Scream 2: What Makes It Great?

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As promised in my list of sequels better than the first, it’s time to talk about what I personally consider to be the greatest sequel of all time. The first Scream basically re-invented the slasher genre with its self-aware references and genuinely frightening opening scene and climax. So how do you make a sequel to a film that satirizes horror films? By satirizing sequels of course.

As always, there are going to be spoilers, both for Scream 2 and the original Scream. If you haven’t seen them, go do that now and come back. You won’t be disappointed. It’s time to break down Scream 2 and find out What Makes It Great.

How Tragedy Affects Us

Scream was an attempt to portray someone creating a horror movie in real life. Continuing with this real world setting, the sequel portrays how these characters’ lives have developed after the tragedy and the publicity that came from it. It’s never outright stated in the film, but it’s implied to be two years later. Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) now attends Windsor College, and has become more withdrawn, but is still incredibly driven. She has grown wiser and more caring (as most of us do from high school to college), as the first thing she thinks of when a killer strikes is Randy’s condition.

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Randy (Jamie Kennedy), on the other hand, has turned his newfound fame outward. He’s more social and outgoing, but he’s also grown a bit cocky. His first scene is in a film class discussing the murders of two fellow students at the Stab! premiere, and while he displays the same confidence he had in regards to film trivia in the first, he’s way more prideful about it. He says that sequels by definition are inferior, and he basically shoots down every attempt by Mickey (Timothy Olyphant) and other classmates to name one that’s better than the original (He obviously never read my list). When one classmate mentions Aliens and the famous line “Get away from her you bitch,” Randy corrects him, saying the line is “Stay away from her you bitch.” The thing is, the first guy was right and Randy, once the ultimate film geek, actually has the line wrong.

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When Sidney first meets up with Randy to check in on him, he puts on this weird British accent and cracks jokes, obviously not wanting to revisit the heartbreak and instead covering it up with whatever he can. Everyone gets a chance to re-invent themselves in college, but maybe Randy hasn’t done it for the best.

As soon as he hears about the murders, Deputy Dewey Riley (David Arquette) drops everything and comes to Windsor to check in on Sidney. Dewey was the brother of Tatum, one of the victims of the first film and Sidney’s best friend, so he’s a big brother figure to her without there ever being a hint of anything romantic. In the first film, Dewey almost died at the hands of the killers, so now he walks with a limp.

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So many films would either cover the fact that he almost died with minor scarring or magic surgery, but no, he has the limp through the whole film. He knows he stands almost no chance against a manic killer, but he cares only about looking after Sidney. Personality wise, he’s still exceedingly kind, but he has grown a bit as a cop (as dealing with a murder spree will do to you).

Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox) has probably changed the least, as she always had a good heart deep down, but it just comes out a bit more here. The movie Stab! was inspired by her books on the Woodsboro murders, and she’s made a celebrity out of Cotton Weary (Liev Schreiber), the man wrongfully convicted of the murder of Sidney’s mother, Maureen. Cotton has become a total fame whore, taking every interview and article a magazine will publish, however we can’t really blame him.

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We sympathize with Sidney for trying to avoid his constant attempts to publicize her life, but he is still trying to clear his name in the media’s eyes. If he wants to pick up a little money and fame for doing it, he deserves it after a year in prison. He absolutely has a heart, as shown in his first meeting with Sidney. He thinks he’s just agreeing to an interview with her, but Gale ambushes Sidney on the spot right after she’s found out about the murders. Cotton feels awful about this, and while he tries to get Sidney to do a dual interview with him throughout the film, he attempts this on his own. Cotton is ultimately a very effective red herring, still a jerk, but one whose motivations we understand.

The Friends We Choose

Scream 2 is about so much more than just the same characters getting targeted by another killer. One of the major themes is the people we surround ourselves with as we grow older and (hopefully) wiser. In the first film, Sidney’s group of friends was pretty terrible. Her best friend was Tatum, who was constantly bringing up Sidney’s mother’s death and asking who she thought was the killer. Sidney was dating Billy Loomis, who was of course one of the psychotic killers, but even without knowing that, he was a really aloof jerk who never sympathized with her trauma. His best friend, fellow killer and Tatum’s boyfriend, was Stu, a completely crazed and immature jerk who turned out to be killing people just for fun. Who doesn’t have lousy friends in high school though? Many of these are people we grew up with from childhood and we don’t want to break with, even if we know deep down they aren’t the best for us. The killing could even represent a literal breaking from these and a destruction of child-like innocence.

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By Scream 2, Sidney’s best friend is the lovable Hallie (Elise Neal). She’s funny, smart and outgoing, and if someone gets on her nerves she’ll tell it like it is, but she cares for Sidney deeply. She does not want her out of her sight, skeptical of Sidney’s boyfriend and even the cops who watch her.

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Sidney’s new boyfriend is Derek (Jerry O’Connell), a truly nice guy who loves her but doesn’t always know how to help her when she grows suspicious of him. We sympathize with both Sidney in her doubt, knowing her past, and Derek in trying to convince her it’s not him. He’s generic enough that we believe it could be him, but he’s still a great character, and we buy his romance with Sid completely.

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One of the criticisms some viewers had with Scream 2 is that the killers who don the Ghostface costumes are out of focus in the story… but that’s the point. The first is Mickey, a film student who’s a bit off, one of those satellite friends we all have. He’s a friend of a friend, but not someone you personally want to get all that close to. He and Sidney don’t share all that much with each other, but he seems to be good friends with Derek.

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Really the only pre-reveal scene they share alone.

There are even some teases that he and Derek are the new Stu and Billy, but alas they’re only half true. The other killer is Mrs. Loomis (Laurie Metcalf), Billy’s mother, going undercover as Debbie Salt, a news reporter and wannabe Gale Weathers. What’s brilliant about her character is something that smacks us over the head at the reveal—Sidney has not met this character once over the course of the film. Of course these characters are out of focus, because Sidney has grown from the tragedy and learned to pick friends that aren’t psychopathic killers. She’s smarter, and that’s what makes her an incredibly likable lead.

Anticipation

The first Scream definitely played with horror tropes and was self-aware, but was it all that funny? There were moments where I couldn’t tell if they were going for melodrama or parody or some weird mix of both. How many movies can you think of that effectively and equally pull off comedy and horror? Comedy and horror are kind of similar, because in both genres, we’re on the edge of our seat waiting for the movie to reward us, either by scaring us or making us laugh. In Scream 2, Kevin Williamson’s script manages to do both, making us completely unsure if we’re about to laugh or jump out of our seats and not in a predictable “Oh it’s just a cat” jump scare way. How about that scene near the end when Derek and Sidney are talking, and Sidney leaves Derek alone? Someone starts talking to him from afar, but then it’s just revealed to be his frat brothers jokingly punishing him for giving his letters to Sidney.

Then there’s the increasing fear that fills Gale’s cameraman Joel (Duane Martin), both in that 1) Gale’s cameraman died last time and 2) He’s the black guy in a horror movie. How does that end? He calls a cab and leaves the movie!

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It’s absolutely hilarious and just one of those “Why didn’t I think of that?” moments. He even comes back at the end alive and well. This is just one of those little scenes that makes this movie the masterpiece that it is.

There’s quite a colorful and funny supporting cast as well. Sarah Michelle Gellar is the smart and sassy Cici, who we grow to like in just two scenes until she bites it, and Portia de Rossi and Rebecca Gayheart are the air-headed sorority sisters. The Great One himself, David Warner, even cameos as Sidney’s dry-witted and caring drama teacher! These are the characters (idiots and horror-star cameos) that we expect to be bumped off, but they never are.

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Probably the most famous scene in Scream 2, and easily the most controversial to fans, is the death of Randy Meeks. “But Randy would never walk in front of a van with the door closed! It goes against his character,” many have said. Well, they’re half-right. Randy in the first Scream never would have done that, but as I’ve said, he’s a different person now. Instead of survivor’s guilt, he now has a kind of survivor’s pride and openly taunts the killer on the phone. He’s thinking more about coming up with a witty retort than where he’s stepping, which of course leads him right to the killer.

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It is a frightening scene, mainly in the way that no one notices what’s going on. Randy is on the phone with the killer as Dewey and Gale go around and try to stop everyone who’s on a cell phone. Randy gets drawn into the van right as a person with a loud boombox walks by, which obviously the killer timed. So many horror films scare us with creepy atmospheric night, but this one does it in broad daylight with people all around.

A Sequel About Sequels

Obviously Scream is a meta-series, so horror sequels are openly discussed by the characters, from the professor in the film class to Randy’s sequel rules. However, even the killers’ motivations reflect the way a sequel is created.

Mickey is a completely crazed killer who is recreating the Woodsboro murders for the fame. He even admits to Sidney that he wants to get caught and have Johnnie Cochran or Alan Dershowitz defend him. He has no emotional connection to what’s happened before—He only wants to do it again.

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Mrs. Loomis, for obvious reasons, wants to avenge her son Billy’s death (never mind the fact that he was one of the killers). She teams up with Mickey and his “recreate Woodsboro” plan, but all she really cares about is taking down Dewey, Gale, Randy, and most of all Sidney.

