Much like the Headless Horsemen who headlines Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, the venerable 19th Century classic of American literature is once again resurrected for a terrifyingly tepid and kid-friendly version that nevertheless manages to elicits some genuine scares. Chief among these nightmarish moments is the theme song “Sleepy Hollow” which plays during a montage of kids getting a haunted house ready. Its blatant attempt to channel Green Day is quite chilling.
Another frightening moment had to be the appearance of a cowardly Revolutionary War-era ghost who tags along with the Nick and Kate in their efforts to combat the Headless Horseman. Besides the expected pain that a scaredy-cat comic relief ghost always brings to things, he also had the duty to explain everything to the kids so they would know what to do for the last half of the movie.
It all had to do with the Horseman getting his pumpkin head back at midnight as Halloween began and then he would do stuff we didn’t like. Probably like chopping off locals’ heads and even worse, all while his ghastly steed no doubt left its ectoplasmic crab apple calling cards all over the town’s streets and sidewalks.
Honestly though I wasn’t paying a lot of attention to all the details because I have this thing where I kind of zone out when people start talking about Hessians and the Battle of White Plains. Damn it, did I roll over on the remote and accidentally switch to that Ken Burns documentary on PBS?
Nick Crane (yes – he gets called Nickabod) is a nerd who makes remote control spiders and zombies for the haunted house with his friend Kate. Tucker is another kid who delights in scaring the timid Nick, but in one of the film’s best aspects, it doesn’t get hung up on a bunch of boring anti-bullying nonsense. Instead it’s content to focus on a bunch bumbling crooks nonsense.
The crooks steal Irving’s oringial manuscript from the town museum and with the law hot on their trail, they stash the book in a big pumpkin in the nearby forest. Somehow this causes the pumpkin to assume a Jack O’lantern face and come alive. The kids are in need of a big pumpkin and pick that one, bringing it back to town. For some reason this is the head the Horseman needs in addition to being where the friendly ghost lived. Tortured junk like this really makes you appreciate the brilliance of Irving’s tale.
Once Nick and Kate hear the story of the haunted pumpkin they realize they need to keep the pumpkin out of the Horseman’s hands. So do they ask their teacher for help? Do they drop it off at the police station? Lock it up in a bank vault? Toss into the back of an 18 wheeler speeding through town? Why would they do any of that when you have a perfectly good spooky forest nearby to hide it in? When this fails miserably as expected, the do the next most illogical thing and decide to hide it in the old haunted mansion that’s also nearby!
The side trip to the mansion is clearly meant to pad the story by another ten minutes as it’s full of ghosts and monsters that harass and chase our heroes separately from the harassing and chasing the Horseman does. An effort is made to tie the ghosts together with the rest of the story at the end when it’s revealed that the ghosts don’t like the Horseman because he scared off Ichabod who was supposed to marry their daughter, but their dislike of him didn’t figure into the plot, so what?
As the climax unfolded, I thought to myself that surely this wasn’t just going to amount to a game of keep-away with the kids and ghost playing hot potato with the pumpkin to keep it away from the Horseman. And then that’s what happened. Tack on a slow town clock that ultimately saves the day (because the Horseman only knows when it’s midnight based on that clock I guess – next time try an iWatch dude) and you understand why you never heard of this movie before.
While it isn’t the worst no name kiddie Halloween special since it’s 43 minute running time keeps it from being an evening-long slog and it does give you plenty of Headless Horseman action, the two terrible (and unnecessary) songs, the dumb story (why do we care if the Horseman gets his head back when he spends the whole movie running around terrorizing folks without it?), the annoying voices and dialogue of the kids, the tedious and tired bumbling crooks gimmick and the indifferent animation will leave you wondering why you didn’t just watch Disney’s adaptation of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow included in The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad for the hundredth time instead.
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