Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street is a 2007 horror-musical directed by Time Burton staring Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter. The film is an adaptation of the 1979 stage musical of the same name written by Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler. Which in turn is based on the 1973 play of the same name written by Christopher Bond. Which is again in turn based on… well you get the idea. Sweeney Todd first appears in The String of Pearls a Victorian Penny Dreadful from 1846-47.
Tim Burton is apparently a huge fan of the 1979 stage musical having seen it performed in London and had entertained ideas about this adaptation since the 1980s but it wasn’t until much later that he had the opportunity to make it a reality. Burtons signature style is all over this film and marks the sixth collaboration between Burton and Depp. While Sondheim isn’t credited he collaborated closely with Burton during the creation of this adaptation.
I first became aware of Sweeney Todd from the Jersey Girl the 2004 film by Kevin Smith. Oliver Trinke brings his daughter to see the play not knowing the about the plays content. His daughter is enraptured and so was I. I instantly went to work trying to obtain a recorded copy of the stage production but was unable to locate one. Then a few short years later when I heard that Burton was filming a big screen adaptation I just about lost my shit.
The story of Sweeney Todd (portrayed by Johnny Depp) is a bloody one. Sentenced to life in prison on a false charge the story takes place years later. After escaping from prison and returning home Todd learns of his wife dead and that his daughter Johanna (played by Jaybe Wisener) is now the ward of the man who sent him to jail the corupt Judge Turpin (played by Alan Rickman). Todd swears vengeance and is aided by Mrs. Lovette (played by Helena Bonham Carter) who remembers him from the old days and not so secretly loves him. Mrs. Lovette cooks the corpses of Todds victims into meat pies that she in turn sells to unsuspecting customers. Todd proceeds to enact his vengeance by slitting the throats of men while waiting for his moment to strike against his foe. The plot is more in depth then but I don’t want to spoil it for those how have yet to see it.
Being a huge fan of both musicals and horror films it’s nearly impossible for me to not just fall in love with them. I can’t think of a single one that I don’t and this one stands among the vanguard of the horror musical. Burton does another masterful job bringing his vision to life. Apparently Sam Mendes was originally going to direct this film with Russel Crow being the title role. I have a hard time imaging this film had it been these two involved instead of Burton and Depp.
The singing in this film isn’t the best. Sure it’s gritty, dark and plays more like an opera with many of the songs sounding like sung diologe. It always annoys me at the start of the film but when Depp performs “My Little Friends” the music has me and I become engrossed in the story of this murderous barber so the singing bothers me less but does remain an issue. The worst singing in this film I feel goes to Allen Rickman he does a well enough job at carrying the tune but his singing really got to me. I’ve heard of Sweeney Todd be referred to as Sondheims masterpiece and for very good reason. The music once you get into is really top notch with a number of very catchy and memorable songs that really manage to stick with you. Just not with this particular cast.
A thing I love about this film is it has a great atmosphere about it. It reminds of old Universal monster films of the 1940s mostly that of the Frankstein, Dracula and Wolfman can be felt at work her. The whole world of this film drips in old style gothic horror. But unlike these older films Sweeney Todd doesn’t shy away for the use of blood and gore. There’s more then enough blood gushing slit throats to keep fans of bloody horror appeased.
So at the end of the day Sweeney Todd is a great musical and pretty good horror film to boot. But The raw singing that feels like it never ends at points does drag the film down a bit for me. But the films gothic haunting feel is perfection through and through. So when all is said and done Sweeney Todd while great I still can’t justify giving a higher score leaving Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street 7/10.