Morbid Meals – Mrs. Lovett’s Pies

Posted in News with tags , , , , , , on April 16, 2014 by Dan Shaurette

For the inaugural Morbid Meal, in honor of our discussion of the Sweeney Todd movies and plays, I wanted to peruse the nefarious cookbook of Mrs. Lovett. Sadly, this treasured tome has been lost to the ages. It was probably either confiscated as evidence or lost in one of many fires on Fleet Street. So instead I will do my best to attempt a reproduction of one of her infamous pies.

EXAMINATION
The recipe I chose is “Kate and Sidney Pie”. For those unfamiliar with rhyming slang, this turns out to be the classic Steak and Kidney Pie. (Whose kidney is still up to your discretion.) Steak and Kidney pie is a traditional staple in the U.K. It therefore has a standard recipe but every cook who has ever made it has added their own flair. The recipe provided below is my own interpretation. As a Yank, it’s probably blasphemy either way, however I hope my Anglophiliac tendencies are showing.

Choosing Your Kidneys
When it comes to kidneys, the preferred choice is veal, followed by lamb, then pork, and finally, given no other choice, beef kidneys. If this is your first time making the recipe, try pork if it is available. If that works out for you and you can not only find but afford fresh lamb or veal kidneys, absolutely give them a go. The Cook’s Thesaurus has a nice visual comparison of kidneys.

Choosing Your Steak
The beef flavor carries the dish, so if you can, find a well-marbled fine steak. This pie is peasant food, however, so whatever cut of beef you can get will be welcome to balance out the kidney.

Choosing Your Crust
There appears to be a bit of contention here. Traditionally, these pies were small and portable, like pot pies or pasties. In those cases, a nice firm pie crust is best. However, I’ve also had a pie that used a filo puff pastry dough for a crust and was therefore more like a turnover. In some households, biscuits or mashed potatoes (and variants like champ or colcannon) are used to top the pie. You could also buy a pre-made crust rather than make it, however, I am providing a recipe and instructions for making a hot water crust pastry.

Special equipment
For shaping the crusts, I recommend getting the following.
  • A 24oz jar. Full or empty, it doesn’t matter, as long as you can turn it upside down. You will drape your dough onto the bottom of the jar.
  • Some parchment or waxed paper cut into strips, about 4 inches tall and long enough to go around the outside of the dough draped on the jar.
  • Some aluminum foil, trimmed to a square large enough to wrap over the parchment covered dough jar; roughly 8 or 9 inches square.
  • You could instead just use small pie tins, a 9-inch pie tin/dish, or even ramekins, but then you will miss out on all the fun of shaping your pastry shells.

ANALYSIS
Yield: 4 small pies or one 9-inch double-crust pie

Ingredients
Pie Crust

15 oz all-purpose flour (measure by weight)
4 oz (1 stick) butter
6 oz lard or shortening
1 tsp salt
5 oz water
Filling
5 tbsp olive oil
2 lbs beef steak, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1 lb kidney (3 kidneys), cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1 cup buttermilk (optional, needed only for pork or beef kidneys)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
7 oz mushrooms, sliced
1 cup onions, chopped
2 tbsp cornstarch or arrowroot
3 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 cup stout or porter ale
1 cup beef stock or broth

Method

Making the Dough
  1. Measure the flour into a large bowl and set it aside.
  2. In a saucepan, add the butter, lard, salt and water and stir over medium heat until the fat melts.
  3. When the mixture starts to boil, take the saucepan off the heat and pour it into the bowl with the flour.
  4. Mix the dough with a wooden spoon until all the ingredients are combined. Feel free to use your fingers to help a large dough ball form. If you have a stand mixer with a dough hook, this will be a quick process.
  5. Cover the bowl with a clean towel and let it cool down for an hour. Do not refrigerate, just let it rest.

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Preparing Your Kidneys 
  1. No matter the type of kidney you choose, they all have a thin membrane around them. Some butchers will peel this off and leave just a small amount attached. If yours are still covered, carefully cut and peel this membrane off
  2. Cut the kidneys lengthwise to expose the white gristle within.
  3. Remove this white gristle thoroughly with either a very sharp knife or kitchen shears.
  4. Once you have removed the gristle, chop the kidney and set aside in a bowl.
  5. If you are using pork or beef kidneys, you will want to soak the kidneys in buttermilk for about an hour. This is to counteract the ammonia/urine content of the kidneys. Trust me — do NOT skip this step. Lamb and veal kidneys are more tender and naturally have a milder flavor, so you don’t need to soak them, but it wouldn’t hurt to do so.

