It was one of the very first examples of a scary story living through the generations, and in 1999 it was brought to the big screen by one of the most imaginative directors of our generation. What resulted was the beautifully grim, excessively gory, and darkly hilarious film that was Sleepy Hollow.
In the 20 years since its release, there have been few films that accurately captured the same stylized gothic spirit it embodied. And in honor of its 20th anniversary, we decided to take a look at 20 fun facts about it!
1. Sleepy Hollow marked the 3rd (of many) collaborations between Tim Burton and Johnny Depp. And while Depp was always Burton’s first choice, Paramount made him consider other actors like Brad Pitt, Liam Neeson, and Daniel Day-Lewis.
While they all would have been excellent (but incredibly different) choices, it’s probably unlikely that Burton ever actually considered them, and probably just went through the motions to appease the studio.
2. In the early stages of pre-production back in 1993, the film was meant to be more of a straight up slasher than the murder mystery we got. Kevin Yagher was initially attached to direct, but fell into creative disagreements with Paramount.
This eventually resulted in him being removed as director, but remaining on in the Makeup Department. He’s still credited as a co-producer and “screen story by” in the final film. It would be interesting to know if there was any awkwardness or resentment between him and Tim Burton, who wound up replacing Yagher as director.
3. Christopher Walken accepted the role as the infamous Headless Horseman, and was very much looking forward to working with Tim Burton again (following Batman Returns). But he didn’t actually know how to ride a horse, and was afraid to admit it until arriving on set!
4. The film notably features three different Sith Lords from Star Wars: Christopher Lee (Count Dooku), Ian McDiarmid (Emperor Palpatine) and Ray Park (Darth Maul). McDiarmid (as well as Park) had just come off the set of Phantom Menace (which was shot mostly in front of blue screens), and remarked how nice it was to walk onto a real, tangible set that was so detailed.
5. The set itself was massive, as the entire village of Sleepy Hollow was constructed. Many cast a crew described it as “walking around in Tim Burton’s brain”. Sadly the set was completely torn down after filming, as is typical in the industry.
6. But by the end of filming, the “forest” had become quite real as it was infested by bugs and birds who mistook the trees for real ones. It even held the world record as the largest set ever built in England (until Billy Elliot one year later).
7. This iconic set led to Sleepy Hollow winning an Academy Award for Best Art Direction. It’s one of 8 Oscars won by Tim Burton films (and even more nominations). Sadly, Burton himself has never won one.
8. Because it was shot with a blue filter, the blood had to be bright orange in order to make it appear vibrant red on film.
9. The infamous headless horseman prank played on Ichabod may feel like a modern invention, but it’s actually a very accurate depiction of what happened in the original book.
10. Johnny Depp performed all of his own stunts, even being dragged by a horse. For that scene however, we wore bulletproof clothing under his costume.
11. In many ways Sleep Hollow was a tribute to the old monster movies produced by Hammer in England. The many references include the set, graphic violence, slightly campy nature, as well as the casting of Christopher Lee and Michael Gough (who even came out of retirement to be in it).
12. After filming wrapped, Johnny Depp adopted Ichabod’s horse, after learning it was going to be put down.
13. Burton has gone on to say that a pet peeve of his with horror films is when children are always spared of being in danger, which is why he wasn’t afraid to kill them off. It’s kind of a disturbing admission, even for Burton. And for all we know, he’s probably a big fan of The Hunger Games for that very reason.
14. While filming the infamous axe fight scene, Casper Van Dien broke his index finger, but was so afraid of his part getting cut short, he suffered through the pain and kept his injury a secret.
15. After filming, Michael Gambon wanted to keep his prop severed heads so that he could send it to dinner parties or interviews as a joke, rather than show up himself. It’s a shame he didn’t get to keep it, because that would have been hilarious!
16. At the end of the film, Christina Ricci’s dress has the same pattern as Beetlejuice’s suit!
17. Upon its release, David Walsh and the National Institute on Media and the Family criticized it heavily for all the violence and gore. In response, Burton said that as a kid he was more disturbed by seeing John Wayne and Barbara Streisand on screen than violence. It seems that this controversy about the role of violence in media still rages today.
18. In a move that was far ahead of its time, Paramount promoted the film with its own website, including exclusive cast/crew interviews and much more. At the time Variety referred to it as, “the most ambitious online launch of a motion picture to date”. Nowadays, a massive online campaign is expected if a film is to succeed!
19. The visual effects were done by George Lucas’ company Industrial Light and Magic. They also did effects for Deep Blue Sea, The Mummy, Galaxy Quest, The Haunting, The Green Mile, and The Phantom Menace (obviously) that very same year.
20. In 2013, an official video game title Cursed Fates: The Headless Horseman was released. Coincidentally the company that made is called Big Fish Games, with absolutely no relation to Burton’s 2003 film Big Fish!
Were there any that you already knew, or any that surprised you?! Let us know in the comments below. And for more reviews, rankings, and other fun horror content, follow Halloween Year-Round on Facebook and Twitter!