The late 1990s had much to offer, and one of my favorites by far has to be a young Johnny Depp. One of his most iconic movies of the 90ies was the Tim Burton horror flick Sleepy Hollow: telling the story of a young constable sent out of New York to solve a series of supernatural murders in the countryside. The young constable is full of science and reason and suddenly doesn’t know what to do when a real headless horseman is behind the murders and is stealing the heads from his decapitated victims. This film is the perfect mix of scary, suspense, and humor. Costarring with Depp are some major names in Hollywood including a young Christiana Ricci, Miranda Richardson, Michael Gambon, Christopher Walken, Richard Griffiths, and Christopher Lee. With such a killer cast and Tim Burton as director, this is already a huge ethos appeal that draws me in no matter the special effects.
However, Sleepy Hollow does have some wonderful special effects for a film made in 1999. The biggest that I want to touch on this blog post is the manipulation of color with makeup and video filters. In typical Tim Burton style, all the colors have been darkened and it seems like the contrast has been turned up on high. This really makes the fake blood pop in its intensity, making it look almost orange in some places because of the sharp contrast between all the monochrome characters and set.
Playing with the color palette gives this film most of its pathos and logos appeal. As Giannetti says in Understanding Movies “color tends to be a subconscious element in film. It’s strongly emotional in its appeal, expressive and atmospheric rather than intellectual.” (Giannetti 22). The makeup that creates almost white faced characters gives a subconscious sense of fear and distrust in the audience. A person that has no color in their face seems sick or scared and this really resonates with the audience. That, combined with the sudden outburst of vivid red blood creates shock and disgust. The makeup, filters, and fake blood that allows Burton to toy with the color scheme and really make characters look like “death warmed up” and this creates a very strong pathos appeal.
It also creates a logos draw. Lunsford states in his book that “we respect appeals to logos-argument based on facts, evidence and reason” (Lunsford 30). Logically speaking, when I started watching the movie, I saw that it was dark and monochrome and that immediately gave me a sense of the genre of film I was watching.
Ironically, this style has been so used by Burton that it is now his trade mark and one of his films can be spotted a mile away. So this style of color and the special effects required to achieve this look has that ethos draw of prior experience with Burtons work and what can be expected. Personally, this not only gives me a great idea of what to expect from the movie (dark humor, a good scare but not too much, a bittersweet ending) but makes me really want to go see the film based on only that information.
The effects only serve to build the image and world of Burtons imagination that allows the actors to create something magic for the audience to enjoy. The makeup and color effects are subtle but if they were removed would completely change the genre and feel of the film. Therefore, I simply have to give this film and its effects 3 decapitated heads out of 3.