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Rolling Out The Dough
  1. Lay out a piece of parchment or waxed paper and lightly dust it with flour.
  2. Turn your dough out onto the floured paper and roll it out to roughly 1/2 inch thick.
  3. Fold the dough onto itself, press down firmly with your fingers and then roll it out again. Repeat one more time. This will add structure and flakiness to the finished crust.
  4. Lay the dough onto a baking sheet and cover it with plastic wrap. Let it rest in your fridge for 30 minutes.

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Cooking the Filling
  1. While the dough chills and the kidneys soak, cut up your steak.
  2. In a Dutch oven or large saucepan heat 2 tablespoons of oil over high heat.
  3. Add the chopped steak and kidneys, season with some salt and pepper, and brown the meat for about 3 minutes. Remove the meat to a dish and reserve the liquid for later.
  4. Into the pan add 1 tablespoon of oil then stir in the mushrooms. Cook until light brown, about 5 minutes. Set aside with the meat.
  5. Into the pan add the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil and stir in the onions. Cook until translucent and browned, about 5 minutes.
  6. Sprinkle the cornstarch over the onions and stir together coating everything evenly, for about 2 minutes.
  7. Over the onions pour your stout, broth, and Worcestershire sauce then whisk together. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer until the liquid thickens.
  8. Add the meat and mushrooms back to the pan and season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover and remove from heat.

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Putting It All Together
  1. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Divide the dough into 4 balls. From each ball, cut off about a quarter of the dough. This small piece will be the top crust, the larger part will be the bottom and sides.
  3. On a sheet of parchment or waxed paper, roll out each piece of dough to a circle with a thickness of about 1/4 inch.
  4. Set aside your smaller top circle for now.
  5. Grease the outside of the jar and turn it upside down to rest on its lid (or mouth if you don’t have the lid).
  6. Take one larger circle of dough and drape it over the overturned jar making a nice tall shell. Smooth out the dough and fix any small cracks that gravity might inflict.
  7. Wrap the sides of the dough with a strip of paper.
  8. Fold a piece of foil to cover the base of the dough shell and the paper, creating a foil cup for it all to rest in.
  9. Carefully turn over your foil-wrapped dough shell and lift the jar out. Put this dough shell paper-foil cup on a baking sheet.
  10. Fill your shell with the meat and mushroom mixture. Try not to spoon in too much gravy, otherwise it will splatter out while baking.
  11. Take your small circle of dough and moisten the edges with water and place it on top of your filled shell. Carefully seal the two crusts together.
  12. Cut a steam hole in the center. Brush the top with either some egg wash, butter, or milk.
  13. Repeat with the remaining dough to make a total of four pies.
  14. Bake the pies for 25-30 minutes, or until the crusts are golden brown.

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DISSECTION
As it was the most readily available, I chose pork kidneys. I was able to get them from my local carneceria. Another nearby market, of the Asian/international variety, had pork and beef kidneys. My local gourmet grocery butcher had veal and lamb meats but no kidneys at all, not even frozen. They could probably acquire them if I asked. Kidneys are just not in demand.

As a word of warning: I personally am on a gluten-free low-histamine diet. For the most part, where I can, I cut out wheat flour and substitute with a gluten-free flour. Measuring the flour for the dough by weight allows me to do this as well as giving more accuracy in cooking. Note also the cornstarch in the filling above. This is primarily for the same reason, but I have always preferred cornstarch instead of flour in gravies. Smoother mouth-feel and all that. Feel free to use flour instead if you find cornstarch to be too thin.

My dietary restrictions also advised my choice of whether to use a stout. You can use any beer you prefer, but a stout, especially Guinness, is traditional. Since I have to avoid not only gluten but alcohol as well, I chose to double up the beef stock and cut out the stout. While I missed that wonderful tang of the stout, I did not miss the misery I would have otherwise suffered.

As for a side dish, you could opt for mushy peasbubble and squeak, or just good old chips. A little extra beef gravy atop everything doesn’t hurt either, though your pie should be moist and juicy inside and should not require it.

Regarding an accompanying beverage, if your diet does not object, a fine frothy stout pairs with this pie quite nicely. If you have any left after making your pie, you might even enjoy some while it bakes. Mrs. Lovett, on the other hand, seemed to be fond of gin. When the boy didn’t drink it all, that is.

