Monday, October 31, 2016

Sleepy Hollow (1999)

So I just saw Tim Burton's loose adaptation of the classic Washington Irving story, which is to say the 1999 film Sleepy Hollow. Wow, that was WAY more over-the-top, more violent, and frankly, more Flame Princess-esque than your typical take on this story, so of course I loved it. "Heads will roll" indeed, movie poster tagline. (There will be spoilers from here on out.)

Granted, there was room for improvement. Some of the dialogue felt wooden or contrived to me, in both content and delivery. The set-up to Ichabod's involvement was actually harder to swallow than all the gonzo shit that followed - "Hey, our police department is super-corrupt and sloppy, and we generally don't like you. We especially hate your lousy Scientific Methods. Thus I, Judge Christopher Lee, shall give you a choice between being thrown in a cell for contempt of court or going off to the site of several brutal murders with the express purpose of proving the worth of your fancy Science to us and becoming a hero in the process." Also, the Headless Horseman should have been on fire when he walked out of the burning wreckage of the exploded windmill, just because that would have looked really cool. Oh, and the main villain did that whole "reveal your enitre plan in a monologue to the people you think you're about to kill" thing, but that didn't bother me too much since it was in keeping with the tone of the piece.

But yeah, overall, great movie, especially on Halloween. It had some stuff that felt right at home with the philosophy and aesthetic of Lamentations of the Flame Princess, too. (I've actually seen it recommended as inspiration for LotFP somewhere online before, but unfortunately I don't remember where.) I mean, there's a gnarly, twisted tree that bleeds and contains a portal to hell lined with severed heads and which also serves as the Headless Horseman's grave, for fuck's sake. (Was this movie an inspiration for the excellent OSR mini-module The Bloodsoaked Boudoir of Velkis the Vile?) And at the end, the Horseman, a.k.a. the ghost (or zombie or whatever) of a widely-feared high-level (well, high level for LotFP) fighter who was primarily in the mercenary game just to fucking kill for fun, and who filed his teeth into fucking points, bite-kisses the witch who used to control him and then pulls her through the aforementioned hell portal in a way that looks like a home video of a woman messily giving birth set on rewind. That's pretty fucking metal. Oh yeah, and he had gotten his skull back at this point, which had promptly regenerated his head-flesh in a manner reminiscent of both Uncle Frank from Hellraiser and Large Marge from Pee-Wee's Big Adventure. EDIT: I totally forgot to mention it, but the Horseman also kills a small child. You don't see it on screen, but it's heavily implied.

As for LotFP's gaming philosophy or style, everybody certainly seemed low-level. I'd guess Ichabod was a level 1 or 2 specialist, Katrina was a magic-user of the same level, and young Masbath was a level-0 henchman on the path to becoming a fighter. Aside from a few people who were probably level 1 fighters, the mortal form of the future Horseman (who could have probably been that badass at, what, level 6?), and the witch pulling his strings (no more than a level 3 magic-user, and possibly less), everybody else was probably a typical level 0 peasant. Thus, even a relatively low-powered supernatural force, compared to what you generally see in "main-stream" D&D, was a big deal and very dangerous. Combat is very lethal, except when the PCs are both very lucky and properly prepared. And the main characters succeeded not through brute force, but through clever thinking (including some classic moves like throwing your lantern and running away and using the enemies' magic powers against them). There's a lot of investigation and dealing with quirky NPCs, including a witch who summons a demonic spirit into herself just to give Ichabod a clue and help him save the town, because demon-summoning witch or not, she's just a really nice and helpful lady. Of course she gets killed for her trouble. Oh, and the Horseman's skull was a good magic item: use it carefully and it is very powerful, but fuck up and you're fucking finished.

Actually, going off of that thing about the witch above, three out of four witches in this movie were basically good guys (although Katrina did do some questionable, murderhobo-like stuff such as burning evidence to protect someone who looked super-guilty, getting over the death of her NPC love interest in about a nanosecond, and doing suspicious magical shit with little or no effort to either hide what she was doing or explain it). This actually jives sort-of well with the sympathetic way witches are often portrayed in LotFP - I'm specifically thinking of the well-intentioned but probably misguided witches in Better Than Any Man and No Salvation for Witches, among others. Meanwhile, the intolerant bigot who kills Ichabod's mother because of her witchcraft is clearly portrayed as an absolute monster in the movie much like how many witch-hunters are disgusting, corrupted zealots in LotFP. Granted, morality in general is less black-and-white in LotFP than in the movie, with different witches and witch-burners being sympathetic to different degrees, but many of the same moral values and intended levels of sympathy seem to be shared between the game and this movie. This is really a whole other complicated topic, but I thought it was worth touching on here because the movie did give me a Flame Princess vibe in this regard, justifiably or not.

Anyway, at the end, the two PCs and their henchman (hopefully with a shiny new level under each of their belts, even if XP-for-cash remains the gold standard in the game) stick together and presumably go off to have more adventures, with Ichabod probably having earned a better (or at least more complicated) reputation with the police. I kind of wish there was some kind of sequel, in which they go deal with another supernatural threat and team up with some new characters. Maybe tackle another classic module from that era like RLS-1886 Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde or MWS-1818 The Modern Prometheus. That could be a pretty sweet campaign.


  1. You might enjoy this guy discussing how Sleepy Hollow is a love-note to the old Hammer Horror films. And if you haven't seen those...

    1. Oh hey, I really like the Nostalgia Critic. Thanks for sharing this. I hadn't seen it yet.
      And yeah, I REALLY need to catch up on the Hammer Horror classics...

    2. Yeah, my lady and I watch NC weekly, really enjoy his stuff, but man is he young, and it really shows sometimes. ;)

  2. I also quite like the movie.

    There are indeed some quirks,but they do fit with the tone of the movie. It's camp. It's not a parody, but the movie knows what kind of film it is and doesn't pretend otherwise.

    I had not thought about the movie in quite a while,but the magic in it is really all some pretty cool ideas