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Early on in the film, Gale brings up the fact that the first three victims are named Phil Stevens, Maureen Evans, and Casey “Cici” Cooper as in the first three victims of Woodsboro: Sidney’s mother Maureen, and Casey and her boyfriend Steve. This leads them to believe that someone is trying to recreate Woodsboro, but then more unrelated victims pile up. The next victim of Woodsboro was Principal Arthur Himbry, while the next victim of Windsor is Randy. This lead is never brought up again, so it must have been a red herring right? Just something created so the trailers could say “Is someone trying to recreate Woodsboro?” Again, I don’t think so.

There are two killers here representing two very different visions, just like a sequel would have (at least) two visions during production. The producer is there to make money and get butts in seats. Most of all, the producer will be the one pushing for basically the same movie all over again, just like Mickey is pushing for Woodsboro 2 (probably not Electric Boogaloo). However, Mrs. Loomis represents the artist, the director and/or screenwriter who is pushing for a new story, one with more emotional punch. Ultimately and thankfully, in the case of both the murders and Scream 2 itself, it is the artist who ultimately wins out.

I can watch this movie over and over, and have watched it countless times more than the original Scream. More than anything, I just love this cast of characters. If there was 13-episode TV show with this cast playing these characters where the killings didn’t start until episode 10, I would eat it up. I like them that much that I would just watch their college stories until the murder mystery starts. They are all just so likable and fleshed out, even the ones like Cici who only get a few scenes in the film. It develops characters better than any sequel, taking them all to a believable point and setting them up for an even better round of killings.

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Sleepy Hollow (1999)

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  • Year: 1999
  • Director: Tim Burton
  • Starring: Johnny Depp, Christina Ricci, Miranda Richardson

Once upon a time, Tim Burton was known as a visionary director with a unique style and creative ideas. Alright, stop laughing. Before Tim Burton made boring adaptation…

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After boring adaptation…

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After boring adaptation of obscure ’60s soap opera…

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He made original and colorful films like BeetlejuiceEdward Scissorhands and (even though it was black-and-white) Ed Wood. Even his adaptations Batman and Batman Returns were thoroughly entertaining, dark, and bizarre in just the right ways.

A Tim Burton adaptation of Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” probably sounded pretty promising back in the late ’90s. In addition to Johnny Depp as Ichabod Crane and Christina Ricci as Katrina van Tassel, Sleepy Hollow features a huge cast of great supporting actors, including Michael Gambon as Baltus van Tassel, Miranda Richardson as Lady van Tassel, Casper van Dien as Brom Bones, Ian McDiarmid as the town doctor, Michael Gough as the notary, Jeffrey Jones as the reverend (yeah you make the joke), Christopher Walken as the Headless Horseman (we’ll get there) and even cameos by Christopher Lee and Martin Landau.

In 1799, because let’s change the time for absolutely no reason, Constable Ichabod Crane is a controversial police detective in New York. He wants to study forensics and try new ideas, while the big mean bosses tell Tim… I mean him… that he can’t. Come on Burton, does every lead have to be based on you? As a punishment for using these controversial methods, Ichabod is told he must go to Sleepy Hollow, where a series of murders has begun, and he must use his methods to catch the killer? Huh?

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I’m not sure how much sense this makes either, but at least it’s better than those Dracula sequels.

Maybe they’re not sure of his methods but want to try them out on a small scale first? I suppose, but if they really think his methods are awful, how is that fair to the people of Sleepy Hollow? This makes no sense.

Ichabod arrives in Sleepy Hollow…

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Nah I’m just kidding. Ichabod arrives on a sound stage that looks absolutely nothing like the Massachusetts town, but rather England by way of German expressionism.

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The town is this muggy for the whole film. The point of Sleepy Hollow is that the beauty of the town clashes with the undercurrent horror of the story. Bing Crosby even points this out in his narration in the Disney film, and the Will Rogers version even shot on location. Here, it just feels like a generic gray horror town. The sets are great, don’t get me wrong, but they’re not Sleepy Hollow.

Again This…

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Vs. This.

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Burton was clearly inspired the classic Hammer Horror films of British cinema, which is just fine, but those were set in Victorian England. The grey colors and bleak atmosphere worked, but forcing “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” into that mold doesn’t make a lot of sense.

As for the story, there manages to be way too much of it and not enough of it at once. Turning Washington Irving’s short story into a murder mystery sounds like an odd choice, as it ultimately makes the legendary Headless Horseman into nothing more than a minion of the true villain. Sure, you can say that Tim Burton was inspired again here by Hammer Horror, a studio not exactly known for its accurate adaptations. The Curse of Frankenstein for example strays far from Mary Shelley’s novel, portraying Victor Frankenstein as more of a monster than the one he creates, but I personally find it to be the best non-comedic Frankenstein film ever made. Similarly, Horror of Dracula twists our expectations by killing off Jonathan Harker in the first act. These plots were different from the original stories sure, but in terms of story and characters, they were simplified.

Sleepy Hollow instead complicates Irving’s story to ridiculous levels. It goes something like this… I think. Abraham van Garret (Martin Landau), his son and a widow are found decapitated. When Ichabod Crane comes to town, he does some forensics on the bodies and discovers that the widow was pregnant. More and more heads get cut off, including the magistrate (who knew the widow was pregnant) and a midwife and family. One of the victims, Jonathan Masbath has a young son (Marc Pickering) who joins Ichabod on some of his investigating, because this movie needed a kid sidekick apparently. He adds absolutely nothing to the plot.

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In the woods, Ichabod and the pointless kid come across a witch who lives there, even though nothing is made of the fact that an evil witch lives just outside of town. She jumps out for a pointless jump scare that references Pee Wee’s Big Adventure.

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Ichabod is led to the Tree of the Dead, a portal to Hell that the Horseman comes out of. We also just see the Horseman in full many times, because why should a horror movie tease or build up its monster? There is a brief scene that recreates the famous Disney climax, but it comes and goes quickly, and it’s immediately revealed to be Brom in disguise. It’s almost like the studio forced this scene in or something.

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In one of the few moments of actual surprise, Brom is killed by the Horseman fairly early on, revealing him to be innocent of the murders. The fight scene in which he dies is ridiculous, but at least we’re not expecting it. Ichabod finds out that the widow’s son was Peter’s, and that Peter intended to leave his fortune to the son instead of Baltus van Tassel. This leads Ichabod to assume Baltus is bringing the horseman to kill everyone, but then basically everyone kills each other out of paranoia in a church meeting. Baltus himself is impaled by a MacGyver device that the Horseman creates, knowing he can’t get into the church. Baltus is probably the only character in the whole film whose death we care about, because Michael Gambon actually manages to give a good performance in spite of basically everyone else being forgettable.

Ichabod now suspects Katrina when he sees her drawing something occult-ish on the church floor, but we know it won’t go there. In spite of a script that doesn’t give clues, t’s really not that hard to find out who did it. See if you can find the Academy Award-nominated actor in the cast who hasn’t gotten much screen time.

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No! The other one!

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Lady van Tassel, the stepmother of the love interest? Who could have guessed? Well, for story reasons, absolutely no one. She’s just kind of been in the background, doing very little at all, and the only ways you can figure it out are 1) The casting 2) The stepmother cliche and 3) Not seeing her die on screen.. As she calls upon the Horseman to come and kill Katrina, she reveals her entire motivation and evil plan. There are good ways to have a reveal and bad, but this… this is borderline meta in how straightforward it is. She just tells the entire story while standing there, going so far over-the-top that Tim Curry would tell her to take it down a notch. It’s almost enjoyable in how ridiculous it is. She’s waiting around for Katrina, Ichabod and that pointless kid to die, and she’s just standing there and quipping Bond-style one liners like “Watch your head.”

She was shunned from the village as a child and did this all out of spite for the town and to inherit Baltus’ estate. Fine, great. She says that, as a girl, she made a deal with the Devil to raise the Horseman and do her bidding. What’s the point with the Horseman at all in her plan? Sure, she’s making someone else do her dirty work, but she herself admits to two murders (a servant and her sister) in this confession, so it renders the Horseman pretty moot. Wouldn’t it have been interesting (especially in something going for an ironic tone like this) if she herself had been averse to murder? Please, just something that makes sense!

The Horseman comes for Katrina, but Ichabod, Katrina and that annoying kid all run away and have a long chase with him. Lady van Tassel gets into a fight with them, drops the Headless Horseman’s skull (which is the only way she can control him I guess? Cheap deal, Satan). Ichabod throws the Horseman’s head back, and we get another “See I’m Tim Burton” effect as he puts it back on.

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The Horseman then picks up Lady van Tassel to drag her into Hell. Before he does, he forces a kiss on her with his disgusting mouth and bloody teeth. As much as I hate this film (and if you can’t tell so far, I really do), this is the only moment that makes me feel like I need to take a shower. It might seem small at first, but really think about it. Imagine if the villain turned out to be one of the male characters and he was punished this way. Lady van Tassel’s motivation had nothing to do with sex, so this comes out of nowhere (an oddly misogynistic nowhere), but since she’s a woman, this is how Burton decides to punish her. Apparently an eternity in Hell just isn’t enough. It’s a subtler version of punishing someone with rape, which is a disgusting and outdated trope that was never alright.

Ichabod and Katrina arrive in New York City at the start of the new century, happy and together. Apparently they leave the town of Sleepy Hollow to fend for itself, with the doctor, reverend, notary, magistrate and midwife all dead. Good luck.

This film is an absolute mess, but apparently not everyone thought so.

