Sleepy Hollow – Reimagined Classic as a Horror-Procedural

Oct 19, 2013 | 2013 Articles, Deborah Harter Williams, Mysteryrat's Maze, TV

by Deborah Harter Williams

Something for everyone: Time travel, Separated Lovers,
Estranged Siblings, Murder, Mystery, Humor and Witchcraft

Sleepy Hollow (FOX, Monday 9 p.m.) is a fantasy mystery drama based on the 1820 short story by Washington Irving. If your remembrance of the Legend of Sleepy Hollow involves a pumpkin and an awkward, scrawny Ichabod Crane, be prepared for a whole new way of looking at things.

This Ichabod Crane is sexy, with a British accent, eidetic memory and just appeared in modern times after sleeping in a cave for 250 years. Unfortunately, the Hessian soldier that he beheaded during the Revolutionary War has also appeared and is wreaking havoc, starting with the murder of the sheriff.

The sheriff’s protégé and partner, Abbie Mills, foregoes her chance to train at Quantico in order to solve his murder and make some sense of what she has witnessed–and so it begins, an unlikely alliance formed to fight evil to try to deal with the increasing number of murders.

The time travel component is low key. Ichabod deftly adjusts to coffee machines and automobiles, responding with remarkable aplomb and dexterity to modern marvels! Occasionally he will be surprised–the gun will fire more than one shot? And yet he adapts. To the villagers, he seems more like a visitor from another country than from another century.

The writers have fun with the language, counterpointing Ichabod’s English teacher, British-accented, 18th century phraseology and Abbie’s 21th century-speak mixed with cop lingo. Inquiring about her relationship break-up with another cop, he asks:

“What was the impetus of your disbandment?”

Later, when Ichabod is leading her through an underground tunnel, he warns her –

“Mind the rats.”

Abbie replies, “Yes I do.”

This banter could just as easily come from Abbott and Costello, or David and Maddie from Moonlighting, but it amuses and leavens the darkness, as does Frank Sinatra singing “Witchcraft” on the soundtrack.

And there is witchcraft. Ichabod’s wife was tried at the Salem witch trials and the head of the evil horseman is hidden in her fake grave. She manages to communicate with Ichabod now and then to issue warnings of evil demons. There are plenty of demons to be had, borrowing from the Bible and multiple other mythologies–enough to make your head spin.

I’m grateful that the use of grue and gore is restrained. Certainly with a headless horseman decapitating people there is a certain amount of bloodshed, but the writers claim to be going for “suspense” horror, rather than “grotesque” horror.

Writer Phillip Iscove came up with the concept, mixing The Legend of Sleepy Hollow with Rip Van Winkle. He is aided and abetted by the winning team of Kurtzman and Orci. Together since their early days on Hercules, they have been on a streak with Fox’s Fringe (with JJ Abrams), the new Hawaii Five-0 as well as the movies Transformers and Star Trek.

They chose actors relatively unknown to American TV to avoid a pre-conceived audience reaction. English actor, Tom Mison (guest on BBC’s New Tricks and Lewis) is Ichabod Crane, and Nicole Beharie (Rachel Robinson in 42) is Lt. Abbie Mills. Character actor Clancy Brown (also the voice of Mr. Krab on SpongeBob) recurs as the late Sheriff August Corbin.

On October 3, 2013, Fox signed Sleepy Hollow for a second season, the first of the new shows to be renewed.

Irving’s short story was originally published in 1820 though set in 1790. One of the first examples of “American Literature,” it remains popular for retelling. It was first made into a movie in the 1930s and then appeared as Disney animation in 1958. In the 1970s, John Carradine narrated a short version shown in theaters and in 1980, Jeff Goldblum was Ichabod in an NBC movie with Dick Butkus as his rival Brom Bones.

Ed Begley was Ichabod in Shelley Duvall’s version in 1987, and Johnny Depp faced off against headless horseman, Christopher Walken, in the Tim Burton film of 1999. The story has also been staged as a musical and opera on multiple occasions with varying degrees of success.

There is in fact a Sleepy Hollow. North Tarrytown, New York, location of the original story, officially changed its name to Sleepy Hollow in 1996. There you can visit Washington Irving’s grave, root for the high school football team “The Horsemen” or perhaps buy a t-shirt that says, “I lost my head in Sleepy Hollow.”

Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & short stories in our mystery section.

Deborah Harter Williams works as a mystery scout, seeking novels that could be made into television. She blogs at Clue Sisters and was formerly a mystery bookstore owner.


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