Behind the Scenes of Sleepy Hollow

When preparing to publish The Legend of Sleepy Hollow: Ultimate Annotated Edition, I did extensive background reading, but one item that escaped my notice was the shooting draft for the 1999 Tim Burton film Sleepy Hollow. Thanks to a link posted on the Halloween blog, The Skeleton Key, that oversight has now been corrected. Some thoughts/observations about the shooting draft…

The shooting draft’s cover page presents some interesting sub-titular info : “Being the true storie of one Ichabod Crane and the Headless Horseman.” This is a nice callback to Washington Irving’s Diedrich Knickerbocker, a writing persona notorious for the confusion of fact and fiction in his recording of allegedly “true history.”

An early scene in the film (Ichabod’s dispatching north to Sleepy Hollow by the Burgomaster [Christopher Lee]) is conceived more fully in the shooting draft. This “Audition Scene” features applicants (“mostly obvious Cranks and Eccentrics”) demonstrating “Devices for crime fighting and crime solving” to New York City officials. One amateur Inventor shows off a “combination wallet and mousetrap” pickpocketing deterrent, while another Spotty Man ends up trapped inside his own contraption, the “Tompkins Self-Locking Confessional.”

Reading the shooting draft evokes a mental replay of the beloved Burton film; bits of delivered dialogue echoed inside my head. Equally rewarding are the shooting draft’s descriptions of iconic objects/figures. I love the word picture painted of the Tree of the Dead: “Its branches reach far and wide, knotted and gross, like agony captured in wood sculpture.” This looming embodiment of gloominess sports a “vertical wound in the bark, like a terrible suture, now healed” into a “mushy scar.” The grotesquerie of the Headless Horseman–his “putrid innards” and “maggot-infested muscle,” his steed of “moldering flesh”–is also emphasized. Irving’s legendary ghost-or-goblin has been realized as “Hell on horseback.”

In the film, the Horseman’s last exit (carrying Lady Van Tassel off into the Tree of the Dead) provides a macabre spectacle, but this farewell might have been even more frightful if a special effect detailed in the shooting draft was retained: “For an instant, Horseman and horse are transformed, SKELETONS OF LIGHT, entering the tree!”

I couldn’t help but chuckle at the description of Lady Van Tassel and Reverend Steenwyck’s illicit tryst: “On a blanket, a semi-naked MAN and semi-naked WOMAN are in the midst of rough SEX” (I never realized rough sex existed in late-17th Century Sleepy Hollow!). The shooting draft itself makes light of the late night scene: Asked by Young Masbath what he discovered, Ichabod says: “Something I wish I had not seen. A beast with two backs.” The astonished, naive Young Masbath takes the expression literally: “A beast with…? What next in these bewitched woods?!”

One key thematic figure from the shooting draft never made it into the film: The Crane family cat. This striking feline (black with a white paw and glowing eyes) appears in several of the flashbacks to Ichabod’s youth, and at film’s end greets the heroes upon their arrival in New York City: “THE CAT’S EYES ARE HUMAN, INTELLIGENT, KINDLY…They are Ichabod’s Mother’s eyes.” A happy ending is rendered even more felicitous, as the good, guiding spirit of Ichabod’s Mother has apparently survived the woman’s torture/murder by her puritanical husband.

The shooting draft certainly furnishes an entertaining read for completists. And for more on Burton’s Sleepy Hollow, check out my essay “Eerie Rider: The Headless Horseman’s Forays into Pop Culture” in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow: Ultimate Annotated Edition.

 

Wednesday: Woe Joking

In the Addams Family films of the 90’s, Christina Ricci’s Wednesday was a shining fount of black humor (check out this past post for a survey of her finest deadpan deliveries). Jenna Ortega more than lives up to such mordant tradition in the new Netflix series centered on the Addams goth-daughter. Here are thirteen prime examples of the character’s snappy dialogue:

 

Wednesday: [My visions] come on without warning, and feel like electroshock therapy, but without the satisfying afterburn.
–Ch. I, “Wednesday’s Child is Full of Woe”

 

