Murder. Cannibalism. Death. Obsession. Revenge. Blood. Goth makeup. And lots of razors -- "at last, my arm is complete again!" Sweeney Todd exults.
Somehow it doesn't come as a shock to me that Tim Burton adapted Stephen Sondheim's musical "Sweeney Todd - The Demon Barber of Fleet Street" -- or that he somehow spun it into something so delicious. That dark, grotesque, hilariously melodramatic story is perfectly suited to Burton's style, and Johnny Depp is absolutely stunning as the titular bloody barber.
The malignant Judge Turpin (Alan Rickman) lusts after the wife of Benjamin Barker (Depp), so he convicts Barker of a crime he didn't commit, and enfolds his family into his evil hands.
But fifteen years later, the Barker returns to London and sets up a barber shop over Mrs. Lovett's ghastly meat pie store. Of course, he's enraged when he learns that his wife was raped and since poisoned herself, and that his daughter is the ward of the lecherous Judge. Enraged and maddened, Barker renames himself "Sweeney Todd" and vows revenge.
And he finds that he LOVES using his razors for a far bloodier task than shaving. With the help of Mrs. Lovett (Helena Bonham Carter) -- who finds a thrifty use for those bodies -- Todd cuts a bloody swathe through all who have wronged him. And when his daughter is punished for refusing to marry the cruel Judge, Sweeney closes in to get his revenge at last.
There's always been a gothic look to Burton's movies, and he's always dabbled in very twisted, macabre storylines. And he really tops himself with "Sweeney Todd - The Demon Barber of Fleet Street" -- London is painted in black, white and grey, right down to the ghoulish faces of the characters, and their bleak little dens of horror. And songs -- lots of magnificently horrible songs.
But Burton pretty obviously adores the combination of gory grotesquerie and very, very sick humour ("They don't commit sins of the flesh, so it's pretty fresh"). And he doesn't try to make Sweeney or Mrs. Lovett palatable, thankfully. While we sympathize with Sweeney's losses, and the horrors that have changed him into the Demon Barber, you just can't pass over scenes where they sing, "It's man devouring man, my dear!" "Then who are we to deny it in here?"
There are some moments that relieve this gory gothic parade -- there's a sweet love story between Sweeney's daughter and a young sailor. And the plot becomes progressively darker toward the end (yes, it CAN get worse), when the plot throws us some shocking new twists, resulting in a Grecian-tragedy finale soaked in even more gore.
Oh yes, there's blood. Tons of it. It spurts like Monty Python's bloodier sketches, which ends up being more hilarious than yucky -- as is the casual introduction of cannibal meat pies. And there are some spectacularly gross moments, like a finger found in one of the pies.
Burton uses some of his favorite actors in this one, particularly Depp and Bonham-Carter. Depp is THE perfect ideal Sweeney Todd -- his creepy eyes, pallid face and still, almost seductive manner are perfect for the maddened murderous barber. He goes through the movie slashing his razors at the world, and injects a real creepiness into scenes like Sweeney cooing at his "friends."
While she's only a passable singer, Bonham-Carter is eerily wholehearted as Todd's equally amoral partner-in-crime, who is quite happy to assist him.... and make tastier pies in the process. Rickman is wonderfully loathsome as the Judge, and Sacha Baron Cohen has a small but priceless role as Pirello, a huckster acquaintance of Todd's who starts causing trouble. He really steals his scenes.
Most directors would have prettified, sanitized and defanged the grotesque "Sweeney Todd - The Demon Barber of Fleet Street," but Tim Burton and Johnny Depp revel in the gore and madness. Astoundingly great.