Thanks to a writing project on old horror movies, I’ve become hooked on the classic scary stuff. For two weeks straight, I watched them constantly: everything from Frankenstein to the old 1920s Phantom of the Opera to Night of the Living Dead. My Facebook picture is the vampire Nosferatu. (I know. Total nerd.)
But how to share my interest in old horror films with my daughter? I could show her the original Frankenstein, of course, but she’s three, and she’d probably be upset by the whole burn-the-nice-monster-alive thing. (Heck, I was upset by the whole burn-the-nice-monster-alive thing. I may or may not have cried.) The other movies would only possibilities if I were prepared to sit by her bedside all night, every night, for the next fifteen years.
I started my quest, but thankfully, I didn’t have to look much further than Disney.
Disney? That's right; besides its classic villains (Sleeping Beauty's Maleficent is plenty frightening for the very small), Disney made its foray into the scary stuff with its retelling of Washington Irving's The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.
Originally released as part of the double-feature The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (1949), Sleepy Hollow (narrated by the very un-scary Bing Crosby!) begins with the typical 1940s-cartoony slapstick comedy and campy singing. But as Ichabod sets out through the forest after hearing the tale of the Headless Horseman, the mood ”lighting, music, pace ”change as Ichabod's imagination takes hold. Now he sees something; but it's not the Horseman, it's a tree. Now he sees something; but it's just an owl. Now he sees something ¦and it's the real thing!
Or is it? We never really know, and that ambiguity makes the movie. Ichabod's fate is hinted at, but as far as little kids are concerned, it was, in the words of my wide-eyed daughter, a real monster!