Morticia: That boy’s family was going to file attempted murder charges. How would that have looked on your record?
Wednesday: Terrible. Everybody would know I failed to get the job done.
–Ch. I, “Wednesday’s Child is Full of Woe”

 

Wednesday: It takes a special kind of stupid to devote an entire theme park to zealots responsible for mass genocide.
Lucas: My dad owns Pilgrim World. Who you calling stupid?
Wednesday: If the buckled shoe fits…
–Ch. I, “Wednesday’s Child is Full of Woe”

 

Enid: Want to take a stab at being social?
Wednesday: I do like stabbing. The social part not so much.
–Ch. II, “Woe is the Loneliest Number”

 

Wednesday: Let’s assess, shall we? Bag over my head for optimal disorientation, wrists tied tight enough to cut off circulation, and no idea if I’m going to live or die. It’s definitely my kind of party.
Ch. III, “Friend or Woe”

 

[After the sheriff leaves, Thing opens the door of the morgue drawer where Wednesday has hid herself]
Wednesday: 
Five more minutes. I was just getting comfortable.
–Ch. IV, “Woe What a Night”

 

Wednesday [about to enter the suspected lair of the Hyde monster]: If you hear me screaming bloody murder, there’s a good chance I’m enjoying myself.
–Ch. IV, “Woe What a Night”

 

Lucas: Wednesday, I come in peace.
Wednesday: That’s a shame. I brought my pocket mace. The medieval kind.
–Ch IV, “Woe What a Night”

 

Wednesday [unhappy to see her family arrive at Nevermore for Parents Weekend]: I knew I should have worn my plague mask.
Ch. V, “You Reap What You Woe”

 

Tyler: Is that Enid’s gift?
Wednesday: It’s perfect if you’re fleeing a war-torn country on foot.
Ch. VI, “Quid Pro Woe”

 

Enid: Oh, we should wear our snoods!
Wednesday: Oh, I…I believe I left mine at fencing.
Enid: Actually, you left yours at the Weathervane. Luckily, Bianca brought it back.
Wednesday: Like a monkey’s paw.
–Ch. VI, “Quid Pro Woe”

 

Wednesday: Of course, the first boy I kiss would turn out to be a psychotic, serial-killing monster. I guess I have a type.
–Ch. VII, “If You Don’t Woe Me By Now”

 

Wednesday: Typically, I have great admiration for well-executed revenge plots. But yours was a bit extreme, even for my high standards.
–Ch. VIII, “A Murder of Woes”

 

In Praise of Wednesday

The Addams Family and Tim Burton is a match made in merry hell. The runaway-hit Netflix series Wednesday conjoins the macabre humor of Charles Addams’s original creation with Burton’s gloriously Gothic sensibility. Throw in a compelling central mystery and a dazzling lead performance, and the result is the best new series of 2022.

Darkly beautiful to behold, Burton’s Wednesday is a feast for the eyes (starting with that lofty dorm room in a gargoyle-adorned Queen-Anne-style mansion). The show’s setting features murky woods and cobwebbed ruins, hidden passageways and secret underground chambers. Wednesday also clearly works within Burton’s American Gothic wheelhouse, with its depiction of neighboring town of Jericho–a modern-day village whose quaint appearance cannot cover up its sinister roots that stretch all the way back to Puritan times.

There’s a classic slasher element to the first season’s storyline, as a shapeshifting beast dubbed the Hyde preys on a sequence of cast members (while Wednesday, an aspiring dark-crime writer, works to “unmask” the killer). Along the way, references to Poe abound (the author’s tales in general, but also–via the series’ Nevermore Academy locale–to his ever-popular poem “The Raven”). Stephen King fans will delight in a midseason scene of an ill-fated school formal (a bloody brilliant homage that has been overshadowed by a certain dance routine gone viral). If the overall proceedings tend toward the formulaic, as the show recalls other Netflix ventures such as The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (with its plunges into paranormal romance) and Stranger Things (with Wednesday standing in for Eleven, as the heroic leader of a band of “outcasts”), at least it is a winning formula that is copied.

