Today’s Halloween Horrors post, the next to last in this year’s series, comes to us from returning contributor Harriett Branch. A contributor to this series in both 2016 and 2017, Harriett’s 2018 topic will be the 1949 Disney classic, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. As any fan of the film will tell you, it makes for perfect Halloween-time viewing.
Now, I know that some of you may be saying, “But Horror And Sons, it’s actually called The Adventure of Ichabod and Mr. Toad!”. And while that is indeed true, here’s a little fact that you may have overlooked; NO ONE GIVES A SHIT ABOUT MR. TOAD!! There is nothing remotely Halloween or spooky about that cartoon. So, fuck you, Mr. Toad! You don’t deserves to ride Ichabod’s coattails.
In a convenient move, this post was also the only post that had a predetermined schedule date, as the Horror And Sons crew will be attending the “Return to Sleepy Hollow” event at Disney’s Fort Wilderness this same evening. So, while you can expect plenty of related and themed posts throughout this day, this piece is not about me. It’s about Harriett, so here she is.
Memories of Sleepy Hollow
I think it was third grade.
Anyway, it was at least elementary school, and the first time when I saw Disney’s Legend of Sleepy Hollow. It was early fall and we were getting ready for Halloween. Planning our costumes, our trick or treat routes, which houses to go to, etc. I remember feeling so excited. And then one day at school, the teachers, in their infinite wisdom, wanted to show the kids the Disney cartoon. I was scarred for life and became a horror fan forever more.
A quick recap: The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, published by Washington Irving in 1820, and animated by Walt Disney Productions in 1949, is about a tall, gangly schoolteacher, named Ichabod Crane, who arrives in the town of Sleepy Hollow. He is not so much welcomed, as ridiculed, for his looks by the local men, but completely relished by the local women. He falls for a wealthy man’s daughter, named Katrina, and quickly begins to woo her. Male jealousy rears its ugly head in the form of Brom Bones, the local hero and sometime beau of Katrina. During a town harvest festival at the home of Katrina’s family, Brom discovers that Ichabod is a very skittish and superstitious fellow. To scare him, he tells the party-goers the frightening tale of the Headless Horseman: a tale about a fallen soldier’s ghost who follows unsuspecting people walking home alone during a full moon, looking to replace his lost noggin. The party-goers take the tale for all it is, just a good scare. However, the horrifying image is implanted into poor Ichabod’s head and, as he leaves the party, he becomes paranoid that he may meet up with the specter. Which is exactly what happens. The poor schoolteacher is chased relentlessly throughout the woods by the Headless Horseman and the story ends with the reader deciding if Ichabod was actually caught, or if he escaped. An extremely frustrating way to end a great tale, in this fan’s opinion.
The story was brought to animated life, narrated and sung by Bing Crosby, by Walt Disney Productions in 1949. When I saw it as a young child, it was incredibly scary, and yet, exciting at the same time. I loved the whole Halloween and seasonal parts of it. The film is short, so it’s great for a child’s attention span, but not so scary that’s it’s objectionable to show to children. Plus it has one of the greatest chase scenes in any film, ever. Seriously. I dare you to try to watch it during the chase scene, and turn it off. It’s what the film has been building to and it absolutely delivers!
The chase scene is my favorite part. As Ichabod and his horse are leaving the party, the nighttime noises of the surrounding woods gradually increase in volume, making him even more scared and paranoid. With a resounding laugh, the Horseman makes his appearance. I researched who recorded that laugh, and to my best research talents, it looks like it was a man named Billy Bletcher. He did quite a bit of vocal work for Disney.
With that laugh, the Horseman solidified his place in my life as one of the best villains in horrordom. He begins to chase Ichabod through the woods and what transpires is one of the greatest chase scenes ever. Some of the images in the film are forever burned in my memory, such as the Horseman illuminated against the full moon during his ride.
And Ichabod coming face to face with him.
The chase continues through the woods, until Ichabod spots the bridge. Remembering what he had heard at the party, if you cross the bridge, the Horseman’s power ends. He cannot harm you. So Ichabod and his horse run for all their might for that bridge and make it across. However, as the Horseman approaches the bridge entrance, he flings a fiery pumpkin at Ichabod hoping for one last chance to obtain his head. What happens next, is left to the mind of the viewer. All that is found the next morning is Ichabod’s hat and a shattered pumpkin leaving the villagers to wonder what happened to him.
Without a doubt, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is one of my all-time favorite stories and Disney’s animated version is my favorite version. There have been many imaginings of the story put to film and television, but Bing Crosby’s crooning and the traditional hand-drawn animation go so well together that it’s difficult to think of anyone else embodying these characters. I own the VHS and DVD of this film and they will forever be a staple in my library. Also, I was lucky enough to come across this collectible ornament while at Disney Springs recently, so the Legend will live on during Christmas and throughout the year as I have decided to collect whatever I can regarding this classic. Ride on, you creepy bastard. I’ll be watching.