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Hallmark Home Entertainment presents
"He was a Hessian mercenary who has tormented our little town since the day he was killed."
DVD ReviewWashington Irving created an American folklore of sorts with his Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, which includes both the classic tales of Rip Van Winkle and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, better known as the tale of the Headless Horseman. More recently given a lavish and gore-filled treatment by Tim Burton, this Canadian telefilm keeps quite safely on the milder side of the street.
In the 1820s, Diedrich Knickerbocker (Paul Hopkins), another pseudonym of Irving, is collecting stories from the Dutch along the Hudson River and among others hears the strange tale of Ichabod Crane (Brent Carver), a would-be schoolteacher who comes to Sleepy Hollow. Although ridiculed by the townspeople, Crane falls in love with Katrina Van Tassle (Rachelle Lefevre), the daughter of one of the local farmers. But Katrina is already beloved by the local blacksmith, Brom Van Blunt (Paul Lemelin). When Crane's advances become too much for him to take, Brom drops word of the local ghost, the Headless Horseman, who has a fondness for collecting the heads of travelers by moonlight, with hopes of driving away the schoolteacher; if the story won't do it, Brom has other plans.
While faithful in its broad strokes to the original story, there are some odd and inexplicable changes, from the alteration of the Van Tassel name to Van Tassle, to changing the name of Brom Bones, to altering the ending to change this into a horror story rather than a folksy story of the locals outwitting the book-taught, self-important meddler from outside. There are other problems with the script such as giving Katrina a fairly schizophrenic nature; if she's playing Brom and Ichabod off each other, this is a subtlety that I don't recall from the original. Most of the time she just seems to be acting erratically for no particular reason. There's also necessarily a great deal of minor incident (some would call it padding) in order to turn this brief story into a 90-minute film. As a rule, however, these additions are generally in character with the piece and not objectionable.
Carver, with his sunken cheeks and bulging eyes, makes an excellent Ichabod Crane, whom Irving describes as like a scarecrow. He also pulls off the character's greed, gluttony, lust, vanity, and self-importance exceedingly well. The supporting cast is less meritorious; Lefevre is far too homely to be portraying the supposedly gorgeous Katrina, and both she and Lemelin act in a much too modern manner to be credible, especially in contrast to the older characters. This seems to be a misguided attempt at relevance, but it's just jarring in its inconsistency.
But the worst sin in this adaptation is that for much of its running time it's simply dull. One feels as if it's an interminable wait to get to the Headless Horseman sequence, and that's but a few seconds in length. To boot, as discussed in the video review, it's impossible to make out without cranking one's set into torch mode. With such little payoff, it's hard to recommend this.
Rating for Style: C-
Rating for Substance: C
Image Transfer Review: As noted above, this appears to be a made-for-television movie and thus seems to be in the correct aspect ratio. There is plenty of aliasing and video artifacting, despite a fairly high bitrate averaging about 6 Mbps and frequently spiking up to 9 Mbps. Black levels are weak and greyish, and shadow detail is plugged up. But the worst defect is during the climactic Headless Horseman sequence, which on an ISF calibrated set is completely illegible. In order to make out what's happening I had to turn the brightness on my set up to nearly full blast (not recommended for rear projection televisions). The result looks as if it were shot day-for-night, and then overcompensated to make it look like a dark night. The result wipes out nearly everything, which is completely unacceptable for the big payoff sequence.
Image Transfer Grade: C-
Audio Transfer Review: The saving grace of this disc is the sound mix, which not only has quite active surrounds, but fairly expressive mass qualities. There is decent presence in both the dialogue and the music, and not much in the way of hiss or noise. The sound is clean enough and some moderate directionality is present. A sequence where Crane guiltily drops a dozen pieces of silverware has a good aural impact. It will suffice for television.
Audio Transfer Grade: B-
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
Extras Review: Nothing at all for extras, though the chaptering is passable.
Extras Grade: D-
Final CommentsA dull and occasionally faithful adaptation of the classic tale, with a problematic video transfer though decent sound. Not an extra to be found, though.
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