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'Sweeney Todd' Ghoulish Barber Tale of Revenge


After 15 years in prison, a man returns to the dingy streets of 19th century London and seeks revenge. "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street," is Tim Burton's latest film creation. This deliciously dark musical promises to spice up your holidays. VOA's Penelope Poulou has a review.

Judge Turpin, a man of power, threw young Benjamin Parker in jail and stole his wife and daughter. Now, many years later, mad with sorrow, Parker returns. He changes his name to Sweeney Todd and is in a killing mood.

Sweeney takes up quarters in his old barbershop. It is above Mrs. Lovett's meat pie store -- a filthy establishment frequented by more roaches than people. Mrs. Lovett remembers Todd from the old days. She is desperately in love with him and starts an odd partnership. He can slice the throats of his unwitting clients above and slide their bodies below for... consumption.

British actress Helena Bonham Carter plays Mrs. Lovett. "I saw her as totally amoral, full of zest and full of life and a survivor and somebody who is as zestful and vital as Sweeney was depressive and introverted," says the actress.

Johnny Depp who plays the murderous barber talks about Mrs. Lovett's love and fear for Sweeney. "I think she'd rather he didn't go about killing so much," he says jokingly. As for Sweeney, he describes him as a victim. "I saw him as a victim, certainly," she says. "Anyone who's victimized to that degree and turns around and becomes a murderer can't be 'all there.' He's missing something."

Depp surprises with his vocal skills. Although his range may not reach the heights of a Broadway musical star, his soulful voice has such timbre and emotion that it strikes a chord in our hearts.

Depp's acting is sinister, but his singing distracts from his performance. On the other hand, Helena Bonham Carter is stupendous as Mrs. Lovett. Her vocal twists blend seamlessly with her endless moods and expressions. She is as wickedly delicious as her pies.

The rest of the cast is also magnificent. Alan Rickman is creepy yet vulnerable as Judge Turpin. Sacha Baron Cohen, the star of "Borat," is into his comic element as Adolfo Pirelli, a rival barber.

Although originally produced for the stage, "Sweeney Todd"-- the movie -- is visceral, brooding and heart-wrenching. Tim Burton's "Sweeney Todd" blends humor, romance, and horror with Stephen Sondheim's complex score.

"Well this is a very cinematic piece," says the director. "Something you can't see on stage is up close actors, all very expressive, very much like silent horror movie actors. Helena Bonham Carter is Tim Burton's real life partner. She says, "Tim is reared on horror movies. Johnny loves them too. They definitely looked back at the old favorites for a lot of inspiration."

Johnny Depp agrees. Having worked with Tim Burton seventeen years ago on Edward Scissorhands, he says the filmaker distinguishes himself on "film noir." "This is Tim Burton's giant salute to classic horror films," says the actor.

Wickedly witty and steeped in blood, this is not a movie for the squeamish. But it is definitely one for discriminating audiences.