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Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street

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Judy Thorburn

"Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street" - Tim Burton Serves Up A Deliciously Dark Slasher Musical

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"SWEENEY TODD: THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET" - TIM BURTON SERVES UP A DELICIOUSLY DARK SLASHER MUSICAL

Flick Chicks Chick-O-Meter The Flick Chicks, film, video, movie reviews, critics, Judy Thorburn, Victoria Alexander, Polly Peluso, Shannon Onstot, Jacqueline Monahan, Tasha ChemplavilFlick Chicks Chick-O-Meter The Flick Chicks, film, video, movie reviews, critics, Judy Thorburn, Victoria Alexander, Polly Peluso, Shannon Onstot, Jacqueline Monahan, Tasha ChemplavilFlick Chicks Chick-O-Meter The Flick Chicks, film, video, movie reviews, critics, Judy Thorburn, Victoria Alexander, Polly Peluso, Shannon Onstot, Jacqueline Monahan, Tasha ChemplavilFlick Chicks Chick-O-Meter The Flick Chicks, film, video, movie reviews, critics, Judy Thorburn, Victoria Alexander, Polly Peluso, Shannon Onstot, Jacqueline Monahan, Tasha ChemplavilFlick Chicks Chick-O-Meter The Flick Chicks, film, video, movie reviews, critics, Judy Thorburn, Victoria Alexander, Polly Peluso, Shannon Onstot, Jacqueline Monahan, Tasha Chemplavil

If you’ve seen the film version of the musical The Little Shop of Horrors than you know that it brilliantly blended the horror and musical genres with a bit of twisted humor. Although Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street tells an altogether different story, both musicals share some similarities. First of all, Sweeney Todd could very well be called the Little Shop of Horrors for what takes place above and within Mrs. Lovett’s sordid pie shop. That leads to another common factor: the central plot device of unsuspected human beings turned into palatable food. What an idea to swallow! Yet it all goes down nicely when, as in both films, they’ve been executed (all puns are intended) by the right filmmaker.

Almost thirty years after Stephen Sondheim’s musical starring Len Cariou and Angela Landsbury debuted on Broadway, director Tim Burton has finally managed to deliver the film adaptation of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street from a screenplay by John Logan (Gladiator). There could not have been a more perfect match of director and project. Sweeney Todd is, after all, a grisly and dark tale and Burton known for his signature dark, gothic, and quirky visual style, once again uses it to his advantage while re teaming with his favorite actor Johnny Depp (Ed Wood, Edward Scizzorhands, Sleepy Hollow) in the title role and as Depp’s partner in crime, Helena Bonham Carter (Burton’s significant other).


Johnny Depp delivers an intense, wicked, dangerous and yet sympathetic performance as the 19th century maddened London barber obsessed with vengeance. Depp portrays Benjamin Barker, an innocent and loving family man taken away to Australia and falsely imprisoned on trumped up charges by the conniving, immoral judge Turpin (wonderfully creepy Alan Rickman) who is eager to be with Barker’s wife Lucy (Laura Michelle Kelley) and baby daughter Johanna. Fifteen years later after escaping and being found on a raft at sea, Barker returns to London a changed man with only two things on his mind; revenge and finding his wife and now teenage daughter.

He winds up taking residence in a room above a filthy, cockroach infested pie shop owned by his landlord Mrs. Lovett (Bonham-Carter, Burton’s significant other) totally unaware that she is in love with him. Hoping to keep him all for herself Mrs. Lovett tells Barker that his wife committed suicide after Judge Turpin had forced himself on her. Now calling himself Sweeney Todd, he turns his flat into a barber shop and soon after meets up with a rival Italian barber, flamboyant Pirelli (an over the top, Sasha Baron Cohen) who threatens to reveal his true identity. In turn Pirelli becomes Sweeney’s first victim, with a sharp barber knife used as a killing weapon to slash open Pirelli’s throat. Not knowing what to do with the body Mrs. Lovett comes up with an idea that will not only help her ailing business, but serve as a means for Barker to seek his vengeance on the Judge and everyone else Sweeney feels is responsible for doing nothing years earlier when he was wrongly accused.

People often talk about making mince meat out of their enemies, but Sweeney and his female cohort take it literally. Pity the poor dudes who show up for a haircut or shave for “they shall never be heard of again”. With a violent deep cut across the throat the demon barber sends each unsuspecting fellow that just came in for a trim crashing down a chute three stories below, landing head first in the cellar. That is where Mrs. Lovett bakes their remains as the secret ingredient for meat pies which quickly become a big hit with her shop’s dining patrons who have no idea of what they are eating.

Depp and Carter don’t have Broadway caliber singing voices but each effectively pulls off the required vocals that aren’t as demanding as most musicals (Phantom of the Opera, for instance). What the stars lack in vocal prowess they make up in splendid performances and rich chemistry. In fact as good as Depp is (when is he not?) I was blown away by Carter who steals his thunder. Although consistently in serious mode, one can’t help but be captivated by her restrained performance that mixes drama with a wink of sly humor.

Fans of the original Broadway production will most likely not take kindly to the fact that the three hour stage musical has been trimmed to just short of 2 hours and some songs have been cut. But the essence of the story has been left in tact and Burton’s vision is simply, aptly put, bloody awesome. Befitting the gruesome story, the grey toned, brooding and haunting atmosphere permeates every scene; that is, except for Mrs. Lovett’s colorful dreamlike sequence at the sea in which she fantasizes about her life with Sweeney Todd.

Forget about this being ultimately an uplifting musical. I repeat, Sweeney Todd is a dark and gruesome tale right to the very end and filled with graphic, violent images of blood gushing and hurdling into the camera. But don’t let that scare you away. Burton and his cast orchestrate a rich and rewarding experience that, like a good hearty meal, will leave you satisfied; though next time you might think twice about sinking your teeth into that delicious looking pie. I’m kidding!

 

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