The lights are dim, I’ve had a considerable amount of wine and cheese, and everyone’s shushing me, which can only mean one thing: it’s time for Screaming in Harmony! Every month we’ll take a look at a musical drowned in fake blood. To keep with April’s Cops ‘N’ Killers theme, tonight’s feature presentation is Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street!
Directed by Tim Burton, 2007’s Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street is a film adaptation of the Stephen Sondheim stage musical. If you’re not currently (or never were) a theatre kid, Stephen Sondheim is at least partially responsible for Gypsy, West Side Story, and Into the Woods. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (known as Sweeney Todd for short, The Sweene to only the hippest of cool kids) was a huge hit on the stage, earning a Tony Award (the theatre version of Rondos).
The film version stars frequent Burton collaborators Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter. Following the stage version’s example, the film was nominated for several awards, even winning a Golden Globe for best Musical or Comedy! As an aside, that’s a pretty arbitrary combination. What’s your favorite flavor of chips or color with two vowels in the name?
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THE SHORT VERSION
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street tells the story of the titular barber (Johnny Depp) returning to London after being gone for over a decade. He reopens his shop, which is directly above a bakery that produces “the worst pies in London,” owned by Mrs. Lovett (Helena Bonham Carter). After a series of close shaves (ha!) and bad timing, the two enter a partnership: Sweeney Todd slits the throats of some of his clients, and Mrs. Lovett uses the bodies in her meat pies. What will happen when the vile Judge Turpin (Alan Rickman) comes around, and what’s going on with the crazy lady out front?! Well, I’m obviously not gonna spoil it, so you’ll have to watch Sweeney Todd for yourself!
GORE AND SCORE
This won’t surprise Real Sondheads, but the songs in Sweeney Todd feature a whole lot of repetition. Picture this: I’m singing a song, (a song, a song,) and every word’s song (a song, a song). I’m not knocking it, obviously Stephen Sondheim knows what he’s doing, but I offer you this controversial opinion: Stephen Sondheim is the Waka Flocka Flame of musical theatre. Everything leading up to the ends of the lines in his songs rhyme, but the last word is always the same. That being said, my favorite songs from this musical are Johanna (a tender ballad), A Little Priest (a very efficient way to move the plot forward), and The Contest (a competitive duet between Sweeney Todd and freakin’ Borat).
Longtime Johnny Depp fans won’t be surprised by this, but he turns in another powerhouse performance as Sweeney Todd in Sweeney Todd. In other unsurprising news, Helena Bonham Carter and Alan Rickman turn in delightful performances. The under-the-radar scene-stealer, though, is Sacha Baron Cohen as Adolfo Pirelli. There aren’t that many laugh-out-loud moments in this dreary, faded tale of murder and cannibalism, but Cohen’s arrogant, flamboyant, Italian-ish barber character is a standout.
I’m a fairly hardcore Burton apologist, but even film fans with a less-charitable view of the director’s oeuvre generally agree that it’s one of his best later-days productions. It’s probably my second-favorite musical starring Johnny Depp, but that’s only because Cry-Baby set the bar so ridiculously high. All told, this is a great pick for fans of the joyless London aesthetic and songs about the pros and cons of murder. If you haven’t seen Sweeney Todd and you’re a fan of musicals where people get their throats slit, check it out! You can stream it on Netflix!
Have you ever committed a murder, even a justified one, and then disposed of the body through a partnership with the lady who runs the bakery downstairs? If so, let us know on Twitter, Instagram, Reddit, and the Horror Fiends of Nightmare on Film Street Facebook page! And for more horror than you can chop up and feed to your friends and neighbors, stay tuned to Nightmare on Film Street.