A $62 million box office take in just two weeks proves that much of America is finding holiday joy in ”Sleepy Hollow”’s R-rated beheadings and bloodshed. But some media watchers say that director Tim Burton may have gone too far to land an audience. ”A question I would ask is, What’s the purpose of exaggerating the gore?” says Dr. David Walsh, president of the National Institute on Media and the Family. ”’The Legend of Sleepy Hollow’ is a scary story in and of itself, and has stood the test of generations. I wonder if people have seen so much violence that filmmakers have to push the envelope to get a reaction.”
Walsh admits that one scary movie does not a pint-size sociopath make, but he thinks a steady diet of media violence has its consequences: ”The real impact is not so much that violent images create violent behavior, but that they create an atmosphere of disrespect. The kid who sees a violent movie and imitates what he sees is very unusual, but we’re seeing pushing, shoving, and hitting among children occurring with increasing frequency. It’s a subtle shift, from ‘Have a nice day’ to ‘Make my day.”’
Burton, for his part, doesn’t believe that onscreen dustups lead to playground bullying. ”There’s obviously a problem in this country, but I think the sadness is to hit the easy targets of music and movies,” he says. ”I grew up watching scary movies and was never afraid of them. Society has a way of making that seem unusual somehow…. I would have no problem showing ‘Sleepy Hollow’ to some kids, because kids are like adults in that some would love this kind of thing, while for others it would be too much. Everyone has a different perception of things.”
Which may make you wonder: What WOULD it take to terrify the maker of the wonderfully disturbed ”Edward Scissorhands” and ”Beetlejuice”? ”When I was a kid,” says Burton, ”I was probably more scared by seeing John Wayne or Barbra Streisand on the big screen than by seeing violence.” Hey, 40 feet of Babs in close-up is enough to give anybody the willies.