1999 was a great time to be a fan of McFarlane Toys: Todd was on top of his game, then, with killer sculpts, real articulation and no competitors in sight. We didn't have to worry about whether the next line of toys would have more than one pose or if figures of car-driving yokels would be pushing better things off the schedule. McToys was pulling in the hot licenses, giving fans what they wanted and showing everyone else how things were done.
Everything came together at the end of the year with their ToY Award-winning Sleepy Hollow boxed set.
When Constable Ichabod Crane is dispatched from New-York to the remote village of Sleepy Hollow to investigate a mysterious series of murders, he finds himself in a close-knit community gripped by its fear of the Headless Horseman. This black spirit is said to seek revenge for his murder years before, riding forth from the Western Woods to claim the heads of his prey.
The beauty of the Horseman set began with the packaging. Its big black box, measuring 11" x 7" and 12" tall, is covered with Sleepy Hollow graphics - both the toys and elements inspired by the film. There's a large window that allows you to see the Horseman inside, mounted on his steed. Giving bonus points to the MOCers, the celophane window is decorated with faded white streaks that give the impression of the Horseman riding through fog. It's a very nice presentation, and one of the few figures that almost does look better in its packaging.
That's not to say that the figure itself is a poor offering - hardly! McFarlane made only four figures in its Sleepy Hollow line: Ichabod Crane, the Crone, the Headless Horseman and this deluxe boxed set. While almost everyone wanted to see more done with the line, there's no denying that the majority of the figures were quite good.
With no head, the Horseman stands 6" tall. His cape looks appropriately tattered and rotten, as if it really had been festering in the grave for decades - the colors are dark and moldy. The detailing on the figure itself is astounding, from the viscera in his neckhole to the stitching and embellishments on his dark uniform. This really is a crisp sculpt, which is even more impressive considering the variety of materials used in its construction.
Before McToys gave us the Headless Horseman boxed set, most "horse and rider" toys either featured preposed, single-piece legs that let them ride the horse, but not stand up properly, or tremendously large joints that just looked out of place when they were in the saddle. Todd, always looking to innovate back then, gave us something better.
While the majority of the figure is made from hard ABS plastic - the brittle stuff most figures are composed of - the legs are actually hollow PVC shells around ratchet-jointed frames. Since PVC can be made much more soft and flexible than its ABS brother, the rubbery legs move and flex as the joints are positioned. This style of articulation - the new standard for the horse and rider sets - gives the Hessian a complete range of motion in his legs with no visible joints.
Actually, to be fair, the majority of the Horseman's joints are hidden. By aligning the articulation with design elements of the Horseman's uniform, McToys managed to get shoulders, biceps, glove tops, waist, hips and thighs in addition to the invisible knees. There's no motion in his ankles, since they're just shaped rubber, but he still stands well. His only accessory is the sword he used to slice his targets in two, but it can be held perfectly in his right hand, pointed menacingly forward. Since he's the same size as the "standard" Horseman, he can (with some work) utilize the other's heads and axe.
The Horseman's mount, Daredevil, takes his name from Brom Bones' horse in Washington Irving's original story. Rather than an unarticulated beast like we might get from a lesser company, McFarlane made sure the horse was just as important a piece as the man riding it.
The horse is wonderfully detailed, from the big muscles of its flesh to the pattern on its saddle. The reigns and stirrups are made from a soft rubber that makes them seem more realistic. There are three joints in the horse's front legs and one each in the rear, as well as a joint - similar to the Horseman's knees - inside its neck so that you can tip its head to the side. Again, this has become nearly standard for good horse toys.
Had that been the extent of the boxed set, it still would have been a good buy. McToys gave us more, though: they included a display base, 11" wide and 5 3/4" deep, that featured the muddy earth of the Western Woods. A skull-bearing tree, its twisted limbs forming a rear "wall" for the base, is rooted on the right, and there are several pegs for the horse's hooves scattered about. That is actually a good thing, since the pegs keep breaking off.
Weak pegs are not this set's only shortcoming. Long after supplies were exhausted and the movie was out of theatres, fans started to report cases of "rot" - the PVC used for the Horseman's legs was crumbling and falling apart, leaving figures with exposed frames for knees. Everyone was understandably upset, even the guys behind the scenes at McToys. The Headless Horseman boxed set was an innovation for its time, and has clearly influenced everything that's come out since, but it was still an experiment. A failed experiment, yes, but still a damn good toy.
For more than two years, I was didn't know where my set was and, truth be told, I was afraid to look for it. I didn't want to unearth this toy that I remembered as being so cool, just to find that the Headless Horseman had become the Legless Horseman as well, with no way to ever be returned to his former glory. I finally did locate the box, however. I was amazed to find that not only had the legs not deteriorated since last I'd played with the set, but that there didn't even seem to be any of the telltale cracks that would eventually lead to destruction.
Had being stored in the bottom corner of a dark, unopened box for two years saved my Horseman? Was I just extraordinarily lucky? I don't know. I was simply overjoyed that this masterpiece was intact. I unpacked the Horseman and his steed carefully, just in case there was damage that wasn't evident to the naked eye. Still, he looked good. Rather than take any chances, I grabbed the same flexible fabric glue that we recommended to repair the LotR Cave Troll when he had a similar problem. I spread a few coats on the Headless Horseman's legs, allowing the glue to dry between coats. With everything safely sealed, I look forward to enjoying my Horseman for years to come.
Would you like to see McToys tackle something like this again? Will they ever recapture the heights they reached with this set? Tell us on our message board, the Loafing Lounge.