Over/Under Movies continues its month-long Halloween series of episodes with a double feature look at two films united by their period setting, nightmarish pastoral aesthetics, stylish violence and the occult. Or, in the case of our underrated pick, 1968’s “Witchfinder General,” the pursuit of occult practitioners, innocence be damned. Meanwhile, the overrated choice falls to Tim Burton‘s “Sleepy Hollow.”
“Witchfinder General,” from director Michael Reeves, is a cultish oddity well worth tracking down. The fourth and (sadly) final film Reeves made before dying at the age of 25, it features an atypically subtle, deeply creepy performance from B-movie legend and voice actor Vincent Price as real-life 17th century witchfinder Matthew Hopkins, who goes about his business bestowing his judgment on those accused of witchcraft by torturing and eventually killing as he pleases. The film, with a stylish, sneakily gorgeous low budget genre ’60s aesthetic, is eerily prescient today in its unflinching portrayal of mob mentality, corruption and religious/moral high ground. Occasionally cited by British critics as an all-time great horror film, it’s time more folks everywhere else see this one.
“Sleepy Hollow” was released in 1999, and in many ways marks the beginning of the end of Tim Burton as an interesting filmmaker (though some understandably are fond of ‘Sweeney Todd‘ and his “Frankenweenie” update). It’s a version of the Headless Horseman story, more specifically adapted from Washington Irving‘s influential “The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow.” With usual leading man Johnny Depp onboard as Ichabod Crane, a just-as-expected score from Danny Elfman, and gorgeous visuals courtesy of Emmanuel Lubezki (winner of the last three cinematography Oscars), we understand why folks like the film. But on this episode we argue there are a lot of goofy elements and an overly complicated storyline.
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