Director brings out the demon in Depp |

Director brings out the demon in Depp

Dan Thomas

If “Edward Scissorhands” seems an odd choice for many critics’ lists of favorite holiday films, Johnny Depp and Tim Burton have outdone themselves.

The director and actor, who teamed up 17 years ago this month for a movie many consider an offbeat Christmas classic, have produced another holiday oddity, a musical like the first draft of “Edward Scissorhands.” Only instead of Edward’s scissors and sense of whimsy, “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” packs a brace of razors, a sharp wit and a bloody sense of purpose.

Don’t let the release date and musical score fool you: “Sweeney Todd” is deadly, if not serious. Mercifully, though, it doesn’t start with a long back story. Rather, it begins as soon as the black prow of Todd’s ship emerges from the darkness as soon as the previews end.

The audience only gets Sweeney’s plight as a back story: Barber Benjamin Barker (Depp) lost his wife and daughter to the corrupt Judge Turpin (Alan Rickman) years ago, and returns to London as barber Sweeney Todd. The stripped-down movie version Stephen Sondheim’s musical doesn’t cuts out most of the time for barbering: Sweeney’s real mission is to cut through the dead weight of customers, dump them in the basement for Mrs. Lovett (Helena Bonham Carter) and get Turpin back into his chair to exact revenge.

The trim plot allows for little except for gallons of gore, a few musical numbers and one sweet, funny dream sequence of Sweeney and Mrs. Lovett at the beach. Depp, Bonham-Carter and Burton are again at the top of their games, and while the gears of Sweeney’s sense of justice keep the reels turning and stomachs churning toward the end, it’s a gruesome masterwork.

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