Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

Movie Information

In Brief: Tim Burton's ultra-stylized and stylish -- not to mention bloody -- film version of the Stephen Sondheim musical about the infamous "Demon Barber of Fleet Street" is not likely to please theater purists or Sondheim junkies, but it is undeniably brilliant filmmaking that effectively blends theater, horror and music into a unified whole.
Genre: Horror Musical
Director: Tim Burton
Starring: Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Alan Rickman, Timothy Spall, Sacha Baron Cohen, Jamie Campbell Bower
Rated: R

Ushering in Tim Burton’s latest film, Dark Shadows, the Thursday Horror Picture Show is screening the filmmaker’s perverse 2007 Christmas release, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. (Who but Burton would bring out a bloody horror picture—even if it is a musical—at Christmas?) One’s feelings about the film are almost certainly going to be dictated by how one feels about the sanctity of the original Stephen Sondheim stage production. In the first place, large cuts have been made in the text (though it should be noted that Sondheim approved these). In the second—and more troubling for some—place, there’s the casting of Helena Bonham Carter as Mrs. Lovett. If you’re sold on the idea that Angela Lansbury’s broad performance—pitched to the last row of the gallery—is the only way to tackle the role, then you’re going to have problems with the film on this score. If not, it’s probably more going to be a question of how you feel about the combination of horror film and musical. Perhaps the biggest—though least apparent—change Burton brought to the material is to return the story to its flat-out horror roots, which is how the story of Sweeney Todd (Johnny Depp) should be. I mean, after all, this is the story of an insane barber who murders his customers with his razor and drops them through a trap door into the basement kitchen of his accomplice, Mrs. Lovett, who bakes the corpses into meat pies—which are a hit with the populace of London. In short, it’s about madness, wholesale murder and cannibalism. Not exactly genteel stuff. Burton merely embraces it in all its gory glory—while giving the characters his characteristic gothic look. The closest thing to it in his filmography is his 1999 salute to Hammer horror, Sleepy Hollow, but where that was rather playful, this is closer to nightmarish. As far as I’m concerned, it’s one of the director’s masterpieces. For my full original review go here:  www.mountainx.com/movies/review/sweeney_todd

The Thursday Horror Picture Show will screen Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street on Thursday, May 10, at 8 p.m. in the Cinema Lounge of The Carolina Asheville and will be hosted by Xpress movie critics Ken Hanke and Justin Souther.


About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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2 thoughts on “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

  1. Ken Hanke

    Did anyone say there was? Oh, yes, some of the critics talking about Dark Shadows brought it in as a Burton picture “not even his admirers would champion.”

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