From the reader mailbag:
I’m looking for horror. Pure horror. So i watched 28 Weeks Later. Not so bad the horror. But the screaming was loud enough to wake my husband up. Lots of blood and screaming but not enough to whet my appetite yet. Can you help?
I believe I have just what you’re looking for. Go to your local theater and catch “Sweeney Todd.” Tim Burton’s new movie of Sondheim’s “musical” is the most alarming bit of high-art ultraviolence since “A Clockwork Orange.” Maybe more so.
Maybe you already know the story. A barber is unjustly convicted of a crime and sent away for 15 years, in the process losing his wife and daughter. He comes back and seeks revenge against the judge that put him there. In a rage, he slits the throat of customer after customer. In order to help dispose of the bodies, his downstairs neighbor bakes them into meat pies and sells them — a hugely successful business. Much mayhem ensues.
This was a big hit on Broadway in the late ’70s and early ’80s. It’s even been staged by opera companies. Now finally it’s a movie and Tim Burton is definitely the right guy to have done it.
You’ve no doubt seen the previews. The visual style is of mid-19th-century London in its coal-blackened sunless bleakness. The palette is shades of black, white and dark blue, with occasional splashes of crimson. Splashes, rivulets, fountains, torrents. Johnny Depp plays Todd with a heart as black as coal, and Helena Bonham Carter is fetching in her pale almost ghoulish way as his overly eager partner. Alan Rickman is fine as the villain who had set the whole process in motion years earlier. His voice is like a dark cloud passing across the moon.
Sondheim’s music presages the visual cues, with typical Broadway melodic structures that are cast into modernistic harmonic frameworks. Like the splashes of crimson, he works “wrong” notes into the harmony to turn something that might have almost been pretty into something deeply unsettling. Case in point, the way the word “London” is harmonized in the opening number:
“I too have sailed the world and seen its wonders,
for the cruelty of men is as wonderous as Peru
but there’s no place like London!”
The bit of smile across Depp’s face conveys a mix of horror and admiration.
And that last scene. I’d never seen the show, so I had no idea. Dear Lord. It’s just about the most horrifying thing I’ve ever seen. It’s not pure horror, but the music enhances the effect to make it even more than it would have been.
So dear reader, combine rivers of blood, mass murder, cannibalism and revenge together with a great script, score, acting and design and your appetite, so to speak, ought to be more than sated.
Tastefully yours, so to speak,