Kate & Sidney Pie with chips & gravy

Kate & Sidney Pie with chips & gravy

POST-MORTEM
In the end, thanks to this dish, I satisfied my love of all things British, my fascination with Stephen Sondheim musicals, and my morbid epicuriosity. I hope you will give this classic dish a try as well. If you absolutely cannot abide the use of kidneys in the pie, simply substitute with more steak, and what you are left with is another staple of British fare: Steak and Mushroom Pie. Don’t chicken out, though. Seems an awful waste. I mean, with the price of meat what it is, when you get it.

Kbatz: Tales from the Crypt Season 1

Posted in News with tags , , on April 15, 2014 by kbattz

Tales from the Crypt Season 1 A Tasty Sample

By Kristin Battestella

Sometimes one just gets the itch for that shrill cackle from the irrepressible Crypt Keeper as he tells his twisted little tales of warped, awry, and wicked! Fortunately, the 1989 debut season of HBO’s Tales from the Crypt is quality and quick enough to soothe your macabre mind.

Thanks to his design, puppeteers, and voice artist John Kassir combining for a solid presentation, that sassy little Crypt Keeper ghoul still makes for a well done puppet and fictitious host. His gruesome charm adds to the tongue in cheek comedy and horror camp tone of this anthology series – even if some of the puns and “boils and ghouls” demented word substitutions are a little dumb now. The Crypt Keeper winks at the audience, and the spooky old house, hidden crypt, and boney style of the show’s introduction immediately gets one in the fun midnight mood. For this Season 1, HBO and the big names behind the series – including Robert Zemeckis (Back to the Future), David Giler and Walter Hill (Alien), Richard Donner (Superman), and Joel Sliver (Die Hard) – add internal HBO jokes and adapt tales from classic fifties pulp comics such as Crypt of Terror, The Vault of Horror, and Haunt of Fear. Despite the mid century origins and eighties production values, the plots for these six episode hold up well – although some of that 1989 hair, music, and fashion didn’t.

Horror portmanteaus in film and television are nothing new, but “The Man Who Was Death” is a very fine first half hour for Tales from the Crypt. Bill Sadler’s (Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey) ironic casting accents the askew angles, deathly zooms, and macabre subject matter. The black comedy, humorous breaking of the fourth wall and witticisms add personality – part of that stem’s from Sadler’s role as a down on his luck ex-executioner with a penchant for electricity. However, this style, foul language, and nudity in smart uses set the tone for the almost whimsical scares of the series, and Tales from the Crypt immediately debuts its hallmarks as a mature, morbid anthology with free reign – unlike earlier classic series like Tales from the Darkside and their hands tied G ratings. It’s surprising then, that the series’ second episode is an update of “And All thru the House,” which was previously a segment in the 1973 Amicus anthology film Vault of Horror. Direct Zemeckis ups the paced, seventies suspense with effective scares and action for then-wife Mary Ellen Trainer (Lethal Weapon) thanks to lots of snow and jump moments – not to mention a very creepy looking Larry Drake (Dr. Giggles) as a fatal, on the prowl Santa escapee.

Man with nine lives Joe Pantoliano (The Matrix) and carnival ringmaster Robert Wuhl (Arliss) star in “Dig That Cat…He’s Real Gone” and pave the way for the more name guest stars often found on Tales from the Crypt. The audience likes the characters and thus needs to see an episode thru to the twists – even if the viewer is already counting down the lives here and looking for a deathly miscalculation. Likewise, beauty obsessed hooker Lea Thompson (also of Back to the Future) joins suave, sophisticated Brett Cullen (Falcon Crest) in Episode 4, “Only Sin Deep.” Though somewhat standard, not scary, and perhaps tough to believe, the attitude quickly changes here once voodoo, crime, and crooked pawnshops interfere.  The good life will always be too good to be true on Tales from the Crypt, yet there are always morbid tokens of morality or eerie, careful what you wish for warnings here. Even when an episode may feel sub par, the kickers and irony remain memorable.

“Lover Come Hack to Me” also suffers from a slightly typical and thin premise, as meek Amanda Plummer (So I Married an Ax Murderer) and her new gold digging husband Stephen Shellen (who totally looks like Charlie Sheen!) enter an abandoned mansion to escape a storm on their wedding night. Thankfully, the excellent atmosphere, apprehension, sexy gone awry, and bloody marital bent make up the difference. Maybe it’s a bad turn, campy, or simplistic, but there’s a certain fun to this kind of ghoulishness and watchability even when you know what happens next. “Collection Completed” stars Audra Lindley (Mrs. Roper on Three’s Company!) as a crazy cat lady with a bitter retiree M. Emmet Walsh (The Jerk) as her husband for even more demented domestic bliss. This couple just can’t get along now that they have all the time they desire. The dark humor and stuffy old people clichés won’t be for everyone, and major viewer warning for animal lovers!

