Based on the 1979 musical by Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler, from an adaptation by Christopher Bond of the original 1847 British stage play, the Tim Burton sordid slasher musical Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street strangely combines melody with murder. And though the atmospheric visuals are impressively eerie, the effect is both bizarre and grating.
Stanley Kubrick’s 1971 equally alarming psycho-fantasy Clockwork Orange harmonized the criminally-minded crooning of Singing In The Rain with brutally dispatching murder victims to the afterlife. But it was as ironic commentary and determined disorienting reflection on the peculiar popularity of violence as giddy pathological mass entertainment in its own right, in modern times. Unlike Clockwork Orange, the emotionally flat Sweeney Todd just mindlessly goes for the jugular like your basic slasher fare, with creepy relish.
Johnny Depp as the malevolent, pasty faced serenading barber chopping away at assorted customer throats with a handy lost and found razor, can’t seem to carry a tune quite as impressively as a deadly weapon. And the same goes for Helena Bonham Carter as his infatuated landlady and slovenly chef accomplice at a seedy London dive, whose toxic talent may be more for ptomaine poisoning.
All of which adds up to a gnawing lack of character development as well as professionally trained singing talent, where Sweeney Todd’s razor rage and obsession for revenge feels more robotic than driven by passion and a grieving heart. Primarily because the relationship with his departed victimized wife is mostly mentioned rather than fleshed out, so deciphering the emotional complexity and any related empathy for Sweeney, is subjected to a blunt disconnect.
Perhaps the stage play, which I didn’t see, worked better since all that throat slitting and blood gushing wasn’t in-your-face on screen and at a more discreet distance, whatever. But these barber-ic proceedings could bring beards back into fashion in a jiffy.