Best Halloween Movies #27 Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

“And life is for the alive my dear, so let’s keep living it.”

This movie can best be described as delightfully macabre. One could also call it a goddamn Greek tragedy. The obscene amount of blood in this film, even in that cartoonish shade of red, easily qualifies this as a Halloween film. Add the cannibalism, and how bad the meat pies were before the secret ingredient, the ick factor alone qualifies this movie for a place on this list.

Since this movie is a little more recent (and most people aren’t familiar with Broadway shows) a little plot summary won’t hurt. Spoiler Warning! Benjamin Barker framed for a crime by Judge Turpin so that the judge could make advances on Barker’s wife, returns after many years in prison under the name Sweeney Todd. Todd, mentally unhinged by from his suffering, comes back with revenge in his heart against Turpin and his henchman the Beadle Bamford. Taking up residence once again over Mrs. Lovett’s Meat Pie shop he plans his vengeance. Todd takes up his old profession as a barber, and after he blows his first chance to kill Turpin he decides to take his rage out on all of humanity. Worse, Mrs. Lovett, possibly the worst character in the story, comes up with the most revolting way imaginable to dispose of the corpses that will soon be piling up—use the corpses as the main ingredient in her meat pie shop. Quiet revoltingly, long pig appears to be quite popular. The whole thing ends with Todd killing Lovett, Bamford, Turpin…and at the time unknowingly his wife whom he thought dead. This last point is what makes it a tragedy. Had he had but one piece of knowledge at the beginning, that his wife was alive, he might have found her and just killed Turpin, he does deserve it, saved his daughter (one of the few characters to make it out alive, also one of the few main characters innocent in the whole story). And finally realizing the level of his sin, Todd himself is killed.

It is a story only of victims and only of villains.

And yet, being a musical it has a strangely delightful quality. Especially in how the characters revel in their atrocities…and since it’s taken to the point of farce you can enjoy their evil without being morally revolted. The offbeat performance of Depp and Bonham Carter help to a great deal as well.

Halloween is a time to reflect on our darker side, and this movie only looks at that side of human nature. The jealous, the envious, the vengeful, the avaricious (we’ll hold off on discussion of the whole septet for a later film…yeah that one). Someone told me once that it was ironic that I should like Sweeney Todd as the film clearly advocated a communist philosophy. And they were partly right, Todd and Lovett do seem to have a very Marxist view of society, they use as justification for their villainy the statement “How gratifying for once to know that those above will serve those down below.“ However since they’re the villains and receive their all too just rewards in the end, I don’t see this film endorsing communism…if anything, (and I really don’t think Burton or Sondheim and Wheeler meant this) this would show that communists are vicious people who justify their viciousness with their petty ideas.

But for all of its gore and focus on the villains, like almost all horror, it is a morality tale where all the evil are struck down.

We’re still not into the realm of movies that are great in and of themselves outside a Halloween list, but it is a delightfully macabre movie.

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2 Comments

Filed under Death, Fear, Halloween, Movies

2 responses to “Best Halloween Movies #27 Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

  1. I really wish I could see this one on Broadway. I loved the movie and Johnny Depp, once again, gave an amazing performance. Also Bonham Carter was great in her role. When is she not?

  2. Pingback: It’s Halloween and that means Halloween Movies | The Conservative New Ager

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