man without a head.” My Ratings: [1½/4½]
Jason Murphy, age 20
Positive—This dark adaptation of The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving is expertly written by Kevin Yagher, and Andrew Kevin Walker, and masterfully directed by Tim Burton. Be warned, it is not kid-friendly, like the Disney version narrated by Basil Rathbone. However, the performances here are excellent, from Johnny Depp to the Headless Horseman himself (who I shall not name, to preserve the surprise). The cinematography, musical score, writing, directing, and everything else are first-rate. There is a sound effect, and a few lines in the theatrical trailer that are not in the film itself, nor are there any deleted scenes on the Blu-Ray or DVD, which is a minor point in this review, but I thought I should make a note of it.

Biblically speaking, there is plenty of violence, most of it graphic but overly stylized, as is expected with Burton’s films. It’s no spoiler to say that decapitations are not clean, family-friendly affairs. Refreshingly, there is no profanity apart from one use of Damn; there are several references to Hell, but always appropriately, and no blasphemy whatsoever. See all »
My Ratings: Moral rating: Average / Moviemaking quality: 5
D, age 32 (USA)
I thought this film was visually striking, and enjoyed the unfortunately gory storytelling. However, it would have been more enjoyable with a lot less blood in view! The beheadings were, of course, to be expected, but, they were enough in themselves without excess explicit bloodletting. It could have easily been edited down to a PG-13 rating, and been even better. I have been a fan of Tim Burton’s quirky films for years, but since I have gotten more attuned to the Holy Spirit, I am more discerning about my movie-going. I would recommend this film, but with reservations. I definitely would not let children view it, even in edited form, however. My Ratings: [2/4]
Cynthia Matranga, age 47
This is not the best Tim Burton film. This was an okay movie, but I think that it could have been done better. The Disney version was more accurate. (I never thought I’d say that!) In my opinion, “Mars Attacks” is the best Tim Burton movie. The blood and gore aren’t excessive, but the constant cleavage shots are pointless. My Ratings: [1½/2]
Josh Johnson, age 19
“a little too gorey”… I thought it was very good but a little to gorey for my taste. I like this version more than I like the original. I thought that they did a good job making this movie and I might see it again. My Ratings: [3½/4½]
Michelle, age 18
overdid it on the witchcraft… I have never read the book by Washington Irwing but maybe Hollywood overdid on the witchcraft and denouncing of the Bible (which they often and usually do). Johnny Depp did a very somewhat quirky act and Christina Ricci was brilliant in hers but she has come a long way from her angelic role in “Mermaids” with Cher and Wynona Ryder. “Sleepy Hollow” was fun to watch but would not be recommend for children or the weak of heart. My Ratings: [2½/3]
Mang Yang, age 27
witchcraft was disturbing… I liked this film well enough, and I pretty much agreed with the reviewer’s take. Most of the head-chopping was more cartoonish than anything, and the one sexual encounter was brief and pretty mild by today’s Hollywood standards. Still, the depictions of witchcraft were disturbing to me as a Christian. Essentially, a book of spells replaces the bible as the stereotypical protection against evil for the main protagonist. Teenagers—such as my own—will want to see this, however, its “R” rating is well-deserved and parents should exercise caution. My Ratings: [2½/4]
Richard Schmitz, age 43
“did not leave the theater disgusted”Christopher Walken, who has spiked his jet black hair and filed his teeth, [is] very fun to watch [as he] roars as he brandished his sword! It has a lot of occult scenes, but I did not leave the theatre disgusted, as with so many other recent movies (ex. “Stigmata”). I definitely would not take children to it, though. My Ratings: [3/3½]
Kim Brasfield, age 19
“anti-Christian symbolism”… I had a couple of hours to kill while having some work done on my car so I decided to see a movie. I read the reviews on this Web site regarding “Sleepy Hollow” and thought it sounded rather benign so I went to see it. I thought the movie was very bloody, very graphic, and very distastful in so many ways. I don’t know if that means I’m easily offended. In addition to scenes of decapitation, they also showed a headless body in all its bloody glory including the severed spinal column which I thought was way over the top (no pun intended). There was also a scene in which Ichabod Crane places his book of science over the Bible after giving a speech on enlightenment. More anti-Christian symbolism in my opinion. I can’t recommend this movie on any level. My Ratings: [1/3]
Joe Wisnieski, age 32
“missed the mark”… You missed the mark in a Christian rating of 2. Was the church actually a sanctuary or was the “white” magic symbol the source of protection? In any case the headless horseman still got his man despite the protection whatever the source. (A church with an adulterous pastor will actually be powerless as depicted.) The theme of the movie was the coming age of rationalism and rejection of spiritual things even in the midst of rather powerful occult spirituality. I think that is a fairly clear statement of New Age religion: anything spiritual except Christianity. My Ratings: [1/3½]
David M. Monihan Jr., age 47
“dripping with anti-Christ symbolism”… I came to this movie expecting to see a Burton-created gothic rendition of the story we all know from grade school. Unfortunately, I was not disappointed. I say this because it was simply dripping with too much anti-Christ symbolism for my tastes. Once again, Burton created a visual masterpiece the “Hammer” style from the mid ’50s is brought to the forefront with fog and great use of mood. However, there is a lot wrong with this movie. I am against witchcraft, but the use of it in a movie does not necessarily cause me to shudder. This movie divided it into “good,” or “white” witchcraft and “bad,” or “black” witchcraft. It then portrayed the good as helpful. Ricci’s character uses pentagrams to protect Crane. In the church scene, as the horsemen parades outside, one character is killed by being struck with a cross. A later shot shows the bloody and fallen cross next to the pentagram that had saved Ricci from the attack. A Bible thumping father is seen as almost demoniacal as he kills Crane’s mother for being a “child of nature.” This is a term used by modern day Wiccans. Finally, a book of witchcraft saves Cranes life, stopping the thrust that would have killed him. This movie was well-made, but immoral. I can’t recommend it to anyone. My Ratings: [1/3½]
Brian Patton, age 25
“not recommended”… I thought that this was a somewhat boring movie. Admittedly, there were some good parts, but they are few and far between. “Sleepy Hollow” seems to concentrate on dark parts of Christian history and focus on people who betray their faith for personal, worldly power rather than remain true to God. I would not recommend this movie to anyone. My Ratings: [2½/1½]
El Spark, age 21
Positive—“Sleepy Hollow” is an excellent adaptation of Washington Irving’s short story, which isn’t much to begin with. The film expands on Ichabod Crane and the Horseman, and adds more characters. The visuals, acting and directing are top-notch. The score is also appropriately menacing, yet tender at times.