As a macabre teen, I looked forward to watching this show and stopped for a rerun every time Tales from the Crypt was on – that opening, the Crypt Keeper, the stars of the hour, the forthcoming topper. Even the stinky ones have at least one memorable thing about them, and at 93 episodes total, it’s easy to browse, pick, and choose your favorites. Of course, the DVD presentation is a bit unusual, with basic or pointless features beyond the elsewhere available Tales from the Crypt: From Comics Books to Television documentary on Disc 2 of this Season 1 set.  Although I like not having the series’ introduction with each episode or the need to skip over it, it is weird that it only plays to start the video. Sometimes you just really look forward to that creepy, cobwebbed house tour and Danny Elfman’s (Edward Scissorhands) theme to get you in the mood, so the option to skip the opening with the play all feature might have been better. Fortunately, this Season 1 is all together on a very affordable, convenient set, often packaged with Tales from the Crypt Season 2. I do wish the series were still airing on television or at the very least streaming somewhere, but for the length and price, Season 1’s six episodes make for a super sized anthology movie-esque starter sampling. It’s easy to marathon Tales from the Crypt Season 1 for a macabre evening any time of year.

Wicked Women Writers Challenge 2014

Posted in News on April 13, 2014 by Emerian Rich

LAST DAY TO ENTER
Beauty & the Beast Wicked Women Writers Challenge 2014

Who Will It Be?  2014 Most Wicked

2014 Theme: Beauty & the Beast

Premise: There is something both fearsome and attractive in a wild thing, be it man or beast. From creature legends told around ancient campfires, to modern tales of King Kong and crypto zoology, critters have always captured our darkest imagination. Get your Beast on.

Challenge: Create a 10 minute horror podcast that contains four story elements, plus your written story. Registration closes 4-13-14. Audio and text are due on 5-13-14.

Story Elements: Each of our Wicked Belles will be assigned a location, a blessing, a curse … and a Beast. Your story must include a lady in peril and these four elements:

Location:  Anywhere in the world is fair game. A private zoo? A Japanese Nightclub? Kindergarten Show ‘N’ Tell? You are the game. We’ll give you the board.

Blessing:  A helpful item to tame the danger in your tale. We couldn’t have you stalked by a Werewolf without at least giving you a silver locket to melt down. Use your item wisely, Wicked. Even a trivial thing can save your life.

Curse:  An untimely disability. You can’t skip through this one without feeling a bite of a fang on your ass. The Norns can be quite evil with this element.

Beast:  Beasts will be drawn from the 12 animal signs of the Chinese zodiac: Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, or Pig. The Beast may be a main character in your story, or may be represented in other creative ways… a tattoo? An advertising logo? A supernatural brute? Freak of nature? You name it, as long as you include it. Any genre of horror is welcome, but this ain’t Lassie, my Wickeds. Not unless she rips out your throat!

Dates to Remember:
Contest Opens –  March 4, 2014
Registration Closes – April 13, 2014
Audio & Text Due  - May 13, 2014
Elimination Round to 5 Wickeds – May 24, 2014
Voting Begins June 13, 2014
Voting Ends July 28, 2014
2014 Winner Announced August 23, 2014

WARNING: The Norns are majorly p.m.s.ing this year. This challenge involves shotgun-quick writing & recording skills. The squeamish need not apply!

If you would like to compete, send an e-mail to: Horroraddicts@gmail.com –We’ll send you the complete set of rules and assign your story elements. Remember, the sooner you respond, the more time you’ll have to write and produce your podcast.

GOOD LUCK, MY WICKED, AND MAY THE ODDS BE EVER IN YOUR FAVOR!

Maggie Fiske - Most Wicked 2013

Margaret Fiske, our 2013 Wicked Women Writer Winner, will contact you for further challenge details and timeline. Deadline to enter the 2014 Wicked Woman Writer Challenge is April 13, 2014.

Please note: The earlier you enter the challenge, the longer you’ll have to prepare, write, edit, and produce your contest entry before the deadline. Contest slots fill up fast!