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I get that it’s inspired by Hammer (at least stylistically) but that doesn’t excuse all of its faults. Is this a comedy? Well it’s not really ever funny (except in how ridiculously over-the-top Miranda Richardson gets). Is it horror? There’s an occasional tense moment, but it’s always ruined by something ridiculously goofy. Is it mystery? Well as I’ve broken down, the mystery is entirely secondary and not well-written. This story is so absolutely convoluted that it completely loses the interest of the audience. It replaces what could be actual plot with over-the-top death scenes and excessive blood. Ultimately, the murder mystery story is more or less a cover by Tim Burton to make a slasher film. He obviously doesn’t care about these characters or the intricacies of the plot, and he even says he often felt like he was making an episode of Scooby-Doo. There is no question the writer wrote the script up until the third act and said, “Oh I need to solve the mystery now.”

This thing has a great cast, but the only performances that stand out are Michael Gambon, for making Baltus a likable and sensible character in spite of the craziness, and Miranda Richardson for taking a terrible script and chewing up so much scenery that they probably had to build more. Johnny Depp and Christina Ricci just kind of play the whole thing is “ambiguously creepy British” without any real character. Why is Christopher Walken the Headless Horseman? It’s entirely distracting.

Sometimes, a movie gets better on re-watches, but this one is the reverse. I’ve probably seen this three times, and while I had a pretty “meh” reaction the first time, this thing just gets worse each time.

Story (4/30 Points)

The storytelling is a convoluted disaster. It takes what is a simple story and makes a confusing, un-mysterious un-scary mystery horror out of it. By the ending, who cares?

Leads (11/30 Points)

Depp is kind of quirky but nothing really stands out, and Ricci is fairly boring. I like Michael Gambon as Baltus van Tassel (I’m gonna count him here) quite a bit, but he’s really the only one delivering a good performance. Miranda Richardson obviously knew this movie was terrible and made the most of it.

Supporting Cast (2/10 Points)

Take a drink every time a brilliant character actor is wasted. This movie features Christopher Lee, Martin Landau, Michael Gough, Jeffrey Jones, Christopher Walken, and Ian McDiarmid and barely anything of merit is added. As for that creepy kid… well yeah, he also adds nothing.

Experience (12/30 Points)

Alright, I’ll say one thing positive. Danny Elfman’s score is quite good. It’s exciting in the chase scenes, and it is plenty harrowing on its own. The sets could be effective (and they are for a lot of viewers), but it really feels weird because it’s just not Sleepy Hollow. The mood is constantly being ruined by something stupid, which really works against the film.

FINAL SCORE: 29%

I know it was a hit when it first came out, and is still decently regarded today, but I cannot stand this thing. I can’t accept the “It’s a Hammer film” argument alone, because the good Hammer films had a consistent Gothic tone. The atmosphere here is constantly making the film laughable… except when it’s intended to be funny, and then it’s not.

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7 Sequels That Improve On The Original

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I recently wrapped up a series on Sequels to Classics, but the recent release of Blade Runner 2049 shows us that these can be done right. There are even some that go one step farther and do the impossible. These are the few that take a good (or even great movie) and create a followup that is more interesting, more mature, more complex, or just more entertaining. This will not include films that are sequels to lousy films, because it’s pretty easy to improve on those.

7. Saw II

Neither of the first two Saw films is perfect, but they both have their merits. The first brilliantly plays on fears of isolation and has one of the most famous and effective twists in recent memory, but it makes excessive use of flashback and the extreme editing becomes a bit too much. Saw II is a more interesting film in my opinion, because we get to really meet the character of Jigsaw, and Tobin Bell’s performance is the perfect level of creepy without being over-the-top. There’s even a little shout-out in the way he resembles Death from The Seventh Seal.

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As Detective Eric Matthews (Donnie Wahlberg) interrogates Jigsaw/John Kramer (Tobin Bell), we see Matthews’ son caught in a death-trap house with others that Jigsaw believes deserve to play his games. I love that Saw II full on embraces that game idea of the first and makes a house of Jigsaw’s games. I won’t spoil the twists, because this one isn’t famous enough that they’re known by anyone who’s heard of the film. I’ll simply say that one blew my mind and really worked, and the other felt tacked on and was a pointless sequel hook. However, it doesn’t ruin the movie’s integrity, making for a very interesting and overall improved followup.

6. The Empire Strikes Back & Return of the Jedi

That’s right, both of them. The first Star Wars is a classic, with groundbreaking special effects, gripping characters and non-stop excitement. Sure, it’s a formulaic story, but for many people (kids in particular), it’s the first time they see that story. It’s a fun movie, but surely the sequel would just be a boring rehash right? WRONG.

The Empire Strikes Back focuses more on the characters, making Luke a stronger hero, Han a more caring rogue, and Leia an even more powerful leader. New characters Lando, Yoda and Boba Fett add plenty of color to the film, and there’s even a great little running joke where Darth Vader’s subordinates keep getting killed for being incompetent (I’m not kidding, it’s kind of hilarious).

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However, the real thing that makes it stand out is the big reveal. It’s obvious that having Darth Vader be Luke’s father was not the original plan, but it still works, making it so much more than a good vs. evil story.

Return of the Jedi is often not considered weaker than the other two, but I disagree. Sure, there are dumb moments, but there are dumb moments in every Star Wars. The Jabba’s Palace sequence goes on forever, but I’m sorry, so does the Hoth sequence in Empire. What makes Jedi work so well is the relationship between Luke and his father. Mark Hamill’s acting in these scenes is his best work in the series (at least so far), and they pack an amazing emotional punch.

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Since Vader has been morally grayed, the viciously evil Emperor (Ian McDiarmid) steps in, and he’s ridiculously over-the-top but still creepy. The final scene between Luke and Anakin is my favorite scene in the entire saga.

5. Toy Story 3

Who knew a trilogy about talking toys could be so heartwarming? An idea that could have easily just been a huge commercial instead gave us one of the few trilogies where all three installments are absolutely beloved. For me, not only is the third film a perfect sendoff, it’s the most enjoyable film in the series.

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1% notwithstanding

This may be pandering to the now-older kids who grew up on the original, but it works. That said, I don’t really think it is, because it was universally loved by critics. It takes these characters we’ve grown to love in a believable direction, making them have to deal with life after their owner grows up.

It’s fun, funny, has enough references to the other two to please fans but not enough to alienate anyone, and even has a genuinely threatening villain. It’s a bear played by Ned Beatty, but he is threatening! It basically becomes The Great Escape with toys, but there’s even a scene where they almost get burned to death. You know they won’t actually go through with it, but seeing them say their goodbyes is heartbreaking.

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It’s the final scene that really sells it though, with Andy giving his toys to a younger girl who will have the time to play with them. He holds on to Woody, showing that some parts of ourselves will never go away. I can’t imagine what they’ll do with Toy Story 4, because this is a perfect ending.

4. Bride of Frankenstein

I just watched the original Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein back-to-back again, and there is no doubt as to which is the better film. The first is a landmark film, sure, and it’s got brilliant moments, sets and make-up, but the sequel just offers so much more. Ernest Thesiger is a huge scene-stealer as Dr. Septimus Pretorius…

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And Elsa Lanchester creates one of the most famous monsters in all of film in just a few minutes of screen time.

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The Monster gets humanity here, and what could have been cheesy is made perfectly touching thanks to Boris Karloff’s performance. The scene with the blind hermit is an absolutely beautiful scene, as these two who’ve never had a friend before find companionship in the other.

Colin Clive plays Henry Frankenstein as a man struggling between his new life (his bride Elizabeth) and his old (Dr. Pretorius). Pretorius is basically Frankenstein if he had no qualms about anything, and went far enough to kill people for his experiments. He’s campy, creepy and hilarious when need be. The final scene, in which Henry is saved by his own creation, is a perfect conclusion to his story.

3. The Dark Knight

Oddly enough, this one has been experiencing some backlash in recent years, with comments like “That movie was nothing without Heath Ledger” and “If Ledger hadn’t died, this would have been just another superhero movie.” Don’t get me wrong, Heath Ledger is the stand-out of this film, but it’s a masterpiece all around.

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What about Aaron Eckhart as the tragic Harvey Dent/Two-Face? His arc plays out like a Shakespearean tragedy, from all-American hero to pathetic villain. Maggie Gyllenhaal makes Rachel Dawes, who could have simply been a plot device, a strong-willed and intelligent character, and Gary Oldman is brilliant as the heroic and human James Gordon.

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Gary Oldman as the one honest cop… talk about breaking typecast.

Michael Caine is a wonderful Alfred, bringing just the right blend of kindness and leadership. I don’t love Christian Bale as Batman, but anyone is going to look lesser in comparison to Michael Keaton, and he still carries the movie just fine.

From the opening scenes, we’re presented with questions about the origin of evil, what it takes for a good man to fall, and how to fight these evils when they arise. The biggest theme of all reflects a quote by Nietzsche, “He who fights monsters should see to it that he himself does not become a monster. And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.” Dent takes on the city’s crime, but ultimately becomes a part of it himself. Does Batman do the same?

2. The Godfather Part II

The Godfather is essentially a perfect film. Every piece falls into place flawlessly like a Shakespeare play, leading to an ending where Michael Corleone has risen to the top of his father’s criminal empire. So how is it that the sequel is an even better film?

