Sleepy Hollow is one of those international punts for Network TEN, brought on by the age of Internet television.
Rather than wait to see its potential audience cannibalized by illegal downloads, the broadcaster has opted to ‘fast track’ the series from the United States, airing it just hours after each episode is broadcast to American audiences. The practical upshot, though, is that TEN has little or no idea whether the rest of the series will live up to its promise. And will Australian audiences have the patience for what is effectively an American myth? It depends very much on whether this series matches our local view of the supernatural.
Sleepy Hollow is very loosely based on the short story by Irving Washington which tells the tale of a cowardly school teacher from Connecticut called Ichabod Crane who is supposedly chased one evening by the headless ghost of a Hessian trooper from the American Revolutionary War. In this latest incarnation Ichabod has found a spine. The first episode in the series presents him as an undercover spy for George Washington’s troops who are busy battling the British. He personally cuts the head from a massive German mercenary who mere bullets cannot stop, but dies in the process. However some 200 years later he awakens from his grave to discover that the headless horseman is again on the rampage. Detectives find his resurrection story hard to believe but Crane finds a friend in Lt. Abbie Mills whose sheriff was murdered by the ghoul. Together they discover that the headless horseman is just part of a wide-reaching demonic plot that threatens all humanity.
Horror television is on the rise as a genre, securing dedicated audiences through programs like Supernatural and The Living Dead. Most, like Sleepy Hollow, are not afraid to mine Biblical storylines where the need suits. For instance, Ichabod and Abbie discover thanks to some creepy visions that the headless horseman is actually Death, one of the four horsemen of the Apocalypse mentioned in by the Apostle John in the book of Revelation. Like that figurative tale, his arrival is a precursor to the end of the world.
Just as typically, though, television’s reading of the Scriptures is selective at best. Ichabod might walk around with George Washington’s Bible but he seems to know nothing about Jesus who it proclaims as the defeater of death, or the fact that four horsemen are far from demonic, but illustrations of God’s plan to enthrone His Son over all creation. However this piece-meal approach is hardly likely to upset viewers because it matches a popular picture of the battle between good and evil.
The horror genre thrives on the finely balanced battle between good and evil, what philosophers refer to as dualism. There are good guys and there are bad guys, evenly matched in the struggle for control. Good can only hope to hold evil in check. In fact it often finds itself out-gunned because it can’t stoop to using the very weapons Bad has its disposal. This is a world away from the Bible’s picture where Bad is hemmed in by God’s will and on the run thanks to Christ’s victory. But TV does tend to get one thing right. If Good has any advantage it tends to come in the form of love and self-sacrifice, supremely powerful tactics that make no sense to the opposition.
The Devil and his cohorts failed to anticipate Jesus’ victory at the cross because they couldn’t understand God’s love. As C.S. Lewis puts it, they are supremely selfish beings who have no interest in anything other than devouring humanity,
“We want cattle who can finally become food; He wants servants who can finally become sons.”
This is why Jesus plan of salvation was so invisible and effective. What demonic servant could conceive of the Creator giving up his glory for the sake of His creatures? But Jesus assures us,
“For the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
I’m not sure whether you’ll enjoy Sleepy Hollow. Personally I’ve never had much time for the frightening and the gory, in the cinema or at home. But if you’re a fan of this sort of genre then look out for love’s victory. Regardless of how much of the Bible Sleepy Hollow’s producers set aside, it’s one convention they’ll find it almost impossible to give up.
Distributor: Network TEN
Release Date: Tuesdays, 8:30 PM