The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (1980) poster

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (1980)


USA. 1980.


Director – Henning Schellerup, Teleplay – Tom Chapman, Jack Jacobs & Malvin Ward, Based on the Short Story by Washington Irving, Producer – James L. Conway, Photography – Paul Hipp, Music – Bob Summers, Special Effects – Harry Woolman, Production Design – Paul Staheli. Production Company – Schick Sunn Classics Productions Inc..


Jeff Goldblum (Ichabod Crane), Meg Foster (Katrina Von Tassel), Dick Butkus (Bram Bones), John Sylvester White (Fritz Vanderhoof), James Griffith (Squire Van Tassel), Paul Sand (Frederic Dutcher), Laura Campbell (Thelma Dumkey), Michael Ruud (Winthrop Palmer)


The 18th Century. Ichabod Crane arrives in the town of Sleepy Hollow to take up a position as the local schoolmaster. He finds the locals to be very superstitious, including believing in the legend of a Headless Horseman. The locals see Ichabod as an eligible bachelor and invite him to dine in an effort to match him up with local girls. Ichabod develops an attraction to Katrina Von Tassel but this raises the ire of Bram Bones who believes that Katrina should marry him.

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (1849) is one of the classic American horror stories. A creation of Washington Irving (1783-1859), who was also the author of Rip Van Winkle (1819), the story first appeared in a children’s book. The story centres around the superstitious schoolteacher Ichabod Crane who takes up a position in the New York town of Sleepy Hollow. Ichabod attracts the ire of Brom Brunt with his attraction to Katrina Van Tassel. Brom responded by playing a prank on Ichabod, scaring him with a faked appearance of the local legend of the Headless Horseman, which served to drive Ichabod out of town.

The Washington Irving story has been filmed several times before – in 1912, 1922 and as an episode of the Disney animation anthology The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr Toad (1949), the modernised The Hollow (2004) and the low-budget Headless Horseman (2007). The most high-profile of these was the Tim Burton Sleepy Hollow (1999), which is also the most variant telling. There were also several versions made to take advantage of the publicity of the Burton film with the tv movie The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (1999) and the animated The Night of the Headless Horseman (1999). The story even forms a substantial metaphor in The Curse of the Cat People (1944). There was also the subsequent tv series Sleepy Hollow (2013-7), which bizarrely incarnated Ichabod Crane in the present-day fighting occult forces.

Jeff Goldblum as Ichabod Crane in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow
Jeff Goldblum as Ichabod Crane

Schick Sunn Classics was a US company that specialised in tv adaptations of classic stories, including The Last of the Mohicans (1977), The Time Machine (1978), The Fall of the House of Usher (1979), The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1981) and The Adventures of Nellie Bly (1981). They also produced a series of sensationalistic theatrically-released documentaries on subjects that have ranged from Bigfoot in Mysterious Monsters (1976) to life after death in Beyond and Back (1978), The Bermuda Triangle (1979) and the UFO film Hangar 18 (1980), as well as Biblically-themed works such as In Search of Noah’s Ark (1977), In Search of Historic Jesus (1980) and the tv series The Greatest Heroes of the Bible (1978).

This is another of Schick Sunn Classics’ adaptations of the literary classics. It aired as a TV Movie on NBC on Halloween night. Of all the versions of the Washington Irving story, this is actually the most faithful. It follows the story in detailing Ichabod’s arrival in town, his earning the enmity of Bram Bones over the affections of Katrina Von Tassel, and the superstitions of the villagers. The major differences are that Ichabod on the page is much more superstitious and fearful, whereas here he becomes a rationalist who dismisses the superstitions of the locals. The other change comes in the ending, which settles for a more traditional happy comeuppance that has Bram rather than Ichabod being scared and driven out of town and it being Ichabod who settles down with Katrina.

The downside of the film is that it is not much of a Halloween special or even a ghost story. There’s the setup of the town and for a long time the plot fairly dully circles around Ichabod’s marriage prospects, his taking a liking to Katrina and Bram’s brooding jealousy – all mundane stuff of a regular historical drama rather than a horror story. There is also a slapstick element with Dick Butkus and Paul Sand knocking over tables and getting caught up on bell ropes. While there is the element of the town’s superstitions in the background, the film seems like it is never going to ever emerge in terms of its horror element. The Headless Horseman is mentioned and we do eventually get a ride at the end but it is an uneventful affair.

The surprise about the film is the casting of Jeff Goldblum back when he was an unknown and young and dashingly handsome. He goes through the whole Jeff Goldblum thing and brings quite a presence to the centre of the show.

Full film available here

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