For one, it strips away any shades of gray that may have existed from the first. Some interpreted the first film as too kind towards the mob, and Coppola himself understood these implications. Here, Michael delves deeper and deeper into darkness, alienating everyone around him, including his wife, his children and his own brother.

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Killing Fredo is a line that Michael can never uncross, no matter how hard he tries. Pacino gives one of the greatest performances in all of film, showing Michael gradually losing control of absolutely everything as he becomes more and more ruthless.

Meanwhile, we get to see Vito’s rise to power through flashback, played by Robert De Niro in an Oscar-winning role.

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Ultimately, both stories are about so much more than the mob. They’re a deconstruction of the American Dream and capitalism itself, highlighted in Hyman Roth’s line “Michael, we’re bigger than US Steel.”

And the Number One sequel that improves upon the original…

No, this one needs more. There’s a sequel that I feel has been entirely overlooked in recent years, one that takes the ideas of the first and absolutely perfects them. I honestly believe it to be the greatest sequel ever made, and it’s relevant to the Halloween season, so I’ll be giving its own review very soon.

Read that review HERE.

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The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (1980)

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  • Year: 1980
  • Director: Henning Schellerup
  • Starring: Jeff Goldblum, Meg Foster, Dick Butkus

Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” is just a short story, so if you’re going to make a full-length adaptation, you will have to expand the story in one way or another. The way 1922’s The Headless HorsemanThe Headless Horseman did it was pretty enjoyable and didn’t make it feel padded. This 1980 film on the other hand…

This one is a CBS Television film starring uh Jeff uh Goldblum as Ichabod Crane. Instead of Ichabod being a superstitious coward, Goldblum’s Crane is a skeptic.

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Why completely change the character? This isn’t a stalling-for-time thing, but rather just a pointless switch. I suppose that showing an intellectual as incredibly superstitious doesn’t play too well in the modern day, as a stereotypical 20th Century intellectual wouldn’t be prone to those fears, but it was a much different time. Why can’t they act like it was?

A lot of this film is spent on the story’s love triangle, but even worse, it’s made into a love square. Ichabod Crane is almost immediately befriended by Fritz Vanderhoof (John Sylvester White), who tries to set him up with his widowed daughter, Thelma (Laura Campbell). Fritz is supposed to be shown as a caring father, but he comes off as incredibly creepy. He tells Ichabod that his daughter is a “fine figure of a woman” before having her spin around so he can study the fine figure.

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Ichabod isn’t opposed to Thelma’s advances, but he’s obviously more attracted to Katrina van Tassel (Meg Foster). Also vying for Katrina’s affection is town bully Brom Bones (Dick Butkus) who I’d call one-dimensional, but that would be an insult to lines. Brom basically think he’s entitled to Katrina, even though she doesn’t care for him that much. Thelma is revealed to be secretly in love with Brom Bones, which make her advances towards Ichabod utterly confusing. Was she trying to get Brom jealous like Katrina did in the short story? Well no, because Brom barely knew she existed. Is the film just trying to paint her as so horny that she’ll just take whoever comes along? Ugh this thing doesn’t like women too much… or cohesive storytelling.

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Ichabod learns that three previous schoolmasters have gone a bit off the deep end after they claimed to see ghosts, particularly the most recent one Winthrop Palmer (Michael Ruud). Of course Ichabod soon starts seeing ghosts when he’s alone at night, but it’s revealed that Fritz Vanderhoof is just playing a prank on him. Why? This guy wants to be his future father-in-law but is also playing a joke to make him think he’s going mad? He doesn’t like that Ichabod is a skeptic, so he plays a cheap joke on him to make him believe? What is the intended outcome here, Fritz? If he starts believing in ghosts, he’s going to go off the deep end like the others. If he realizes it’s a prank, he’s just going to continue being a skeptic, perhaps even more so.

However, it turns out that Ichabod is seeing more ghosts than the ones Fritz concocted for those really confusing goals. He soon starts seeing the ghost of Winthrop Palmer, and Michael Rudd’s performance is so cackling and over-the-top that it feels like it’s out of a comedy. We later find out that he’s not really a ghost at all because he never died (It’s not really explained), so it’s just a crazy guy taunting Ichabod.

Notice who I haven’t mentioned once yet? You know, the most famous character from “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”? The Headless Horseman? He’s basically an afterthought in here next to all the ghosts and fake-ghosts and not-really-ghosts-at-all, and he has no bearing on the plot whatsoever. There’s no scene at the Van Tassel party where they gather round and hear the story of the Horseman, and while there is a final chase, there’s other stuff going on as well, and Ichabod and the Horseman both get away without consequence.

I have no idea what went on with the script, but it is a mess. What was the intention here? Was it a case of too many cooks in the kitchen? Why can’t it tell one story? If you want to focus on the additional love story, fine. If you want to focus on this former schoolmaster, fine. If you want to focus on the creepy dad who tries to scare Ichabod, yeah, don’t do that. There’s way too much as it is about dads talking about who they’ll have their daughters marry.

At the climactic party, all the tensions come to a head with a food fight.

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Seriously. Then Brom pushes Ichabod through a glass window. Upon leaving, Ichabod has a chase with the real horseman, and the Vanderhoof family has one with the horseman that’s actually Brom in disguise. Ichabod is engaged to Katrina and Brom is punished by having to marry Thelma. Huh? Thelma obviously still likes Ichabod as a person, but she’s still obsessed with Brom? After he goes as far as to push Ichabod through glass, she still wants to marry this guy? Whatever.

Between the muddied story and poorly-written characters, is there anything redeemable here? Most of the performances aren’t that great, but to be fair, we can blame the writing for a lot of that. However, Goldblum in particular is boring, and he gives one of the most uninspired “I love you”s in all of film. Dick Butkus isn’t really acting here at all (Or acting too hard, I don’t know). Brom has a comic relief friend played by Paul Sand who adds nothing to the story and isn’t funny. The only real standout is Meg Foster as Katrina, who isn’t all that interesting of a character on paper, but at least she’s charismatic.

It’s never a scary film (it’s a TV film from 1980), but the atmosphere isn’t bad. It takes place in winter, not fall (It was probably rushed to production and there was snow on the ground), but we still get a feel for the town. There is some decent buildup to the ghosts… or fake ghosts… or guy who’s actually still alive.

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Again, I completely understand that changes have to be made in an adaptation of a short story, but this version has multiple moments where it tries to act like it’s a text-to-screen adaptation. It claims to be an entry in the Classics Illustrated series…

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And the original TV version ends with Gary Coleman (in character from Diff’rent Strokes) saying he knew how it would end because he read the short story. Is this a joke? Or did they throw this in assuming people would think this is how the story ended? Let’s get to the final score.

Story (9/30 Points)

It has some things that are reminiscent of the story. Most of it’s just a confusing mess, though, which is weird for what could have been a simple TV movie.

Leads (10/30 Points)

Goldblum is dull, Butkus is just awful, but at least Meg Foster offers some charisma as Katrina. I guess Thelma counts here too with her lengthy screen time, and while it’s not the actress’ fault, this character is written terribly.

Supporting Cast (0/10 Points)

Gotta love when the Headless Horseman is an afterthought in a Sleepy Hollow film. Thelma’s father is creepy as all get out, and Baltus van Tassel is just kind of a jerk until the end, but it’s not a character arc or anything. Paul Sand adds nothing, and the former schoolmaster is just goofy.

Experience (15/30 Points)

The atmosphere is actually pretty nice. Nothing is spectacular by any means, but it’s something.

FINAL SCORE: 34%

What a drop-off this is from the last two. This thing is a waste of time, unless you’re on some kind of mission to watch every Jeff Goldblum film. If you are, I just feel bad for you.

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The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (1949)

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  • Year: 1949
  • Director: Jack Kinney, Clyde Geronimi
  • Starring: Bing Crosby

Disney is not exactly known for films that are accurate adaptations, but today’s is an exception—a major exception. Disney’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is one of the most accurate adaptations ever made, in both story and the general feel of the tale. It can be easy to put the events of a story on screen (in most cases), but to entirely capture the feel of a story is truly what makes a great adaptation. So why isn’t this held in high acclaim with other animated classics?

Well, for one, it came at an interesting point in history. After their first few animated films, Disney was on top of the world, making the films that are among their most beloved to this day like Fantasia, Pinocchio and Bambi. Then, World War II hit and the studio put out package film to pay the bills. By 1949, they were getting back on track, putting out a film that was two thirty minute films packaged together—The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad.

This film basically spawned from the fact that Disney wanted to adapt The Wind in the Willows and “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” but didn’t have the budget to do full length versions. The two stories really have no thematic connection at all, so it’s kind of jarring that they’re back-to-back. I suppose one takes place at Christmas and the other at Halloween, but even that is pushing it. Eventually, the two were released separately on home video, because if you watch them together you’re basically bearing through the underwhelming Mr. Toad segment to get to Ichabod. On its own, Disney’s Sleepy Hollow has become something of a Halloween classic, but not a legendary film.

Like many versions, the characters don’t really speak, with the special instead being narrated by Bing Crosby. There are a few screams, shrieks and such here and there from the characters, but there is not dialogue. I wouldn’t want it in every story, but I like this approach here. It manages to keep so much of Irving’s beautiful prose without just being someone reading the story. Crosby of course uses his own style, making lighthearted comments about the characters and sort of sing-talking through some parts. It could be dated, but it really just adds to the charm of the whole thing.