Admittedly, the casting does feel a bit uneven; Wednesday’s parents, in particular, disappoint. Catherine Zeta-Jones gives a wooden performance as Morticia (one unworthy of predecessors Carloyn Jones and Anjelica Huston), and Luis Guzman (Gomez Addams) delivers his lines as if he’s in a perennial state of gastric distress. But the statuesque Gwendoline Christie is the embodiment of glamor and British charm as Principal Weems, and Emma Myers is delightful as Wednesday’s perpetually-bubbly, would-be-werewolf roommate Enid. Let’s give a well-deserved hand, too, to the prestidigitator Victor Dorobantu, who steals scenes throughout as a convincing, more-than-just-digital-fx Thing.

Of course, the success of the series hinges upon Jenna Ortega’s turn in the title role. Anyone who watched her in X knows that Ortega possesses an incredibly expressive face; I was concerned heading in that the strictures of the Wednesday character would prevent the actress from demonstrating her dramatic range. But Ortega manages to channel the stoic snarkiness of Christina Ricci in the 90’s films while also presenting a more rounded figure. Wednesday’s ongoing series format (vs. the episodic nature of a sitcom) necessitates a character arc, and over the course of the first season the teenage Addams grows increasingly less standoffish and more human in her interactions. No easy task to come off at once as sneering and endearing, but this Wednesday makes it look easy. Already a star in the making, Ortega establishes herself here as the most talented young actress currently practicing her craft.

Ultimately, the series evinces a lot of heart–and not just the tell-tale kind. Wednesday’s child might be full of woe (according to the nursery rhyme line that inspired Morticia and Gomez’s christening of their daughter), but Burton’s brainchild Wednesday is full of wonderful entertainment. I’d be kooky not to give it two enthusiastic two-snaps.

 

Altogether Ooky October: The Addams Family and Halloween

Yes, I was really disappointed to learn that Tim Burton’s new Netflix series Wednesday wouldn’t be premiering until after Halloween season (three more grueling weeks to wait!). But that just sent me back to view earlier incarnations of the Addams Family, and it turns out that the creepy, kooky, mysterious and spooky household has a rich history of Halloween association.

The Halloween connection traces back to the inception of the Addams Family. Charles Addams’s vintage New Yorker cartoons more commonly skewer the Yuletide holiday, but there is one signature piece in which the Addamses descend en masse on the wilds of Central Park in late October (with Uncle Fester even toting a jack-o’-lantern under his arm).

 

As a 1960’s sitcom, The Addams Family featured two separate Halloween episodes. In episode 1.7, “Halloween with the Addams Family,” a pair of robbers on the run (Don Rickles and Skip Homeier) attempt to hide out at the Addams home and get caught up in the family’s crazy celebration of its “favorite holiday” (the festivities include “bobbing for the crab”). And long before The Nightmare Before Christmas, the Addamses gather for a recitation of a special holiday-splicing poem: “It was Halloween evening, and through the abode / Not a creature was stirring, not even a toad. / Jack-o’-lanterns are hung on the gallows with care / To guide sister witch as she flies through the air…”

 

“Halloween–Addams Style” (2.7) means bite-size salamander sandwiches prepared via guillotine, and porcupine taffy crafted by Grandmama. After an insensitive neighbor spoils the trick-or-treating Wednesday’s holiday joy by claiming that witches don’t exist, a séance is conducted to contact the Addams ancestor Aunt Singe (who was burnt at the stake in Salem). Comedic confusion ensues when a witch-costumed neighbor out on a Halloween scavenger hunt shows up at the Addams mansion.

 

The sitcom’s original cast returned in living color for the 1977 TV movie Halloween with the New Addams Family (a film that features extensive scenes of an Addams-hosted costume party at which various bits of hilarity occur). Halloween is clearly Christmas for the Addams Family, as is evident from the legend of Cousin Shy, a jolly spirit who “carves a smile on a specially hidden pumpkin, and leaves beautiful gifts at the feet of the Halloween scarecrow.” As if all this wasn’t festive enough, the closing scene presents the Addamses in candlelit procession, singing a macabre carol: “Scarecrows and blackbirds are always together. Spiders spin cobwebs in overcast weather. Cauldrons are brewing and banshees are doing a weird and ghastly routine, to wish you a merry, creepy Halloween.”

