Among the many things I’ve had a love-hate relationship with over the years are musicals, Tim Burton films and Johnny Depp, so I can say without a doubt that I’m as surprised as anyone else that a Tim Burton musical starring Johnny Depp made it onto this list. I’ve debated long and hard over time as to whether or not this even counts as a horror movie, however, with its twisted, tragic tale of revenge, mass murder and cannibalism, I realized that there was no way I could exclude Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street from this list.
In Victorian London, barber Sweeney Todd (Johnny Depp) was wrongfully accused of a crime by affluent Judge Turpin (Alan Rickman) and banished to sea for more than a decade. In that time, the judge stole from him his wife and daughter and destroyed everything he held near and dear. Home at last, he settles into his old apartment above the pie shop of Mrs. Lovett (Helena Bonham Carter) and plots his revenge. While a more noble man out for revenge would simply look to take what was his and run away, Sweeney is out for blood. Gallons of it. At the end of a straight razor.
Yeah, this isn’t a particularly cheerful musical.
I’ll just say up front that while I was initially wary of this movie, particularly given the difficult lyrical structure of composer Steven Sondheim that makes the songs less than catchy the first time out and Tim Burton’s insistence on using the same actors and color scheme he does in every movie. However, as it went on, I began to appreciate the deep tragedy of the plot, to catch onto the cleverness and grim humor of the lyrics, and see how spot-on every person was in their role. Alan Rickman is Judge Turpin. Helena Bonham Carter is Mrs. Lovett. Johnny Depp earns a well-deserved Oscar nomination in his turn as Sweeney Todd, and the less said about Sacha Baron Cohen’s bombastic turn as Signor Pirelli, the better. He is one of the truly surprising standouts of the movie.
So it’s good as a musical; how is it as a horror movie? Well, almost a dozen throats are slit, spraying bright red blood all over the place, heads are smashed in on cobblestones, and dead bodies are ground up, baked into meat pies and sold to the general public, usually to a cheery musical number. This film is twisted, and dark, and hilarious. Johnny Depp plays the dual-role of primary protagonist and antagonist with great relish, looking tragic and maniacal as he casually slits throat after throat and bathes in the blood of his victims.
While I may not be the biggest fan of musicals, this one quickly became a favorite, while instilling me with a great fear of barbers for months after viewing. While my self-performed haircuts may have made my personal appearance suffer for a while, at least I wasn’t made into a pie.
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-- Matt Carter
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