Who is the killer in Sleepy Hollow? (Not who you’d think!)

(Photo By Getty Images)
(Photo By Getty Images) /

Who is the killer in Sleepy Hollow?

Everybody has their favorite Tim Burton movie. (Don’t they? Do you?) Sleepy Hollow is mine. (Well, it ties for first along with Beetlejuice.)

But I don’t watch it every year. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I saw it.

After it was released in 1999, back when we could still rent movies from Blockbuster, I’d rent it a lot. (Am I dating myself again?) Especially when it first became available for at-home consumption.

I loved everything about it, from the storyline and the sets to the actors and their costumes.

But, then, well, time happened. I might’ve streamed it once, but I’m fairly sure it’s been at least five years since I’ve watched it.

I recently remedied that thanks to Netflix and was surprised again at how well done it is. I was also surprised how 20 years later it still holds up.

It was also scarier than I remembered. No wonder it often makes the cut as one of the best Halloween movies.

I have to admit I never read Washington Irving’s short story, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” that the film is based on. I’m not even sure for the longest time I realized Sleepy Hollow was in the U.S. I’m pretty sure I thought it was set somewhere in England.

I was vaguely acquainted with two of the story’s characters though: Ichabod Crane and of course the Headless Horseman.

But beyond that, I didn’t know much. Maybe that’s why I was able to enjoy it so much? Maybe not having any expectations helped?

I don’t know. Did you read the short story before you saw the movie? Did it affect your enjoyment of it? (Assuming you enjoyed it, that is.)

But another thing I had forgotten was the mystery component. Is Ichabod Crane (played by Johnny Deep in the movie) also a detective who’s sent from New York to investigate murders in Sleepy Hollow?

I’m not sure how the short story is set up to convey the legend of the Headless Horseman and his reign of murderous terror, but in the movie, Ichabod soon discovers the “Hessian Horseman” (played by a terrifying-looking Christopher Walken) is being controlled by someone human and very much alive.

So, that’s why the Headless Horseman is one of the killers. If you guessed him, you’re right.

But he was also controlled by Lady Van Tassel (Miranda Richardson). Her husband, Baltus Van Tassel (Michael Gambon), invites Ichabod to stay in the Van Tassel household with his wife and daughter, Katrina Van Tassel (Christina Ricci), while he conducts his investigation.

As the story unfolds we learn that Lady Van Tassel is Katrina’s step-mother.

Ah, the good old stepmom. She’s as reliable for being a bad guy in a fantasy horror movie as the butler is likely to be the one whodunnit in a mystery.

That’s the case in Sleepy Hollow. Lady Van Tassel stands to inherit her husband’s estate, but first, she must get everyone involved with his will, from his lawyer to any witnesses of its signing, out of the way.

And she definitely has to eliminate the person she’d have to share with, Katrina.

The way she carries out her diabolical plan? She finds a way to control the Headless Horseman.

I’d forgotten that. I knew the legend came to life and truly did wield his sword to behead all of his victims in the movie, but I’d forgotten his missions were guided by someone else.

So, that’s the answer to who is the killer in Sleepy Hollow? It’s actually a trick question because technically there is more than one killer.

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