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“Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street”

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By Matt Singer

IFC News

[Photo: Johnny Depp in “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street,” Paramount Pictures, 2007]

Just in time for Christmas, director Tim Burton is painting theaters across the country red and green: red with gallons of movie blood, green with the faces of queasy moviegoers when they discover just what kind of gorefest they’ve wandered into. Burton’s turned Steven Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler’s musical “Sweeney Todd” into a Herschell Gordon Lewis movie for the Schubert Alley set. Squeamish theater fans take note: it’s “A Bucket of Blood and Barbasol.”

The story remains largely unchanged from the stage version, but the blood-and-guts factor has risen exponentially. Sweeney Todd is equally phlegmatic whether he’s giving someone a haircut, a shave or a straight razor to the jugular, and Burton’s camera records the action in much the same way. There are numerous instances where Burton could have cut away from the action to leave some of the carnage to the imagination. He never does. His technique is as coldly unwavering as Sweeney’s.

Once, Sweeney (Johnny Depp) lived a happy life as Benjamin Barker, a successful barber with a wife and child. Then a jealous judge named Turpin (Alan Rickman) wrongfully imprisoned him, stole his young daughter (whom he now intends to wed) and drove his wife to suicide. After a long exile, Barker returns with a different name and Susan Sontag hair, vowing revenge. “The years no doubt have changed me,” he sinisterly informs Mrs. Lovett (Helena Bonham Carter), the crazy widow who runs the meat pie bakery below his shop. For a while Sweeney’s modus operandi is limited only to killing Turpin; at a certain point, madness and hatred expands his vision and he decrees that there will be blood for anyone dumb enough to pay him to lower their ears.

Thus, as the open credits suggest, blood and witty musical numbers pour down like rain. But even as the body count enters slasher film territory, Burton keeps the tone wickedly funny. If Sondheim and Wheeler’s original text was always smirky-creepy, Burton pushes the tone farther into the theater of the absurd. He turns Mrs. Lovett’s number about her hopes of a happy home life (“By the Sea”) into a candy-colored dream sequence with Sweeney, dressed in convict black and whites, desperately looking for an exit. He treats the romantic lead Anthony (a bug-eyed Jamie Campbell Bower) as a laughably desperate stalker (and doesn’t scrimp on Turpin’s pedophilic tendencies). He even cast Sacha Baron Cohen as an outlandish street performer (with an even more outlandish Italian accent) who becomes Sweeney’s first victim.

The staged “Sweeney Todd” was almost entirely sung, but even if Burton (with Sondheim’s blessing and assistance) cut several numbers entirely — including the famous “Ballad of Sweeney Todd” opener — and trimmed many others, the movie is still jammed with music from sprocket hole to sprocket hole. Though Depp has no formal musical training, he did spend many of his pre-acting days in various rock bands, and that influence comes through strongly in his vocal performance, which ranges from a David Bowie croon to a Billy Idol howl. Even if the songs have been performed by more talented singers in the past, there’s something seductive about Depp’s approach. Against any of the numerous theatrical renditions viewable on YouTube, the movie Sweeney holds his own. I’d take Depp and Rickman’s “Pretty Women,” for instance, over any of the half-dozen variations available online.

So musically it works, comedically it works, but man is this thing just soaked to the bone with blood. You can’t really argue that the thicker-than-waterworks ruin “Sweeney Todd”‘s message because they don’t. The orgy of Karo syrup (the only strong color presence onscreen in what is otherwise almost a black and white film) only enhances the story’s idea of revenge as a doomed, poisonous pursuit. Sweeney’s quest for vengeance touches, if not outright destroys, the lives of everyone around him even the innocent. His infective taint on his neighborhood is symbolized by the sooty smoke that pours out of his bakehouse chimney and clogs the air with an inescapable stench. However poetic the Judge’s ultimate fate may be, there’s no denying that Sweeney, not Turpin, has more blood on his hands — both literally and figuratively.


Hacked In

Funny or Die Is Taking Over

FOD TV comes to IFC every Saturday night.

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We’ve been fans of Funny or Die since we first met The Landlord. That enduring love makes it more than logical, then, that IFC is totally cool with FOD hijacking the airwaves every Saturday night. Yes, that’s happening.

The appropriately titled FOD TV looks like something pulled from public access television in the nineties. Like lo-fi broken-antenna reception and warped VHS tapes. Equal parts WTF and UHF.

Get ready for characters including The Shirtless Painter, Long-Haired Businessmen, and Pigeon Man. They’re aptly named, but for a better sense of what’s in store, here’s a taste of ASMR with Kelly Whispers:

Watch FOD TV every Saturday night during IFC’s regularly scheduled movies.


Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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GIFs via Giphy

Okay, so you missed the entire first season of Stan Against Evil. There’s no shame in that, per se. But here’s the thing: Season 2 is just around the corner and you don’t want to lag behind. After all, Season 1 had some critical character development, not to mention countless plot twists, and a breathless finale cliffhanger that’s been begging for resolution since last fall. It also had this:


The good news is that you can catch up right now on Hulu. Phew. But if you aren’t streaming yet, here’s a basic primer…

Willards Mill Is Evil

Stan spent his whole career as sheriff oblivious to the fact that his town has a nasty curse. Mostly because his recently-deceased wife was secretly killing demons and keeping Stan alive.

Demons Really Want To Kill Stan

The curse on Willards Mill stipulates that damned souls must hunt and kill each and every town sheriff, or “constable.” Oh, and these demons are shockingly creative.


They Also Want To Kill Evie

Why? Because Evie’s a sheriff too, and the curse on Willard’s Mill doesn’t have a “one at a time” clause. Bummer, Evie.

Stan and Evie Must Work Together

Beating the curse will take two, baby, but that’s easier said than done because Stan doesn’t always seem to give a damn. Damn!


Beware of Goats

It goes without saying for anyone who’s seen the show: If you know that ancient evil wants to kill you, be wary of anything that has cloven feet.


Season 2 Is Lurking

Scary new things are slouching towards Willards Mill. An impending darkness descending on Stan, Evie and their cohort – eviler evil, more demony demons, and whatnot. And if Stan wants to survive, he’ll have to get even Stanlier.

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is now streaming right now on Hulu.



Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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GIFs via Giphy

Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”


IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?

Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!

Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.

Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 


IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.