 

The 1991 cinematic adaptation The Addams Family concludes–you guessed it–on Halloween night. Gomez carves a cyclopean jack-o’-lantern; Pugsley dresses as his Uncle Fester, and Wednesday (in her everyday clothes) as a “homicidal maniac.” Then the Addamses head outside for a rousing game of Wake the Dead, which involves digging up departed relatives from the family graveyard.

 

For Halloween 1992, The Addams Family animated series served up “Puttergeist.” While the title references a certain Steven Spielberg horrorfest, the episode itself riffs on “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” Granny regales the family with a Halloween tale: four decades ago, a golfer hit the links on Halloween night, only to lose his head to a lightning strike. Thereafter he haunts the town as a specter with a giant golf ball for a head–quite a swerving from the pumpkin originally employed by Washington Irving.

 

In 1998 came the Canadian reboot The New Addams Family, whose series premiere “Halloween with the Addams Family” is a redux of the same-titled episode from the 60’s sitcom. Old gags are updated: Fester goes bobbing for hand grenades; Gomez wipes the smile off a jack-o’-lantern, carving a scarier expression with his fencing sword. Pugsley and Wednesday (dressed as Siskel and Ebert) wreak havoc on the neighborhood when they go trick-or-treating (one candy-stingy couple who foolishly demand a trick before handing out treats end up in a homemade electric chair rigged to their doorbell).

 

This survey of Halloween legacy should also make mention of the influence of the Addams Family on Ray Bradbury’s Elliott Family (a positively monstrous clan who, in the author’s classic story “Homecoming,” gather in an Illinois manse for a Halloween night reunion). In his afterword to his 2001 Elliott Family chronicle From the Dust Returned, Bradbury details his relationship with Charles Addams. Their plans for a book collaboration never came to fruition, but Addams did create an elaborate illustration of “Homecoming” when the story was first published in Mademoiselle.

 

For an outré crew like the Addams Family, every day is Halloween. But this First Family of Gothic comedy has also treated fans to plenty of October-31st-specific content over the years. I am eager to see if the forthcoming Wednesday follows this fine tradition.

 

 

 

Regal Sequel (A Review of Long Live the Pumpkin Queen)

Long Live the Pumpkin Queen by Shea Ernshaw (Disney Press, 2022)

Nearly three decades after The Nightmare Before Christmas, there’s another nightmare brewing before Halloween.

Set shortly after the events of the beloved Tim Burton film, Shea Ernshaw’s YA fantasy novel begins with the wedding of Sally to Jack Skellington. While happy to be married to the bone man of her dreams, the newly crowned Pumpkin Queen frets over her new title and role. Riddled with self-doubt and feeling crushed by the press of expectations, she flees Halloween Town for a quiet walk through the Hinterlands. Beyond the grove of holiday trees, the hidden entrance to a forgotten realm is discovered, and when Sally accidentally leaves the door to this mysterious tree ajar, a worlds-spanning scourge is unleashed–a new Big Bad who makes Oogie Boogie seems cute and cuddly by comparison.

The novel offers readers the chance to revisit Burton’s colorful cast of monsters and to learn more about the dark holiday realm they inhabit: “In Halloween Town,” Sally notes, our graveyard rests on the outer border near the gate, where the howling voices of the dead can be heard echoing through the streets each night.” But it’s the excursion to the various other holiday towns that proves most remarkable here, as these fantasy worlds (Valentine’s Town, St. Patrick’s Town, etc.) are finely imagined and depicted via vivid detail.

Written in the first-person present tense, the narrative can feel a bit odd at first, but this stylistic choice creates a sense of dreamlike immersion that is appropriate to the plot. Ernshaw’s prose does shade toward the purple at times, and Sally’s repeated description of her emotions in terms of her ragdoll makeup (“My leaves stir wildly in my chest”; “dread slithers up and down my patchwork seams”) seems overdone. The metaphors get messy: after stating that her body is stuffed with “dried, shriveled leaves” and that she has “no bones to break,” Sally later refers to ” my linen bones” and an echo that “sends a spike of cold down to my tailbone.” But that’s my only real critique of this highly inventive and entertaining book.