Surprisingly, Disney is not afraid to play up the story’s ambiguities. While you might expect them to portray Ichabod as the straight hero and Brom as the villain, they instead insert all of Ichabod’s unattractive qualities from the story, like gluttony, laziness and worst of all, greed.

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Brom is portrayed as boisterous and immature, but we also see that he isn’t really all bad. What’s amazing is just how much we see of this through silent animation. Brom is a bully sure, but he often shows this boyishness about him that he’ll probably outgrow, and he probably does care about Katrina more than Ichabod does.

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While the short story suggests that Katrina is probably just wooing Ichabod to make Brom jealous, which will lead to him being more committed, that is actually downplayed here. She is shown as getting a little enjoyment out of it, but she is mostly portrayed as naive instead of manipulative. The major change is that she does not break up with Ichabod after the party, showing that her affections for him were most likely genuine. It’s a perfectly fine and even welcome change, as it makes her character less one note and makes the ending even more impactful.

The story is expanded a bit as Brom and Ichabod compete for Katrina’s affections in a slapstick-esque war, which almost breaks into Tom and Jerry or Bugs Bunny territory, but it never feels too derivative or out of place. The character animation is just great here, as Ichabod slips and slides out of situations due to his lanky frame. If the story took itself too seriously, this comedic animation wouldn’t work, but if it went too far on the light, the dark stuff would never work. It brilliantly finds the balance between the two, just like Irving’s story does, and it’s all the better for it.

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Most of the wartime Disney films had to skimp a little on animation, but it’s clear they were starting to earn money back here, as the backgrounds fully convey the feel of the story. Take the opening for example, as Ichabod walks into town over Bing Crosby’s narration. It’s all green and sunny, and we see the town from afar, including the church. Then, we see a close-up of the church at night, which looks like something out of German Expressionism.

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In that one shot, we learn everything we need to know about the town of Sleepy Hollow. It’s a seemingly simple and beautiful town, but there is a hidden darkness to it. There’s a certain Tim Burton adaptation that misses that… but I’m getting ahead of myself. I love how immediately after this, Bing mentions the “best known story” of Sleepy Hollow, and right when we think he’s about to mention the Headless Horseman, he starts the story of Ichabod Crane. In fact, we don’t even learn of the Horseman here until the party at the Van Tassel home.

There are also these little additions here and there that just add to the viewing experiences, especially on re-watches. For example, did you notice that the hay bales at the Van Tassel home are actually shaped like money bags?

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I have seen this film probably ten times, and this is literally the first time I noticed that. There’s also this little joke involving Ichabod’s… er… ponytail the first time he sees Katrina.

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The music is one of the highlights here, which shouldn’t be all that surprising as it’s Bing Crosby. Since he’s narrating, he can just kind of slide in and out of songs. “Ichabod” is a fun and breezy song introducing our protagonist, with the town pointing out his unique features while still being attracted to them. Of course, when Ichabod leads the town in singing, it’s in Bing Crosby’s traditional style instead of classical psalmody. “Katrina” is a pleasant little ballad about everyone fawning over Katrina van Tassel, and it pops up later when Ichabod whistles it while riding home from the party.

The score switches from comical to easy-going, and the music that plays at the dance is one of the catchiest background tracks I’ve ever heard in a cartoon. However, the scene where Brom starts singing about the Headless Horseman on is the part people really remember, and for good reason. “The Headless Horseman” is a song that perfectly captures the balance of lightheartedness and horror in this story. It’s ridiculously upbeat and catchy, and while of course the lyrics are dark, the music itself has this underlying creepiness to it. The song builds upon itself wonderfully, building up the horror for Ichabod, who is portrayed as every bit as superstitious as he is in the story. I love how this song portrays the Headless Horseman as someone who even scares other ghosts away. What a buildup.

At the beginning of the song, as various characters are telling little tidbits about the Horseman (the closest thing we get to dialogue), we see this guy for all of three seconds.

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Who the heck is this Nosferatu-looking creep? Does he just sit in that chair with that lighting to look like a Bond villain? With that strange lanky frame and gaunt face, I’m starting to think he might the Ghost of Ichabod Crane future. Look, I get that he’s in this thing for a single moment, but how does no one get creeped out that he’s at this party? Instead of sitting around and telling ghost stories, why don’t they just sit around and look at this guy?

When this song ends, the scene fades to black, and it’s immediately followed by Ichabod riding home. Bing gives a little introductory narration, and then everything cuts out and all we hear are the ambient sounds. As Ichabod rides on, everything scares him. In terms of buildup and payoff, this is an incredibly effective horror scene, and not just for an animated movie. Frogs croak “Ichabod” and “Headless Horseman” and eventually Ichabod realizes that it was just the sounds of nature that scared him, especially the cattails that sounded like hooves. Just when he thinks he’s safe, and he and his horse are having a good laugh, he hears an evil laugh, which ultimately reveals the Headless Horseman in all his horrifying glory.

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The fake out right before the reveal works so well, because it’s been a pretty creepy scene so far, and first-time viewers without prior knowledge of the story will probably decide that’s all the further a Disney movie would go… but nope, it goes all out. Sure, the chase that ensues is both comical and dark, but it really works. There’s one moment where Ichabod looks down the Headless Horseman’s shirt and comes back looking terrified. What an interesting situation this creates. What did he see? Although the story still seems to imply it could have been Brom, this and a few other factors lean towards the interpretation that the Horseman is real. For example, the horse that he rides is not Gunpowder, Brom’s horse from earlier in the film.

Just like in the story, Ichabod’s ultimate fate is left ambiguous. This is something that is easy to convey in a short story, but for it to be ambiguous in a visual medium? That’s pretty impressive. We see the Horseman throw his flaming pumpkin as Ichabod crosses the bridge, and the pumpkin engulfs the entire screen.

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We then cut to the next morning, where all that’s left is Ichabod’s hat and a shattered pumpkin. Bing says that Brom and Katrina got married, and offers the interpretation that Ichabod married a wealthy widow in another town and the one that he was taken away by the Horseman. We do see Ichabod’s “family,” however they look like him.

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While the short story seems to lean towards the implication that Brom Bones ran Ichabod out of town as a prank, I think this one leads toward the Horseman both being real and killing Ichabod. Regardless, it’s the ambiguity that makes this so effective. The best horror is based in the fear of the unknown, and so many horror films go way too far by showing and telling us everything and therefore ruining the mystique. This may just be a Disney cartoon, but it plays these horror tropes to a t.

Story (28/30 Points)

It adapts the story absolutely wonderfully, filling the 30 minute short without ever feeling rushed or overstaying its welcome. It carries over all of Irving’s ambiguities and shades of gray, and captures both the lighthearted moments and the scary ones.

Leads (26/30 Points)

Ichabod and Brom are incredibly well-rounded characters, showing both their positive and negative traits without downplaying anything. Katrina is pretty good too, but if I have to nitpick, we could maybe have used a little bit more.

Supporting Cast (10/10 Points)

Cast may not be the right word here, as there aren’t really character voices, but Bing Crosby’s narration works even better than you might expect, and it still holds up marvelously. The Headless Horseman is an incredibly memorable character, and it’s because of his animation and that evil laugh. Who is that random creepy guy at the party? I don’t know, but he’s hard to forget.

Experience (28/30 Points)

There are a couple moments where the animation is a bit cheap, but they are really few and far between. It’s really just a few halfway-drawn eyes on a wide shot. Otherwise, the songs are catchy, the animation gorgeous and the atmosphere perfectly autumnal.

FINAL SCORE: 92%

For me, this is the Halloween special. It captures the feel of the fall season as a whole, from the gorgeous scenery to the dark nights. It’s just as great as Washington Irving’s classic story, and it doesn’t pull any punches with the material. Maybe it’s not the classic it should be because it’s not long enough to be a feature or short enough to be a short cartoon. Regardless, it’s one amazing adaptation.

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The Headless Horseman (1922)

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  • Year: 1922
  • Director: Edward D. Venturini
  • Starring: Will Rogers, Lois Meredith, Ben Hendricks Jr.

The first full-length film adaptation of Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” The Headless Horseman was released nearly 100 years ago. It stars humorist Will Rogers as Ichabod Crane, and was shot on-location near Tarrytown, New York, the town that inspired Sleepy Hollow (It’s actually called Sleepy Hollow today).

I have to admit that when I heard this was a silent film starring Will Rogers, I figured it would be some fast-and-loose adaptation of Irving’s story that tried for humor over anything else. I was wrong.

From the early scenes, we totally get immersed in the community of Sleepy Hollow, seeing the closeness of their inhabitants and their distrust of outsiders.

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The on-location shoot lends authenticity to this film and really provides a great sense of atmosphere. Just like in Irving’s story, the atmosphere is built on as we learn about the various ghost stories that get told throughout the Hollow, including of course that of the Headless Horseman.

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Most versions will show the Horseman as wearing clothes and riding an actual horse, but here a ghost effect is used for everything, and it’s an effective introduction scene. However, this is nothing like the Horseman we see later, but there’s a reason for that.

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Yes, just like with my Faust review, any time I feel the need to make a sarcastic comment, I’ll have to do it on silent movie title cards.

Will Rogers does a great job of bringing Ichabod Crane to the screen, not feeling like the caricature he can become in some versions. He’s cowardly, gluttonous and prideful, but he’s also intellectual and a gifted singer.

