Month: January 2000

Empire, January 2000 – Village of the Damned!

Title: Village of the Damned!

Author: Simon Braud

Publication: Empire

Issue: January 2000


Photo1AFTER TREKKING UP THE MUDDIEST FOREST TRACK in the entire history of mud (and, no doubt, tracks), Empire finally crests a densely wooded hill to be met with an arresting and slightly unsettling sight: occupying a clearing in the trees some 300 meters below is a tiny, perfectly formed 18th century village which appears to be under attack from alien spacecraft. Hovering above the spiky church, ramshackle half-timbered cottages and suspiciously bijou bridge is a collection of vast, incandescent slabs which are bathing the settlement below in a pale and unearthly light. It looks like the type of tableau you might find gracing the interior of an enormously expensive snow globe.

What is also rather eerie is that earlier in the day Empire inspected exactly the same scene, complete with glowing monoliths, meticulously rendered in miniature in a model shop at Leavesden Studios. And to add a further prickle of unease, as we set off down the mercifully less soggy path that leads to the cluster of buildings below, it occurs to us that this Is precisely how New York constable lchabod Crane first enters the Hudson Valley hamlet of Sleepy Hollow to investigate a series of grisly murders. And it’s here that he first encounters the local legend of the headless horseman.

THERE’S NO CAUSE FOR ALARM, OF COURSE. THE village is hardly more substantial than the cranially-challenged equestrian spook who haunts it. It is in fact, the setting for director Tim Burton’s cinematic retelling of the Washington Irving classic, The Headless Horseman Of Sleepy Hollow; the menacing illuminated blocks overhead are a vast lighting rig designed to provide the requisite ethereal hue during night shoots. And obvious that the set is vintage Burton. Based initially on early Dutch settlements in upstate New York, where the real town of Sleepy Hollow is located — its ostensible quaintness is undermined by a hint of stylised gothic: the houses are slightly too tall and slightly too thin, and they crowd together slightly too tightly. It’s an artful, almost comical corruption of cosiness — this is a community huddling together in fear of the spectre which stalks the dark woods that surround it.

Irving’s much loved supernatural yarn (renamed Sleepy Hollow for the screen) is perfect material for Burton. Set in 1799, it’s a dream-like mix of horror, fantasy and romance that tells the tale of awkward loner lchabod Crane — a schoolteacher in the book, a policeman in the film — who is sent to Sleepy Hollow after several of its inhabitants have been mysteriously decapitated by, he soon learns, the monstrous figure of a headless black rider. “lchabod is someone who is basically behind the times and ahead of the times,” says Burton, “and it’s the contradictory aspects aspects of his character which are always fun and interesting.

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