Heads really do roll in Sleepy Hollow (Paramount, no suggested price cassette; $29.99 DVD), director Tim Burton's grisly version of the Washington Irving story about a hapless teacher and a headless horseman.
Irving's story was once tame enough to be turned into a Walt Disney cartoon in the late 1940s, narrated by Bing Crosby.
There's no crooning in Burton's violent version. Just a lot of moaning as heads get lopped off and limbs are pulled off bodies, accompanied by lots of blood.
Schoolteacher Ichabod Crane has been turned into an early 18th-century New York City police detective, played by Johnny Depp, who heads to the Catskills to investigate a series of gruesome murders.
Sleepy Hollow has loads of atmosphere. It's very nearly in black and white! But Burton, who was the force behind such offbeat grim films as Batman, Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood and Mars Attacks!, went overboard on the fright factor. When we finally learn the identity of the headless horseman, it seems almost silly.
Depp also turns up as a James Dean-style character in Chuck Workman's documentary The Source (Fox Lorber, $19.98 cassette; $24.98 DVD), which looks at the writers and poets who became famous as leaders of the "Beat Movement" in the late 1940s and early 1950s.
There are interviews with Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs and a retrospective of the life of Jack Kerouac. These three are considered the fathers of the Beat generation which has had strong influences on the counter-culture and alternative culture movements to this day.
Besides Depp, Dennis Hopper and John Turturro appear as modern-day voices for the Beats in a movie that mixes interviews, newsreel footage and fantasy sequences into a comprehensive, illuminating and entertaining story.
If you've ever wanted to learn to speak Mandarin Chinese, you couldn't find a better teacher than Mei Mei Hu. Born in China, she taught English there until coming to the United States in 1983. She has lived in Providence since 1984 and has taught at the Montessori School there since 1986.
Now she has her own video -- Play and Learn Chinese with Mei Mei (Master Communications, $19.95) -- produced with a friend who had access to a video camera. The results, Mei Mei will be the first to admit, are visually simple. But even after one viewing, I'd picked up a few Mandarin words and phrases, although to carry on any kind of rudimentary conversation I think I'd have to watch it dozens of times.
Play and Learn Chinese with Mei Mei is geared to children ages 2 to 8. Mei Mei, who looks unnervingly like an Asian version of radio talk show host Arlene Violet, says that her own 25-month-old adopted daughter from China (she also has a 21-year-old son in college) has started to pick up words and phrases from her tape which "she watches every day many times."
She decided to create a video because, while teaching a class in Mandarin Chinese, she discovered that there were no video aids geared to children. So she came up with her own. Without much funding, it took a year and a half to complete Play and Learn Chinese with Mei Mei in her spare time. "But we loved to do it," she says. "We did it, knowing that it would be needed."
On the tape, she introduces the words and phrases, pronouncing them carefully, then gets children to repeat them several times. You can learn how to say hello and introduce yourself, learn numbers, body parts, songs and games. It probably would help, however, to have some acquaintance with the language and use the tape as a teaching aid rather than as a crash course in Mandarin.
If this tape is successful, and Mei Mei says that so far "responses from parents have been overwhelming," she'd like to do another that would have a spiffier look.
If you can't find Play and Learn Chinese with Mei Mei in stores, you can order from Master Communications at (800) 765-5885.
New on DVD
The 1961 World War II action thriller The Guns of Navarone, starring Gregory Peck and Rhode Island's own Anthony Quinn, has been put on disk by Columbia TriStar at $24.95.
Warner has added the screen version of the musical Little Shop of Horrors, the Rick Moranis comedy Big Bully, the John Ritter comedy Stay Tuned and the military conspiracy thriller Seven Days in May, starring Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas, to DVD at $24.98 each.
Tom Cruise stars in the legal thriller The Firm, Richard Gere has the title role in American Gigolo and Olivia Hussey plays Juliet to Leonard Whiting's Romeo in Franco Zeffirelli's production of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet in Paramount's new disk releases at $29.99 each.
Lucille Ball and Boris Karloff co-star (no kidding!) in Lured, about a woman who plays the bait for a Scotland Yard dragnet, on a new Kino disk for $29.95. Also at that price, Kino has Ava Gardner and James Mason in the Technicolor fantasy The Flying Dutchman, about a magnetic nightclub singer who falls for a 17th-century sailor doomed to sail the seas for all eternity in his ghostly ship.
A seven-episode Three Stooges extravaganza -- Three Stooges -- All the World's a Stooge and the second installment of the hit children's series The Bear in the Big Blue House have been released by Columbia TriStar at $24.95 each.
The French film Un Air de Famille and Norway's The Other Side of Sunday are available from Fox Lorber at $29.98 each.
New Age healing
Four new tapes from VisionQuest 2000 explore everything from labyrinths to hands-on healing. At $24.95 each are A Course in Miracles: Spiritual Principles of Love and Wisdom; Exploring One Light: Healing Touch; Labyrinths; Their Mystery and Magic and Through the Tunnel and Beyond, a study of near-death experiences by author Raymond Moody. If you can't find them in stores, they can be ordered from (800) 262-8862 or from VisionQuest's website at www.alternativehealthvideo.com.
It's Greek to me
Four films from Greek filmmaker Michael Cacoyannis have been added to Fox Lorber's World Class Cinema Collection. At $19.98 each ($29.98 each on DVD) are Stella starring Melina Mercouri, A Matter of Dignity, Attila 74: The Rape of Cyprus and A Girl in Black.
Directors times four
Four film directors are profiled in The Directors documentary series from Fox Lorber Centrestage. At $14.98 each ($19.98 DVD) are William Friedkin of The Exorcist and Rules of Engagement fame, Lawrence Kasdan of The Big Chill and Body Heat, Terry Gilliam of Brazil and Monty Python and the Holy Grail and Spike Lee of Malcolm X and Jungle Fever.