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As in the story, he is shown as a very stern teacher, even going as far as to lash a student. Irving’s story doesn’t portray this extreme teaching behavior as sympathetic, but for the time (the story is set in the late 18th century), it wasn’t all that uncommon. The film shows that the parents are rightfully upset that Ichabod has hurt their son, but they are not upset that a teacher used this punishment, but rather that he did for something as minor as being unruly.

An early classroom scene gives us either an incredibly genius joke or one of the most hilarious cases of irony in all of film. Ichabod teaches his students, “The learned no longer hold that the earth is flat. Unfortunately Columbus lived before I did, or I should have discovered this fact.” This of course plays to the myth that everyone in Columbus’ day believed the world was flat and Columbus had to prove them all wrong, which I’ll admit I was taught in school too. What’s almost too rich is that perhaps the biggest source of this myth is the fictionalized biography A History of the Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus by—you guessed it—Washington Irving! I’m personally guessing this falls under irony, but wow what an irony.

Ichabod draws attention from the women of the town, because he brings a big-city intellectualism to their small-town life, even though (or perhaps because) he doesn’t look like their strong town heroes. At one point, he and some women are observing the gravestones and he makes up some humorous inscriptions like “Here lies the body of John Mound. Lost at sea and never found.” Ichabod is shown to be very proud of his intellect though, basically calling himself smarter than everyone in town without a hint of irony.

Not everyone in the town is fond of Ichabod, but he does hit it off well with Baltus van Tassel (Bernard Reinold) and his daughter Katrina (Lois Meredith). It’s interesting that basically every version of the story portrays Baltus van Tassel as a kindly and caring father to Katrina and sort of a father figure to the town, as he is given very little characterization in the story. He is described as “thriving” and “contented,” and it makes sense that he would be liked by the town as he does throw the big harvest party at the end, but it seems like everyone got together and agreed to portray him exactly the same way.

Brom Bones (Ben Hendricks Jr.) isn’t all that memorable here, because while he’s always seen as an immature bully, we really don’t see anything else to his character. The actor’s performance isn’t all that memorable, and it makes us wonder why the likable Katrina would want anything to do with him.

Not only does Brom pull the prank from the story where he turns all of the classroom’s desks upside-down, he also convinces everyone in the town that Ichabod has put a spell on a little boy and is a witch-doctor. He gets the boy to play along, and the townsfolk are this close to having Ichabod tarred and feathered and run out of town.

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Interestingly, one member of the mob claims they must have evidence before convicting Ichabod.

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However, Ichabod is saved at the last minute by Baltus van Tassel. This is a perfectly fine way to draw out the story without it feeling padded, as Brom obviously wants Ichabod out of town, and the townspeople are pretty gullible and superstitious on the whole. I’m just imaging a Filmation Studios Sleepy Hollow where they pad the story with a war involving headless fire ants or something.

I do wish the party scene went a little bit longer, as it could build the atmosphere a little bit more, but it still does a pretty good job. Everyone sits around telling ghost stories and Brom succeeds in scaring Ichabod Crane. Katrina breaking up with Ichabod is not very clear here, and I’m not entirely sure if it’s communicated badly or a few frames of this very old film were lost. Ichabod asks if she will become his wife, Katrina says “I had sort of planned on it.” However, their reactions clearly show that she is rejecting him.

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As Ichabod rides through the woods in the middle of the…

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It was a different era of film making, so day-for-night shots were obviously commonplace. However, it cuts to the sky multiple times in the scene, which does hurt the atmosphere a bit.

The final chase scene isn’t all that spectacular, and the horseman just looks like this.

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However, this version outright reveals that the Headless Horseman is just Brom Bones in disguise, running Ichabod out of town.

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I’m kind of mixed as to this interpretation, as the short story does imply that it very well could have been Brom Bones scaring Ichabod, but it also allows for a supernatural explanation if you want to take it that way. However, there still seems to be some ambiguity in this version as well. Was that Horseman we saw earlier just the image the townsfolk had of him? Or is he real in this story in spite of this being Brom dressing up?

The slightly underwhelming climax aside, I was really impressed with this version, and it reminded me just how much I love Irving’s story. It has enough creepy, atmospheric moments before the finale, and aside from the obvious day-for-night, you’re never taken out of it. It’s a nice breezy watch, which might be surprising consider it’s a silent film made 100 years ago, but it’s incredibly accessible. Let’s check out the final score.

Story (24/30 Points)

There a few points that don’t completely work, but this really is an enjoyable and faithful adaptation of the classic tale. I wish that maybe there had been a little more ambiguity, but it takes its time without being drawn out, paying the right amount of attention to the right details.

Leads (18/30 Points)

Will Rogers is solid as Ichabod Crane, as is Lois Meredith as Katrina, but there is very little memorable about this portrayal of Brom Bones. I’ll admit that maybe it’s hard to score actors in a silent film as we don’t hear them speak, but it’s well acted.

Supporting Cast (6/10 Points)

We really get a feel for this closed-in town and their superstitions and beliefs.

Experience (23/30 Points)

The on-location shoots go a long way to make the film better. The day-for-night shots go a long way to ruin that.

FINAL SCORE: 71%

We’re off to a good start, and next week we’ll continue with the famous Disney adaptation from 1949.

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The Sleepy Hollow Short Cartoons

While there are 2 full-length cartoons on the Match-Up list (one of them probably being the most famous adaptation of Irving’s story),  I wanted to first take a quick look at three short cartoons based on “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” We’ll start with…

The Headless Horseman (1934)

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This one…is pretty pointless, unless you’re interested in the history of animation. It comes us from Ub Iwerks, the man who helped create Mickey Mouse, but this is not a Disney Cartoon. The chase animation was probably pretty groundbreaking for its time, and you can definitely see the evolving animation style of cartoons.

This one outright states that Brom Bones pretended to be the Headless Horseman to scare Ichabod out of town.

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However, it then goes one step further by having Ichabod come to Brom and Katrina’s wedding dressed as the Horseman to scare everyone away. That’s kind of interesting if you’re playing the whole thing for comedy.

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There’s a decent atmosphere I suppose, helped greatly by Carl Stalling’s music which is a nice mix of dark and cartoony, and there’s no dialogue except for Brom Bones’ laugh. However, there is one glaring issue with this cartoon—it is racist.

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Now you could argue that everyone is drawn in caricature, and yes, they are, but the white characters are still drawn as humans! This is purely animalistic, and it’s disgusting even for the time. As if that wasn’t bad enough, when this character first appears on screen, the score starts playing a few bars of the minstrel song “Swanee River,” as if to say, “Hey look he’s black, isn’t it funny?”

Overall, you can skip this one.

Tales of Washington Irving (1970)

This second cartoon comes from a compilation block of Washington Irving’s stories, and is a twenty-minute retelling of the tale. It downplays a lot of Ichabod Crane’s unseemly qualities and plays him up more as a lovable dork.

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Because of this, Brom Bones comes off as even worse than usual, often having his dog interrupt Ichabod’s singing lessons just for fun. Strangely, this shows Ichabod to be a pretty horrible singer, although he’s acknowledged as good in-universe.

The voice acting is nothing special, with everyone sounding right out of 1970, and the animation is pretty limited. Oftentimes it won’t show character’s feet while they’re walking, and usually we only see two of the students in Ichabod’s classroom, even though we know there are many more. Sometimes, it really skimps out and only shows characters in shadow.

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The Headless Horseman encounter is really quick, and it almost feels like an afterthought. Overall, there are some nice backgrounds and decent atmosphere occasionally, but there isn’t all that much to see here.

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (1972)

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This one’s narrated by John Carradine, so it’s already in the plus column out of the gate. It has very limited animation as well, relying more on camerawork, but it results in a very unique style. For example, when the narrator suggests that Sleepy Hollow is so enchanted because a Native American wizard put a spell on it, we get this shot.

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It definitely isn’t afraid to play up Ichabod’s greed and gluttony.

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Like the 1970 one, this one plays up Ichabod’s singing as bad, even though everyone acts like it’s good. I guess it’s an attempt at comedy, but it seems a bit odd. It’s ultimately a pretty minor thing compared to the previous one.

One of my favorite things about this cartoon is how it reveals the Headless Horseman (whose existence is left ambiguous). The story makes clear that as Ichabod is basically afraid of everything as he rides home, seeing even the most mundane object as something scary, and this is something the famous Disney version really plays up. Because of this, we’re expecting a few fake outs. We do get one, and when we see this in front of Ichabod…

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We expect it to be a tree or something, but then we see it riding slowly riding behind him! It’s such a unique reveal of the Headless Horseman, because it plays with our expectations of the story, and it’s genuinely creepy.

This is a pretty cool telling of the story, thanks mainly to the rich narration and unique style. It’s only 13 minutes long and it’s definitely worth your time.

I’ll be out with my first review proper in the series—1922’s The Headless Horseman—next.

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Mini Match-Up: Sleepy Hollow

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INTRODUCTION

SLEEPY HOLLOW SHORTS

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The first full-length film adaptation of Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” The Headless Horseman was released… (More)

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Disney is not exactly known for films that are accurate adaptations, but today’s is an exception… (More)

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Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” is just a short story… (More)

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Once upon a time, Tim Burton was known as a visionary director with a unique style and creative ideas… (More)

 

Introduction: Sleepy Hollow

For this year’s Halloween Match-Up, I want to take a look at one of my all-time favorite stories—Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” It’s one of the most perfect short stories of all time, and it’s great for the fall season. There aren’t necessarily 10 full-length versions like there were with A Christmas Carol, but that’s just fine, because it’s less than two months until Halloween anyway. Instead, I’m making this the first Mini Match-Up.

