I knew there was something familiar about Sleepy Hollow, only I couldn’t put my finger on it – until now.
Sleepy Hollow takes a page from Sam Raimi style horror by adding humor in the most unexpected places. Raimi movies like Evil Dead, Army of Darkness, and Drag Me To Hell are all horror movies but with a level of fun that is unlike traditional scary films. This sets them apart, finding unique audience approval, which is something Sleepy Hollow seems to be doing successfully as well. The Fox TV show is not as gruesome or delightfully absurd as Raimi’s films, but there is an element of connectivity – playfulness.
In its latest episode, “The Midnight Ride,” The Headless Horseman is back and looking to restore his head to its proper place on top his severed neck. His decapitated head is nicely preserved and in the hands of the authorities. Once Ichabod gets wind of this, he and Abbie must keep The Headless Horseman from restoring himself and unleashing the other Horsemen. Now that his blood tie to Ichabod has been severed there is no safeguard against The Headless Horseman lopping Crane’s head off either.
“The Midnight Ride” is a great example of Sleepy Hollow’s Raiminess. Not only is the humor coming from Ichabod trying to conform to his new surroundings, but also from both his and Abbie’s interactions with the forces of evil. There is an element of playfulness, an air of levity, that is consistently working. This was a gamble; it has to be done right not to come off as too campy so as not to alienate the audience.
Clearly, this has worked.
Personally, this is the draw for me with Sleepy Hollow. The show isn’t overly scary, but it’s not meant to be. There have been moments (the horned demon running toward the mirror, the Sandman’s creepy face with no mouth) that can and will cause nightmares, but horrific scares are not Sleepy Hollow’s modus operandi. Giving viewers a playful thrill ride, with more humor and quirk than scares is setting it apart from shows like Grimm or American Horror Story. One of the reasons is the casting of Tom Mison as Ichabod Crane. His mannerisms, gangly appearance, and line delivery lends terrifically well to what the creators have obviously wanted to create from the outset. Even bringing in John Cho, who came to fame through his work in the Harold and Kumar films, adds a playful edge.
Proving my point, in “The Midnight Ride,”Abbie walks down a dark tunnel. There, Officer Andy Brooks (John Cho) stands creepily behind her. She decks him with a right cross and his first reaction is to pause and move his jaw back in place. It’s a subtle piece of humor that really works. See he’s been dead with a snapped neck since the first episode yet keeps returning with body parts failing. The scene had me chuckling; the timing was perfect. This is what Sleepy Hollow is doing, perhaps better than anything else, and being rewarded with ratings.
“The Midnight Ride” was a microcosm of the best Sleepy Hollow has to offer: an engaging plot, creepy scenes, a demonic threat, and small moments of great humor. And it’s the small moments that is the thread binding it all. If painted with a far more serious brush, Sleepy Hollow would have an entirely different tone and could burn out audiences rather quickly. We don’t know what it would have been like, but one thing is for certain, this version of Sleepy Hollow works.
And has become something that would make Sam Raimi proud.