Sweeney Todd keeps a barbershop in Olde Times London, cutting the throats of customers who have pilferable fortunes about their persons and disposing of the bodies through mysterious means which involve the pie-shop next door to his premises in Fleet street.
The jug-eared, moon-faced Tod Slaughter is one of the forgotten marvels of British cinema. For decades, he toured the provinces with his tiny theatre company, booed and hissed by audiences as he incarnated a succession of mid-Victorian villains in penny dreadful melodramas. Most of his vehicles were turned into lower-than-low budget films and remain astonishingly entertaining when chanced upon on late-night television.
Sweeney Todd affords him the chance to roll his eyes in one of his greatest roles -- ‘polishing off’ lonely, wealthy customers by tipping his special chair so they fall into a basement where he can cut their throats, turning the corpses over to his confederate Mrs Lovat (Stella Rho), who keeps the pie-shop next door, for disposal. The famous cannibal theme is played in a way that gets round the censors – the question of what happens to the corpses is raised several times, often as supporting customers are cheerfully tucking into tasty pies, but the film never solves the mystery, leaving audiences to leap to the obvious conclusion.
This fiendish Todd has a wonderfully archetypal death as fire breaks out in his shop and he plunges through his own trap-door to a suitably infernal fate.
Much of the fun of Slaughter’s films comes from the sheer number of crimes the villain manages to commit in their brief running time – no other screen baddie was as lecherous, cowardly, hypocritical, sadistic, money-grubbing, vindictive and murderous as Slaughter. Also recommended: Maria Marten, The Face at the Window, The Crimes of Stephen Hawke, Sexton Blake vs the Hooded Terror.
Wonderful Victorian horror melodrama brought to the big screen with one of the forgotten marvels of British cinema, Todd Slaughter on top form.