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So why do I love this story so much? For one, it creates a great world in which the story takes place. The narrator is constantly talking about local legends and history, giving us a truly less-is-more understanding of this small rural community in New York. The atmosphere also just oozes the fall season, from the harvest parties to the horror of the finale.

Most of all, it plays with one of my favorite tropes in all of writing (not just horror writing), the ambiguous supernatural. Although the Headless Horseman is one of the most famous horror villains of all time, the story suggests that perhaps he doesn’t even exist. Maybe the Headless Horseman killed Ichabod, or maybe Brom Bones played a prank and drove the superstitious Ichabod out of town. For the most part, horror is better if we don’t have all the answers, so this story works wonderfully. The ambiguity is something that is hard to adapt, and it’s interesting to see each version’s take on it.

It’s of note that three of these versions come from 1999, so I guess that was just the year to be doing them. I’ll also be taking a look at a few short cartoons that weren’t long enough to make the cut before we get started with the Match-Up proper. Here’s how I’ll break down the scoring in the Match-Up:

Story (30 Points)

Leads (30 Points)

Supporting Cast (10 Points)

Experience (30 Points)

We’ll be starting with the first review soon! Stay tuned.

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Twin Peaks: My Theory

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From the moment Twin Peaks: The Return wrapped up, theories popped up online about what exactly that ending meant. Almost everyone was expecting a David Lynch ending, because this season was all-out Lynchian weirdness, so the finale didn’t entirely surprise anyone who is familiar with his work. Going in, I knew there would be a lot to take in, so I refused to post my thoughts immediately, instead letting the finale digest so I could truly develop my own theory. Obviously, I have done this now or I wouldn’t be posting this. Don’t read ahead unless you have watched Twin Peaks: The Return in its entirety, as well as Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me, because this is going to make no sense otherwise.

I’m going to start with a few thoughts about the first half of the finale, before breaking down my theory on what the final part was all about.

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The episode begins immediately after Albert and Tammy have shot Tulpa Diane. Gordon Cole reveals that he, Major Briggs and Dale Cooper were actually working all this time to combat an ancient force known as “Jowday,” which has colloquially become known as “Judy.” In Fire Walk with Me, Phillip Jeffries appeared in the FBI office and said he didn’t want to talk about Judy, and it’s implied that this Judy is the one who both appeared in the box in New York City in episode 1 and birthed BOB in episode 8.

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So what is the significance of Judy? There are different theories on the philosophical concepts it sounds like, one apparently meaning “to know or understand.” It definitely would make sense for David Lynch to throw in a little joke that his character’s greatest enemy is understanding something, but I don’t think it points to a greater meaning of “You’re not supposed to understand this.” Twin Peaks does have meaning, but it just challenges you to find it. Personally, although it might be other things, I think Judy is without a doubt yet another Wizard of Oz reference. Twin Peaks, especially in The Return, makes many references, subtle and obvious, to the 1939 film, including…

  1. Major Briggs first name being Garland
  2. The White Lodge scenes shot in Black and White
  3. The number of characters wearing red shoes (and the camera lingering on them)
  4. Characters having alternate versions of themselves
  5. Curtains in the Red Room
  6. The abundance of little person actors
  7. The Woodsmen (This may be a stretch as most of these seem to be specifically referencing the film, while the Tin Man is only called the Tin Woodsman in the book.)
  8. The bright green ring
  9. The number of dreams that play a major part in the plot
  10. This shot of Garland Briggs in the White Lodge

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Has Judy possessed Sarah Palmer? It sure seems to be the most common interpretation, but if Judy is the mother of all evil, wouldn’t Sarah be doing more? The only evil act we see Sarah do is kill a guy at a bar who is a total creep and won’t leave her alone. Sure, killing him is extreme, but how is this more evil than the rape and murder that BOB has committed through Leland and Evil Coop? We’ll get back to more thoughts on Judy after we tackle…

The Hollywood Ending

It seemed as though the entire season had been building towards a big confrontation between the real Cooper and Evil Coop, and we knew that Freddie Sykes had come to the town with a set purpose. He had a hulk hand permanently attached to him that could destroy whomever he hit with it. Of course fans assumed that he would use this to defeat Evil Coop in a final showdown, and while I figured that was probably where it was going, I had this feeling in the back of my head that Lynch was toying with us and was going to use it for something incredibly minimal.

When Evil Coop transports to the Twin Peaks sheriff’s station, Andy (of course) believes that it’s the real Cooper, tells Lucy about it, and brings him in to talk with Sheriff Frank Truman (who has never met the real Cooper). Lucy gets a call from the real Cooper, transfers it to Frank, and come in and shoots Evil Coop before he can shoot Frank. It finally pays off the seemingly random joke from earlier in the season where Lucy doesn’t understand cell phones.

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As the woodsmen gather around Evil Cooper’s body, Andy moves the prisoners through the office, causing Freddie to arrive right on time. As Cooper walks in and signals to Freddie, BOB’s orb emerges from Evil Coop and Freddie single-handedly (literally) takes him down. A lot of people expected this to happen the end of the show, and I’ll be honest that I feared that perhaps Lynch would end on something as conventional as this, but thankfully this ends only 30 minutes in…in the first episode of a 2-part finale.

I believe David Lynch is taking a jab here at the big action climaxes that end so many Hollywood movies. Lynch has said that he believes that cable television is now the best medium for storytellers, as movies are basically just made for teenagers these days. This is his version of The Avengers-style “everyone fights the bad guy,” right down to the obvious shout-out with the Hulk hand. The only difference is the fight really only needs two heroes (Lucy and Freddie), and it only lasts a few minutes. Basically everyone else is just there watching.

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Jim Belushi looks confused, because this is the first time he’s seen a well-written script.

This however, is far from the end of things. I will give a quick rundown of what happens next (If you haven’t seen it, why are you reading this first?) and then break down what I believe this finale is really about.

Cooper takes the key to his old hotel room from Sheriff Truman, and Bobby Briggs shows up, followed by Gordon, Albert and Tammy. Cooper says “the past dictates the future” and it’s revealed that the blind woman in the cell was the real Diane Evans. Cooper and Diane kiss, and Diane tells Cooper that she remembers everything. Cooper’s face, which has been superimposed over the scene, says “We live inside a dream,” and Cooper, Diane and Gordon are walking towards a door, which is unlocked with Cooper’s room key and from which he forbids the others from entering. MIKE meets Coop on the other side, recites the “Fire Walk with Me” poem, and takes him to the bizarre teapot form of Phillip Jeffries.

Cooper asks to be taken to the night Laura Palmer dies, he saves her from her fate, but he loses her almost immediately after. A new reality is seemingly created in which Laura Palmer was never murdered, and that’s where the first episode’s story ends. In the next episode, we see some Red Room scenes almost identical to Cooper’s early in the season, and he exits the Red Room through a sycamore grove. He meets Diane and they drive for 430 miles, finally crossing into what seems to be some alternate universe. They go to a hotel and have sex, but when Cooper wakes up, he sees a break-up note from Linda to Richard, and when he goes outside, the hotel and his car are different.

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He finds out that a Laura Palmer lookalike named Carrie Page works at a diner, and seeing as how she probably just killed someone, she accompanies him to Twin Peaks. When they get there, the Palmer home is owned by Alice Tremond who never heard of the Palmers and bought the house from someone named Chalfont. As they walk away from the house, Cooper asks what year it is, we hear Sarah Palmer calling Laura like she did on the very first episode of the original series, and Carrie Page opens her mouth and screams. The End.

Hoo boy, there’s a lot to take in, and it’s exactly what we expected from Lynch. All kinds of theories have popped up, and while I love how much time and effort have been put into all of them, mine is almost completely different from any other theory I have seen. If Gordon and Cooper (among others) have been working on the Blue Rose case together, why is there a door that only Cooper can go through? Why does Cooper seem to act different from his normal self? Why does reality keep warping? Most importantly, why is there so much footage of (or footage similar to) things we have already seen?

We Live Inside a Dream

From the moment Cooper enters that door onward, I believe this entire episode is Dale Cooper’s journey alone. “Dream” is the best word I can use, although it’s not just like he falls asleep at the beginning and wakes up at the end. We need to go all the way back at the finale of the original series to when Cooper followed Windom Earle (who had kidnapped Annie) to the Black Lodge.

Cooper agreed to give his soul to Windom Earle if it meant saving Annie’s life, but when Earle stabbed him and took it, BOB undid this and took Earle’s for breaking the rules.

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However, since we got a brief shot of Annie, still alive, being rushed to the hospital, does that mean that Cooper still died? Maybe, maybe not, but…

Cooper’s entire arc in The Return seems to involve unfinished business, and that really is the reason for his return. He has to stop his evil doppelganger from committing even more evil, and to do this, he is released from the purgatory that is the Red Room. It is easy to refer to the Red Room and the Black Lodge interchangeably, and while it is often vague as to whether it is a room in the Black Lodge or not, The Man from Another Place does call it “the waiting room.”