Long Live the Pumpkin Queen is a fun fantasy novel that will delight Nightmare fans of all ages. I’m already dreaming of a potential screen adaptation by Disney–what better way to commemorate next year’s thirtieth anniversary of the original film’s release? Time to get started, Tim, on those stop-motion puppets…

 

Burton Bastardization

The new film Raven’s Hollow (now streaming on Shudder) no doubt conveys autumnal ominousness (e.g., supernaturally gusting leaves, human scarecrow sacrifices). Not only in its title, but also in its very plot–which has West Point cadet Edgar Poe investigating a series of bizarre murders in the remote, specter-haunted New York village of Raven’s Hollow–the film evokes Tim Burton’s 1999 classic Sleepy Hollow. Unfortunately, such parallels only accentuate how much Raven’s Hollow pales in comparison to its illustrious Gothic-horror predecessor.

Whereas Sleepy Hollow is steeped in charming ambience and wicked wit, Raven’s Hollow proves bleak and joyless. The film gets off to a gripping start, but then bogs down in a sluggishly-paced, folk-horror-style plot (involving a legendary local entity called the Raven). The cast, led by William Mosely as Poe and Melanie Zanetti as Charlotte Ingram (echoing Christina Ricci’s role as romantic interest/suspected witch Katrina Van Tassel in Sleepy Hollow), gives largely lethargic performances. The climax underwhelms, in terms of both its revelations and its visuals. Suspect use of CGI creates the feel of a made-for-Syfy movie, aligning Raven’s Hollow more with the ridiculous (2007”s Headless Horseman) than the sublime (Sleepy Hollow).

Disappointing on several levels, Raven’s Hollow employs facile allusions to the work of Edgar Allan Poe throughout (e.g., a stable hand who is named Usher just because; a mutilated body that is hidden under the floorboards for no reason really relevant to the plot). Also, the film’s positing that Poe’s experiences in Raven’s Hollow inspired him to produce his masterpiece poem decades later is unconvincing and arguably nonsensical (considering the actual content of “The Raven”).

Raven’s Hollow gets the fall season of spooky viewing off to a lackluster start. Hopefully, there will be much better fare to sample in the weeks ahead–and also later this year, when another film featuring Poe as a young cadet/murder investigator (The Pale Blue Eye) lands in theaters and streams on Netflix.

 

Dark Carnival 75th Anniversary Retrospective: “The Cistern”

[For the previous Dark Carnival post, click here.]

 

“The Cistern” (1947)

On a rainy afternoon, Anna stares dreamily out the front window and waxes fanciful about the titular receptacle: “A dead city, right here, right under our feet,” she tells her fellow-spinster sister Juliet. Anna imagines an experience of secrecy and childlike fun, “liv[ing] in the cistern and peek[ing] up at people through the slots and see[ing] them not see you.” She also envisions a pair of dead lovers residing in such underground abode, desiccate mummies reanimated each rainy season (“She told how the water rose and took the woman with it, unfolding her out and loosening her and standing her full upright in the cistern”) and sent floating out to sea in circumnavigation of the globe. Matters take a darker turn, though, when Anna suddenly insists that the dead man in the cistern is her old beau Frank (who’s “been gone for years, and certainly not down there,” Juliet tells her sister). Distraught, Anna weeps silently. Juliet dozes off, but wakes to the sounds of Anna fleeing outdoors and the cistern lid lifting and slamming down again.

“The Cistern” warrants multiple readings if only for its crafted ambiguity. Does Bradbury’s tale put more emphasis on uncanny rebirth (the lovers’ amazing resuscitation by the rainwaters) or tragic death (as the lonely, loveless, and mentally anguished Anna presumably drowns herself)? In its consideration of a fantastic underworld, the story anticipates the work of Tim Burton (e.g. Corpse Bride). But the macabre implications of the story also point to a certain Stephen King opus where the sewer system (not to mention the idea of floating corpses) proves much more sinister.

 

Dracula Extrapolated: Dracula A.D. 1972

Exploring various instances of the novel Dracula‘s undying afterlife, considering specific examples in literature and visual media of the rewriting (e.g. sequels, prequels, alternate histories, shifted narrative perspectives, supporting character foregroundings) and development (elaborations/variations on the vampiric-invasion “plot”) of Bram Stoker’s source text.

