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DVD Review: Sweeney Todd – The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (Two-Disc Special Collector’s Edition)

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I've never been a big fan of musicals, and I'm not particularly big on slasher flicks either. But I am a fan of both Tim Burton and Johnny Depp's work, and it turns out they were the perfect match to make the long-rumored screen adaptation of Stephen Sondheim's Broadway slasher musical Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.

Give extra credit to a superb supporting cast here, including Helena Bonham Carter as Todd's murdering accomplice Mrs. Lovett, Alan Rickman (who always plays a perfectly good shit) as the despicable Judge Turpin, and Sasha Baron Cohen (AKA Borat) as Todd's hapless first victim.

But the supporting actor who quietly steals the show here is Edward Sanders as the young, waifish (in an Oliver Twist sort of way) boy Toby. Everyone here tries their best to sing their parts — and I'll give Depp in particular his props for pulling it off somewhat convincingly. But Sanders really sings his heart out here, as the orphan kid whom the delightfully murderous Todd and Lovett take under their wing.

I knew I liked this kid the moment he told Mrs. Lovett to just leave the bottle of gin when she leaves the room. But in a couple of scenes he really tugs at your heartstrings too, so be prepared to pull out the ol' hanky.

The basic story is that after barber Benjamin Barker is framed and sent away for a crime he never committed (so that the evil judge could steal his wife), he comes back to seek revenge and reinvents himself as Sweeney Todd. He soon strikes up a partnership of convenience with Mrs. Lovett, who serves Todd's victims up as England's best meat pies to an unsuspecting clientele. Meanwhile, the judge's affections have moved on from Todd's former bride to his daughter, who is holed up in the judge's mansion like the classic damsel in distress.

While Todd is busy about his business slashing his customers in one very close shave after another (it's never really explained how this serial killing barber manages to get any repeat business), his daughter has attracted a young suitor named Anthony (Jamie Campbell Bower), who she plans to run off with. Meanwhile, Todd continues to amp up towards killing the judge by slicing and dicing away, and Mrs. Lovett just keeps those tasty meat pies a-coming. Yummy.

At this point it should probably be noted that this film isn't for the squeamish. The blood spurts and spills quite freely here, although after awhile it becomes sort of humorous in a cartoonish, Monty Python type of way (think of the bloodier scenes in Holy Grail and you pretty much get the idea). What I found most funny about this was the way Todd sang and even whistled his way through while going about his grisly work. Actually, there is so much dark humor here, it's tempting at times to label Sweeney Todd a black comedy.

Depp plays the murderous Todd here in typically over the top, rock star fashion, and as such was a perfect choice for the role. If Depp's Jack Sparrow was modeled after Keith Richards, then his Sweeney Todd has got to be based at least in part on Alice Cooper. He appears to be having the time of his life here. Helena Bonham Carter was also a great choice to play Mrs. Lovett, although her voice is a bit squeaky as has already been noted elsewhere.

Like most Tim Burton movies, this one also has a great look to it. The hellishly dark, dreary, and gray London depicted provides a perfect backdrop to the story, both in the dramatic and the humorous sense. The makeup is also ghoulishly sensational — particularly the pasty white skin and dark eyes of Depp and Carter. Both would fit right in at a Cure concert.

Since this is a special collector's edition double disc, it is naturally loaded with extras. Disc one features an in-depth look at the making of the film, including footage from the rehearsals and the recording sessions. Disc two has a look at the real life Sweeney Todd story, a documentary on the dark theatrical tradition of Grand Guignol that probably inspired Burton's vision, a look at the original Sondheim musical and more. There are also the usual interviews with Burton, Depp, and Bonham Carter.

So if you missed Sweeney Todd in theaters, this DVD belongs in your collection. I mean who doesn't love a good musical comedy horror slasher thriller, right? Sweeney Todd – The Demon Barber of Fleet Street comes out on DVD April 1.

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About Glen Boyd

Glen Boyd is the author of Neil Young FAQ, released in May 2012 by Backbeat Books/Hal Leonard Publishing. He is a former BC Music Editor and current contributor, whose work has also appeared in SPIN, The Rocket, The Source and other publications. You can read more of Glen's work at The Rockologist, and at the official Neil Young FAQ site. Follow Glen on Twitter and on Facebook.