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Those who believe in ghosts usually hold to the theory that ghosts are trapped between world and must complete unfinished business before they can go on to whatever is next. Dale Cooper undoubtedly has unfinished business, even though he did solve the murder that brought him to Twin Peaks in the first place. He obviously feels responsible for any harm that came to Annie, and with the Evil Coop running around, it’s just going to create more unfinished business.

Let’s get back to the present day and that mysterious door that only Cooper can enter. Even if Cooper is still alive, we know he has given MIKE the necessary ingredients to create a new and improved version of his Dougie Jones doppelganger. Even if Cooper was alive before, he knows that by doing this, he will not be able to exist alongside a copy of himself. I believe this door is in fact death’s door, with Cooper about to enter on the journey that will lead him to Twin Peaks’ version of heaven, The White Lodge. Cooper says that he will see Gordon and Diane “at the curtain call,” which gives us the image of a reunion after everything is said and done—after life is ended.

However, Cooper’s business is far from finished, which is reflected in MIKE reciting the “Fire Walk with Me” poem.

Through the darkness of future past

The magician longs to see

One chants out between two worlds

“Fire walk with me.”

MIKE has always been a spiritual guide of sorts, and he has been exactly that to Cooper this season. Now, I believe he is the one leading Cooper into the afterlife, and they are clearly “between two worlds” at this moment.

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When Cooper is transported back to the night of Laura’s death, he takes her by the hand and leads her away from being murdered. If this is trying to be a continuation of Laura Palmer’s story, aren’t we just rehashing old material? Laura’s arc came to an end in Fire Walk with Me in the Red Room, crying and laughing simultaneously, and being comforted by Agent Cooper. She knows that by dying instead of being possessed, BOB will ultimately be defeated.

There is no way that David Lynch would make the finale about Laura accepting her fate again. I believe these scenes, where Cooper saves Laura only to lose her almost immediately, show how Cooper feels about coming to Twin Peaks. He solved the murder, sure, but he still could not really truly save Laura. When he loses her again, the second episode of the two-part finale revolves around Cooper (in his own mind) redeeming himself so he can move on to the afterlife.

Do You Remember Everything?

When Cooper meets up with Diane again at the exit of the Red Room, it is obvious this cannot actually be Diane, right? He told her specifically that she could not go with him, she didn’t, and the door (that can only be opened by Cooper’s key) closed.

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Therefore, we have to view the sex scene between Cooper and Diane as existing only in the context of this dream, and not in real life. From the bits and pieces we see of Diane in this season, I personally get the impression that she always harbored a crush on Cooper, and while he obviously cared for her, he never held romantic feelings for her. If he did, he obviously would have never fallen so head-over-heels for Annie Blackburn. However, Diane was raped by the Evil Coop a few years after the real one disappeared, and right after that, a doppelganger of her was made by Evil Coop.

This is why Cooper asks if she remembers everything when they reunite, and this is what Cooper is trying to make up for here. Obviously having sex does not undo a rape, but this is Cooper’s dream, not Diane’s real life. He can’t undo what his evil self did, but he can do a good thing to redeem himself and give her a good memory with him. This is why Diane disappears from his dream the next morning, because he has cleared his conscience in regards to her.

Who is Being Saved?

The next morning, Cooper eats breakfast at Judy’s Diner. He injures some rednecks who attempt to assault a waitress (but doesn’t kill them), puts their guns in the fryer, and makes the waitress working give him the address of the other waitress who works here. Some felt that this went against Coop’s character, and while he is not as jovial as usual, he still goes out of his way not to kill people (even in what I believe is his dream). He just has a single-minded goal, and he realizes that Judy’s Diner is a clear sign that the woman he needs to save is nearby.

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When he gets to Carrie Page’s home, he of course recognizes the resemblance to Laura Palmer, but I think there is a lot more to this character than just Laura. I believe Carrie Page is an amalgamation of the three women Cooper believes he has failed at saving over the years, and if he can redeem her, he will feel worthy of ascending to the afterlife. There’s the obvious resemblance to Laura Palmer, and she works as a waitress in a diner, just like Annie Blackburn did. The most revealing clue of all is that her name is Carrie, short for Caroline, the name of Windom Earle’s wife whom Cooper loved but could not save from her own murderous husband.

This is not the first time these three women have thematically been one and the same for Cooper. Again, we’re back to the appropriately titled Season 2 finale “Beyond Life and Death.” In the Red Room, Cooper had a vision of Annie Blackburn, who morphed into Caroline Earl, who then morphed into Laura Palmer, who screamed and ultimately turned into Windom Earle.

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Cooper drives Carrie Page to Twin Peaks, believing her to be Laura, but simply by getting her away from the diner, he is saving her from Judy. Judy runs the diner, therefore dictating Carrie Page’s life, and now she is being rescued from every aspect of that. It is also not a coincidence that the town where Carrie lives is called Odessa, referencing of course The Odyssey, a story all about returning home.

I believe that Cooper does save Carrie from Judy in this dream, because while everything seems eerie in the following scenes, nothing horrible actually happens. For a moment, Carrie believes someone is following them out of Odessa, but then the car passes and nothing comes of it. They stop for gas at a gas station, nothing significant happens, and they drive away. This seems entirely superfluous, until we remember the gas stations that seemed to have connections to the Black Lodge throughout the season. The only reason to show this is to contrast it with the sinister gas stations we have seen before.

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The driving goes on for quite a long time, and it’s almost entirely at night. It is very hypnotic, and if this isn’t a dream, I can’t imagine the purpose of showing it. As they drive into town, we notice that the Double R Diner doesn’t have the “Double R To Go” sign it has had all season, showing this is the town as Cooper remembers it from 25 years ago. He probably passed the Double R Diner when he rolled into town with the Mitchum Brothers, but it’s shown that he was on the phone at this time, trying to protect the sheriff’s office from his evil self, so he probably didn’t take great notice of the diner.

Even the confrontation at “Laura Palmer’s house” doesn’t really have any negative effects on anyone. Cooper asks about the Palmers, Mrs. Tremond acknowledges that she’s never heard of them, and she says she bought the house from a Chalfont.

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Does this mean the Tremonds/Chalfonts—the mysterious old woman and her son who seem to be involved in disappearances and reappearances—are playing a part in this reality? Or is this simply showing that these names are in Cooper’s head as he is dreaming? Again, nothing really evil seems to be happening here. Cooper’s question of “What year is this?” seems to reflect the fact that once again the names Tremond and Chalfont are involved in a disappearance. It happened in Fire Walk with Me, and this calls to mind the past dictating the future.

I think the scream that Carrie gives at the end of the episode is given much more focus in theories than the fact that the power in the house goes out. Electricity has obviously played a major part throughout the whole season, but especially in the final episodes. There seems to be something of a trend that follows in episodes 15, 16 and 18 (If you view the 2-part finale as one episode, this means three consecutive episodes). In episode 15, the mostly-catatonic Cooper puts his fork in the electrical socket, Janey-E screams, the power goes out, leading to Cooper fully waking up.

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At the end of episode 16, Audrey performs her dance in the Roadhouse, but then we hear electrical surges as she wakes up in a white room, looking into a mirror and freaking out.

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The scenes cuts to black before she can scream, but we know it’s coming. At the end of episode 18, Carrie Page screams and the power goes out, so if we’re following this same formula, who wakes up?

The fact that we hear Sarah Palmer calling Laura before Carrie screams led a lot of people to believe that it’s Laura who’s waking up, having dreamed the entire series and this new “Carrie Page” identity. However, this does not line up with the Cooper’s dying dream theory, and even if you don’t buy that, I’d still argue her arc ended in Fire Walk with Me. So it’s Cooper waking up right? Maybe, but he already woke up via electricity in episode 15, and I don’t think a pattern of three would have Cooper as the one who wakes up two out of three times. Also, I doubt that Sarah Palmer calling for Laura would be Cooper’s jolt awake. What if it’s the audience who’s waking up?

Whether this dream is one entirely of Cooper’s own creation or one manufactured by the White Lodge so he can justify moving on to the next life, we the audience have to know that this has not replaced reality. By hearing Sarah Palmer’s voice seemingly calling out from another world, we know that in reality, Laura Palmer did still die and Cooper went to Twin Peaks to investigate. This entire odyssey has not been about Laura’s return, but about Cooper returning so he can make up for past mistakes and feel worthy of moving on. However, as an audience, we have to be reminded that the past was not changed and this world we just saw in the finale was a symbolic one. The lights going out may seem like a bad thing, but it may simply signify the end of the show, as the lights would go out at the end of a movie or play, before they come up of course. Cooper did say he’d see Diane and Gordon “at the curtain call.” Also, The Woodsman in Episode 8, who was clearly evil, did constantly ask “Got a light?” Maybe Lynch is toying with our commonly held ideas of light and dark.

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Ultimately, I view the ending as mostly happy, or at least leaning towards the sweet end of bittersweet. If Cooper has been dead for 25 years, his graduating to this world’s version of Heaven would be a good thing. I fully accept that my theory does not answer every question (I have yet to hear one theory that does), but I think it tackles the big ones. Perhaps Audrey Horne is similarly trapped between life and death, trying to return to Twin Peaks to save herself. Surely there is a lot more that will be unraveled upon multiple re-watches in regards to these smaller questions.

So, what do you think happened? Every theory intrigues me, and I know the discussion will be going on for a long time.

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