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The Sweeney heebie-jeebies

Posted at 5:00 PM on November 26, 2007 by Euan Kerr (5 Comments)

When I was very young I used to love to go to the Museum of Childhood in Edinburgh. It's still there, an incredible place stuffed with toys and playthings from across the ages.

There was only one place that made me nervous though. On an upper floor there were a pair of Victorian amusement machines. You could drop in a penny and it would whirr and clunk to life.

One machine was really cool. It showed a haunted house with spooks and moving statues, and twirling pictures.

But the other one... well, that was the story of Sweeney Todd. I don't remember much about what happened as it went into action but it ended with the demon barber bearing down on an unfortunate victim and having at him with his straight-edge razor. The victim would glow bright red and then the barber seat would pitch backwards and the body would slip away to be made into meat pies.

As a five year old I was so horrified and maybe traumatized by the whole idea, and in particular the red glow that Sweeney Todd has always made me uncomfortable ever since.

I had no interest in the Stephen Sondheim musical when it came out in 1979. In fact I'd pretty much forgotten about it until I ran into the trailer for the new Tim Burton movie the other day, with Johnny Depp wielding the razor and Helena Bonham Carter making the pies..

It just unleashed all those childhood fears again. It's just strange that after all these years, the character still gives me the heebie-jeebies.

Now I have to work out whether I'm going to go see it or not. Eeeech. The film opens December 21st. Nothing says Christmas like serial killers and meat pies, eh?


Comments (5)

Euan: The question that films like Sweeney Todd or many that are probably more scarey (for instance Chris Columbus' first scripts Gremlins) raise is: 'Would you take you kids to see them today?"

After long-suffering athis childhood fear, would you take your kids to see the Sweeney Todd machine at the Children's Museum of Edinburgh?

Are we over-protective of our children today when it comes to what we will allow them to see and what we will not?

Posted by Robb Mitchell | November 27, 2007 7:51 AM


Mr. Kerr:

You MUST see this film. It is widely considered Sondheim's masterpiece, andd he is widely considered the finest musical theatre composer of the second half of the twentieth century. Finally, Tim Burton (perfect choice to direct this) has something better to work with than Danny Elfman. No offense to Danny, but his scores are just more and more of the same. This should be Burton's grand masterpiece, and he will, undoubtedly never have such fine material to work with again. If only Hollywood occassionally had material this great.

Hope you enjoy it....

Posted by Tony Wichowski | November 27, 2007 11:09 AM


Thanks for the thoughts.

Robb: I agree with you, although clearly you have to be sensible. (I was at an early screening of "Pan's Labyrinth" where there were a lot of very young children in the audience, which was just not smart.)

As a child, several things terrorized me: the Daleks on Dr Who, and for some reason "Black Beauty" too. I have overcome those fears, but for some reason, Sweeney has always just really given me the creeps. This is at it's base a very personal reaction, with no rational basis, but I can't deny it's there.

Yes, I would take my kids to see the machine. Now they are both in their late teens, they blithely talk about the relative merits of the "Saw" movies, which I have yet to see, although interestingly Malcolm was really down on "Hostel."

And Tony, you are right, I should go see it. The combination of Depp, Sondheim and Burton is very attractive. I suppose if it all gets too much I can just walk out, (although being a cheapskate, that's always hard for me having shelled out for a ticket! )

Posted by Euan Kerr | November 27, 2007 11:40 AM


Euan,

The machine is still there, cranking, whirring and terrifying children exquisitly. I find it great that the Victorians found this dark humour so very entertaining, and that here, a century later murder and cannabilism is still as thrilling! A fine line though, between entertainment and reality, now that is scary. Aren't you glad that you are carnivorously challenged?

Posted by Fiona Mungavin | November 29, 2007 9:03 AM


I remember seeing those machines in the Museum of Childhood! I was six years old, and it was 1973. I'd forgotten all about them until I saw that new Tim Burton movie the other day on DVD. I tried to tell my wife about the Sweeney Todd machine, and she thought I must have dreamed it or be pulling her leg. She couldn't believe they would base a children's entertainment on something so gruesome. To tell the truth I wasn't sure if it really existed, or if my memory was playing tricks. I live in Canada now, and haven't been back to the U.K. in twenty years. Thank goodness for the internet, eh? I wonder if Tim Burton has ever been to the Museum of Childhood?

Posted by Rob | April 14, 2008 4:51 AM


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