Biblically speaking, the film justly merits the R rating for strong gory violence and a scene of sexuality (no nudity, just some movement). There are also a few scenes involving witchcraft, but, given that the short story itself has a Headless Horseman, it’s acceptable, and not done to show that evil is greater than good. Refreshingly, there is no foul language, which is accurate, being that the film is set in the late 18th century.

Parents, use strong caution when allowing children to watch this motion picture.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Better than Average / Moviemaking quality: 5
D, age 28 (USA)
Comments from young people
I am surprised at your reviewer’s comments. Although it is good to find a film with so little bad language, blasphemy or sex, I would not recommend this film to any Christian, simply due to the quite gratuitous and disgusting violence portrayed continually. I suggested to a group of Christian friends that this film might be worth watching, I found myself sinking lower and lower into my seat as we watched open-mouthed at graphic decapitation, impaling, mutilation and gallons upon gallons of blood. I try to be fair and judge a film on artistic merit as well as content, but apart from its set design, music and the occasional funny moment, there is nothing good about this film. Classy fantasy entertainment it most certainly isn’t. My Ratings: [1½/2]
Andrew Martin, age 17
“Sleepy Hollow,” Tim Burton’s newest film, is a mixed bag. It is arguably one of the best new films, but is very heavy-handed with occultic overtones. …Objectionable Material: This film contains a great deal of blood and gore, particularly when the Horseman explodes out of the gates of Hell. There are numerous swordfights, decapitations, and the like. There is little profanity, but some implied sex (not graphic). The main objection would be the occultic overtones. Witchcraft, “circles of protection,” Satanism, and possession are all dealt with, mostly in a pushy manner. The power of God is shown to be superior (the Horseman cannot enter the Church and the “circle” doesn’t stop him from throwing a grappling hook in the window and yanking out one of the people) to the power of the occult. …There is also the portrayal of a minister as being a hypocrite and another as being a wife-beating maniac, but there ARE people like that out there. Ichabod, an agnostic, does regain his faith in God, which is good. Bottom Line: This movie is excellent entertainment. Despite its heavy-handedness with regard to witchcraft, it is an excellent film with some good moral messages (God is good, witchcraft is bad, etc.)! My Ratings: [2½/5]
Matt Quinn, age 15
“good, though bizarre”… “Sleepy Hollow” is arguably one of Tim Burton’s greatest, and weirdest, films. The sets are spectacular in a spooky way, the acting is good, and the special effects are fantastic. Content: There is a lot of blood in the movie. There is little profanity and a brief scene where a couple make out in the forest. There is also an element of witchcraft in the plot, which is dealt with in a heavy-handed manner, but it is shown to be inferior to God (the Horseman can’t enter the church and a “rune of protection” cannot protect Katrina’s father from the Horseman). … My Ratings: [2½/5]
Matt Quinn, age 15
Movie Critics
Cleavage is more than abundant… a brief sexual encounter… (an aerial view of a man on top of a woman with some movement). …several characters dabble [in the occult and] heavily use spells…
Comments from non-viewers
Negative—Tim Burton’s “Sleepy Hollow” is very horrible from the small parts of the movie I have seen. Christians (Ichabod’s father) are portrayed as modern-day Pharisees who delight in expediting the unsaved’s journey to perdition, and witches are portrayed as wise and helpful. A little boy hides under a cellar and watches his mom get decapitated, then he is last seen screaming as the headless horseman apparently kills him. Jesus hates child killers; I am not exaggerating. People are gleefully maimed and killed by the headless horseman and Katrina’s stepmother. Even “Grand Theft Auto” video games are tamed compared to this.

***SPOILER*** In the end, the two villains are sucked into hell via this tree with the heads of people who hurt Lady van Tassel when she was a kid. It makes my stomach churn. ***END SPOILER*** The only real victor in the movie is Satan for using Fred Phelps” spiritual ancestors to fuel unbelief and rejection of Christ. The original story was a goofy fairy-tale that’s MUCH tamer than this. Best part of the original story is there is no ACTUAL headless horseman; it’s just a village legend that Brom Bones plays on to scare Ichabod away.
My Ratings: Moral rating: / Moviemaking quality:
Peter, age 22 (USA)