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Tim Burton’s Xmas Present to You…

Sweeny Todd

I saw Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street last night. Now, I’m not really one for musicals, but this adaption of the ’79 Broadway horror hit is an interesting wake-up call for the genre.

 Horror has tried to change with the times, but the times have not been kind to the old girl. Film makers either tried to water things down in an effort to bring in a wider audience, or they trussed it up in kinky leather and tried to mainstream torture porn. Both attempts have met with mixed success, but neither mutation provided a milestone to set a standard by.

Burton and crew have made some small changes to the show itself while using some cgi in places, but the film comes off as a homage to Hammer horror and 70’s films in general. (This is not all attributable to the original stage show. By ’79 we had entered the “Halloween” phase of horror and Hammer had all but given up the ghost with its quaint gothic frights.

Now, of course, is the time to embrace gothic horror. (If you’re smart that is. The goth culture does a decent enough cross-over biz, but the core group is the thing that keeps anything vampire-related still going strong.) Burton, who has already made his bread and butter by catering to this crowd, (as he’s kind of the king of them) makes sure that his cinematographer recreates that look very lovingly, while putting some of his own personal spin on things. The story has an early 70’s sensibility to it, which means, for today’s crowd unfamiliar with the play, there’s real menace towards everyone in many scenes. (And a bloody payoff for most.)

Many young people seemed quite familiar with everything, up to knowing the songs. They focused on that and found the blood to be camp. I, in turn, was happy to see a real horror film again, even if it did have musical numbers in it. (I did get a kick out of watching Johnny Depp do something of a Bowie imitation when singing.)

While the movie is not perfect, (The leads are cast a bit young if you’re really following the story and doing some rudimentary math in your head at the same time.) I found myself more interested in how something this bloody got by the ratings board without the usual fuss one hears about when trying to get an “R”. I guarantee you that if this were not a Paramount/WB co-production and instead an independent one that the blood would be toned down considerably, or a big battle would ensue over the assigned rating. (Edging close to the NC-17 the MPAA wanted to give Robocop on its first bloody pass.)

For a change though, that’s a good thing. At least where this film is concerned.

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