Monday, October 10, 2011

Movies You Might Have Missed Monday

Ok, I promised a true horror movie this week as October plods along toward Halloween.

Does it count if it is also a musical?

In my book, yes, it definitely counts. It’s probably the goriest movie I like.

You know what I’m talking about, right? It’s the Sondheim Broadway musical, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, a 2007 Tim Burton-directed film starring Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter.

First off, Mr. Todd is not a demon. He’s a bitter, hurting man bent on revenge. Years ago, when he was known as Benjamin Barker, he had a rosy life – beautiful wife, new baby daughter. They were happy, and it showed. Judge Turpin, a dark-hearted man filled with envy, noticed, fell in lust with Mrs. Barker and contrived to take her for his own benefit. He fixes a false accusation and conviction that sends Mr. Barker away to prison for twenty years. But when he tries to force Mrs. Barker into a relationship, she mentally snaps and no one ever hears from her again. The Judge takes the Barker’s daughter and raises her as his own.

When Mr. Barker returns, he’s in disguise as Sweeney Todd, a mysterious, quirky fellow looking to open a barbershop as a cover to his murderous plans. He meets Mrs. Lovett, who runs a pie shop on Fleet Street and happens to have a room upstairs perfect for a barbershop. Mrs. Lovett’s not exactly pristine in her food preparation habits as anything that scurries across her counter makes it into the pies, so eating a pie at her shop probably isn’t such a good idea. But that warning doubles… triples… quadruples when she gets into business with Mr. Todd.

Mr. Todd is so captive to the hurt he’s experienced in life that everyone strolling in his path is in danger of being a victim of his wrath. A trip to the barber Sweeney Todd means a dismal end in one of Mrs. Lovett’s pies.

What a strange story to make into a musical, right? But the songs eerily fit, and hold a deep message if you listen to the words. One of my favorites is “Have a Little Priest,” a song sung by Todd and Lovett just as they decide to combine their businesses. It’s tongue-in-cheek, but it cleverly turns symbolic language about our ‘tastes’ in different kinds of people into literal ‘tastes.’ Creepy, but also funny in a dark, satirical way.

Of course, this movie isn’t meant to be comedic, though there is some such relief in places. It really highlights the destruction of a life lived for revenge as well as the damage sins like envy, false accusation and greed can cause. That’s why I like it so much.

Yes, it is gory. Our demon barber slits the throats of several of his customers and the blood splatter is significant. The ending shocks and startles, and yet is an apt conclusion. Sometimes seeing the dark side and all its consequences, like seeing the inside of a jail cell, is a great motivator to avoid such sadness. This story shows what blind rage can keep us from seeing, and how the outcome could be different if we could just see beyond the need to pay someone back for hurts they’ve inflicted.

The acting in Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street kills (haha). Depp and Carter of course (I think they excel in most everything they do), but also Alan Rickman as the sinister judge and Sacha Baron Cohen (yes, crazy Borat himself) as a competing barber give spectacular performances. Though Burton usually directs fantastical, over-the-top celebrations of strange, this story is strange enough so that his influence is present but not over powering.

So, if you dare, try a little Sweeney Todd for a scare and to be made aware of the dangers of revenge.

Happy Movie Watching, Dry Ground friends!

(photo by