Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street is Stephen Sondheim’s magnum opus: a blood-splattering musical masterpiece. From songs filled with puns about eating people to close shaves that end in throat-slitting, the musical is a bit over the top when it comes to the macabre. Yet, the gore is a necessity due to what it represents — take out the blood and one erases the works’ origin and dramatic intentions.
Tim Burton – who made a film version of Sweeney Todd starring Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter — discussed the production during an interview with Female. He explained why the blood, in all its gory glory, is an integral part of the whole.
Tim Burton talks about ‘Sweeney Todd’ and what happens when a production ‘skimp[s] on’ the gore
Burton explained to Female that he understands the challenge inherent to placing blood and violence in a musical. It’s not exactly a recipe for box office success. However, Burton noted that it’s worth the risk to retain the productions’ artistic value and purpose. Burton said:
“…I remember seeing the show and right when Johana — these two very proper British ladies were sitting in front of me chatting throughout the show and then when Johana came up and blood starts squirting across the stage they both stopped and paused for a minute and one lady leaned over to the other and said ‘Is that really necessary?’ [laughs] But in fact it was necessary and I’ve seen other productions of it where they tried to be a bit more politically correct and skimp on it and it really lost something because the show is based in those old Grand Guignol horror theater melodramas where they had buckets pouring out onstage…Burton | Female
Burton explained that the show’s history is rooted in “Grand Guignol” horror tales — entertainment of a sensationalized and horrific nature that originated with the opening of the Grand Guignol Theatre in the Pigalle district of Paris in 1897. Yet, history is not the only influence at play.
The blood in ‘Sweeney Todd’ is more about an ’emotional release,’ according to Burton
Burton went on to explain that the excess blood in his movie version is “true to what the spirit of the show was,” noting its place in the narrative. He told Female:
“It is more of an emotional release [than] it is a reality thing in this movie and the studio was cool about it and they accepted it because they knew what the show was any movie is a risk, but it is nice to be able to do something like that that doesn’t fit into the musical or slasher movie categories. It is in its own category.”
Burton’s Sweeney Todd definitely found its own space between movie musical and slasher film, going on to receive praise from audiences and critics alike.