A couple of weeks ago, my Twitter feed exploded as people realized that there was a 1980 made-for-tv movie called The Legend of Sleepy Hollow starring a young Jeff Goldblum. People were really into the sultry VHS cover. I really can’t blame them, I was fascinated by it too.
If you know me then you know I’m a sucker for tv movies and I love Jeff Goldblum so I thought this would be a match made in made-for-tv heaven! The verdict? I guess I was just naïve to think that NBC would show a decapitation in a movie from 1980 that I’m pretty sure was filmed using old Little House on the Prairie sets.
Here’s a rundown of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” by Washington Irving, for everyone who’s unfamiliar with the story. Washington Irving wrote it in 1820, it’s a good example of early American literature that isn’t a religious sermon. Ichabod Crane is a nervous and superstitious school master who moves to Sleepy Hollow, a town near Tarry Town (This is based on a real place, Tarrytown, in the Hudson River Valley). He competes with Brom Bones, a popular man in town, for the hand of the beautiful Katrina Van Tassel. Brom Bones plays a series of pranks on Ichabod Crane. The Headless Horseman is the ghost of a Hessian soldier from the Revolutionary War that lost his head to a cannonball. The story culminates with Ichabod Crane seeing what he presumes to be the horseman and there’s a big chase as he tries to outrun the horseman to the covered bridge and then he disappears.
There are certain tropes essential to the story. Nervous Ichabod Crane, a headless horseman, a flaming pumpkin head, and a covered bridge. This tv movie only delivers the nervous Ichabod Crane.
Jeff Goldblum is basically the high point of this movie and is at Peak Goldblumyness as the stammering, nervous Crane. Interestingly enough, he also happens to be a skeptic, which is unusual for the story. He’s usually superstitious, the only other skeptical Ichabod Crane I remember is Johnny Depp’s Crane in Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow.
The movie is heavy on physical comedy. When we first meet Crane he’s instantly treed by some dogs that belong to Brom Bones.
I’m sorry for the screencap quality. I found a version of the movie on YouTube and it has all the original ads, so these are screencaps of a transfer of a 38-year-old VHS.
Brom Bones is played by Dick Butkus. That’s kind of amazing. He instantly dislikes Crane and makes it his mission to torment him. Brom Bones has driven out every school master to arrive in Sleepy Hollow and the people basically believed that he killed the prior school master, Winthrop Palmer (Michael Ruud). I have no clue why the people of Sleepy Hollow tolerate this shit, I guess they’re okay with their children being illiterate.
Meg Foster of They Live is Katrina Van Tassel.
She’s basically stringing Brom Bones along and, honestly, is kind of mean.
The problem with this movie is that it spends more time on the love triangle (Or quadrilateral, I guess) between Katrina, Brom, Ichabod, and Thelma Dumkey (Laura Campbell), Katrina’s rival, than it does on anything remotely scary. Brom likes Katrina, Katrina kind of likes him until she falls for Ichabod, Ichabod likes Katrina who gets over her initial dislike of Ichabod, and Thelma likes Brom. A lot of time is spent with Thelma’s father trying to convince Ichabod Crane to marry her.
There’s also a lot of time spent on Winthrop Palmer.
It turns out he’s not as dead as the people of Sleepy Hollow thought he was (Seriously, why are people okay with this?) He’s just insane and is producing some of the activity that the people attribute to ghosts.
You know what all this time devoted to love triangles and insane former school masters means? There’s very little time devoted to the Headless Horseman. The Headless Horseman (When it isn’t Brom Bones or a kid accidentally pranking Ichabod) has maybe thirty seconds of screen time.
Do you like movies with three sets? Then this is the movie for you. We get to see the school-house, Squire Van Tassel’s (James Griffith, one of the high points of this movie) estate, and a church. I’m pretty sure that the sets and the music were recycled from Little House on the Prairie. The music doesn’t match the action except at the last chase, that’s the only point I noticed where the music was really good.
I love a good tv movie and I try to be understanding of budgetary constraints and tv standards that can limit what can be shown but this movie is just missing so many essentials of the Legend of Sleepy Hollow. It’s not scary, not even a little spooky. The pacing isn’t great and the version I watched was over an hour and forty minutes with the ads. A very slow hour and forty minutes until the last five minutes. There isn’t even a covered bridge chase. This movie is just missing so many Sleepy Hollow elements.
I wanted to like this so much more than I did. I honestly can’t even recommend this for kids because I think they’d be bored. You can show little kids the really good Disney cartoon The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad. That was one of my favorites when I was little and I think that influenced my love of horror. If they’re older you can just show them Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow. I’d say to watch this for Jeff Goldblum and the novelty only if you’re a tv movie completist like me. Here’s a link if you’re really interested. It has all the old ads which is kind of fun, until the political ads start, then everything starts to feel a little Roger and Me. There are also constant reminders of the Iran Hostage Crisis.
Anyway, I know the real reason anybody is reading this–to see pictures of Jeff Goldblum in a tricorner hat. Here you go.
- Scarina--the authoress and editrix of this site. I like scary movies and have dedicated my free time to cataloging horror--the good, the bad, and the ugly. Sometimes there are books too.
There's film criticism, literary criticism, and humor here. I can be highbrow but there's lots of pop culture too. And feminism.
I fervently love "Twin Peaks" and wish it were a real place so I could move there. I can't list my favorite scary movies because they change depending on my mood, the season, and how much coffee I've had.
I'm an artist looking for ways to blend creepy with cute. I try to channel my childhood nightmares, my love of horror, and my experiences with sleepy paralysis.
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