 

What if Hammer modernized its Gothicism and restaged Dracula in contemporary (i.e. early 1970s) London?

As signaled by its title, Dracula A.D. 1972 (the seventh installment in Hammer Film Productions’ Dracula series) presents an update of the studio’s typically Victorian-age vampire Gothics. The film opens in the year 1872 with a terrific action sequence, as Lawrence Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) battles Count Dracula (Christopher Lee) atop a runaway carriage and then successfully stakes the vampire with a spoke from a broken wagon wheel. From here, though, the plot fast forwards a full century, centering on the revels of a circle of modern London hipsters (which includes Lawrence’s great-grand-daughter Jessica). The group’s leader is an enigmatic figure named Johnny Alucard, who talks his “friends” into finding new kicks by taking part in a black mass conducted inside a condemned church. Alucard, though, has an ulterior motive: he is a disciple of Dracula (think Renfield by way of Alex in A Clockwork Orange) seeking to resurrect the Count from his nearby grave.

When Bram Stoker’s Dracula was published in 1898, it dramatized a host of then-current anxieties (such as the rise of the New Woman and the foreign invasion of the imperial homeland). Similarly, Dracula A.D. 1972 exhibits a concern with the contemporary youth culture in all its perceived lawlessness and licentiousness. The hipster characters here check all the negative boxes, indulging in alcohol and drugs, sex and Satanic ritual. Anticipating slasher morality, however, the film has the sinners pay for their transgressions. Johnny Alucard preys on the group, by delivering its most nubile members up to Dracula’s lusty thirst and (after being vamped as a reward for his service) also by directly tapping necks himself. Jessica represents the prize catch: she is to be brought to Dracula, who will then turn her into his undead bride as he carries out his vendetta against the Van Helsing family.

But aside from employing a generational-enmity storyline, the film takes scant advantage of its updated time period. Dracula (who remains on the grounds of the ruined church while Alucard roams around London) never interacts with the modern urban setting and thus exhibits zero culture shock after awakening in a new century. The Count is the consummate (deadly) stranger, but doesn’t struggle to adjust to a strange land; he appears right at home in the Gothic ruins he haunts. The opportunity to offer something more than another redux of the vampiric seduction plot is disappointingly wasted.

While featuring some strong scenes (particularly those in which Jessica’s occult-scholar grandfather Lorrimer Van Helsing [Cushing] squares off against Alucard and Dracula), the film forms one of the weaker Hammer swings at Stoker adaptation. It was not well received by critics, but did leave quite a mark on some notable creators. Tim Burton has professed his love of the film (he splices a clip of it into Frankenweenie; also, the rousing carriage-top battle that opens the Hammer film gets a scenic echo in Sleepy Hollow). And writer Kim Newman has numbered Dracula A.D. 1972 among his favorite vampire films. So it’s no surprise that “Johnny Alucard” plays a key role in Newman’s Anno Dracula series of novels–an exemplary effort of Dracula Extrapolation that I will certainly make the subject of a future post.

 

Super Bowl Burton

Meet Edgar Scissorhands…

Airing during tonight’s Super Bowl, Cadillac’s “Scissorhands 2” commercial features the handy son of Winona Ryder’s Kim Boggs character. The 90-second ad packs in a lot of witty gags in the vein of the classic film. Tim Burton fans are big winners tonight!

 

Gothic Topic

Came across this interesting post on Screen Rant: “10 Gothic Horror Movies That Should Be at the Top of Everyone’s List.” The survey strikes a nice balance between classic and modern examples, and I love that it included Tim Burton’s Hammer-evoking Sleepy Hollow. The piece does contain errors factual (Horace Walpole’s seminal Gothic text is titled The Castle of Otranto, not A Gothic Story), orthographic (some guy named Edgar “Allen” Poe is cited), and syntactic (I’m still trying to grasp the logic of this sentence: “Creating a dream world based in the small town of Sleepy Hollow, Ichabod Crane, a New York City policeman faces romance and fantasy in this eerily gothic moving picture.”), but these can be overlooked, given the fine choice of topic.