Deconstructing Fashion

Posted in News with tags , on April 13, 2014 by Mimielle

Hey Addicts! Mimielle here, welcome back to the new season!
I look forward to reporting for you, posting look books and mood boards as well as answering lifestyle, fashion and beauty questions from podcast listeners. I
Please DO send me your questions.
I’ll tackle as many as I can either in the podcast, here in the blog or both. I enjoy the research and I especially like helping people find their style or solve a beauty problem. In upcoming episodes, I’ll also be talking about fashion in the wider scope. Looking beyond the trends and into the meaning fashion and beauty hold in our lives.
I had a bad cough so I skipped my recorded segment in the first episode but I’m already laying down tracks within the framework for upcoming podcasts.

I hope you’ll join me on the journey to explore alternative fashion, beauty and lifestyle.
Stay Beautiful, Addicts!

Some fashion styles have no rules.
No rules to the point of trouble figuring out exactly what the look is.
Gothic Lolita is NOT one of them.
If you have read past even a single article on this style you will have encountered THE RULES.

You MUST:
- Wear a petticoat
- Have something on your head
- Always wear a blouse under a Jumperskirt
- Attend to your shoes, bag & accessories properly

And so it goes.
Break the rules and you’ll more likely be labelled Ita* than brilliant.

When I wear the Lolita style (officially) and use the #Lolita or #Gosurori tags online, I do follow the rules. I really enjoy making ‘proper’ Lolita coordinates.

But since I wear frilly things on a daily basis I don’t follow those rules every day! My “Lolita” clothes get worn in all kinds if ways; bare legs, bare shoulders, with rhinestones and opera gloves (often in the daytime).

MY MOOD BOARD FROM TODAY20140413-120857.jpg

Fashion is my hobby and one of my passions. Study fashion and you’ll get hints and glimpse into all sorts of secrets in peoples’ lives.
As an artist, my favorite subject to paint and adorn is myself.
If people did not break the existing fashion rules, if fashion did not change, evolve, mutate, steal and persevere then I would not be sitting here in a street length Neo-Rococo black chiffon dress sent from Japan wearing ridiculous shoes and a tiara on any old Sunday in April.
And that would be a shame.

What would Marie say?
20140413-121130.jpg

*Ita is a slang shortening of Itai.
20140413-121431.jpg
Meaning your Lolita coordinate is so bad it hurts my eyes to see it.
Cringe-inducing bad.
Equal in disdain-provoking sneers (behind a fan, of course) to a Goth whose blacks don’t match.
Worse than Scene…almost.

Dawn’s Dark Music Corner: Endless Sunder

Posted in News with tags , , , , , on April 13, 2014 by elektronikadance

Sounds of Seattle CD Review-Endless Sunder “Descent”
by Dawn Wood 

endless_sunder2

The EBM and Industrial Scene has powerfully re-emerged over the past few years and shown itself to be worthy of grabbing attention on an international level.  There are some REALLY good bands that deserve attention.  Case in point: Westin Halvorson.  Westin has diligently worked to get electronic/industrial bands into the spotlight of the Seattle live music scene. Westin is the guitarist of (now touring) My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult.  He also fronts his own band Desillusion and plays in Pixel Pussy, Anguisette and is the drummer for an amazing electro-industrial band called:  Endless Sunder.  Desillusion’s keyboardist and Producer, Asher Vast, is the main composer, vocalist and Producer behind Endless Sunder.  Asher is also a great collaborator in the Seattle music scene.  On guitar, is the talented Corey Wittenborn (also in Murder Weapons) and on keyboards/ synths is Kevin Preston (also from The Crying Spell, Monicom and 64K.)

coreyasherwesEndless Sunder originated in 2007 in Olympia, Washington as an Electro-Industrial Rock project stemming from influences like Frontline Assembly, VNV Nation, Nine Inch Nails and 16 Volt.  One of the many things I love about this band is they take very seriously the entire presence of the band.  Although certainly not contrived, everything from their photos to videos to stage presence is intriguing, mysterious and from a marketing perspective…..packaged with perfection.

Asher was kind enough to let me review Endless Sunder’s CD entitled “Descent”. There is also a video of “Mechanism” to accompany the CD.

kevinThe CD starts out with the song “Atonement”, which is a heavy, grinding, fierce, industrial rock song and a great way to start out this CD.  Next, is “Pendulum” which is reminiscent of Marilyn Manson….only is actually danceable AND rocking with a catchy recurring motif.  I especially like how Asher’s vocals seem to swirl around the listener. 3rd track is “Choking Game” which is another great grooving industrial rock tune with smashing guitars and noise!  4th track is “Pawn”.  This song has a driving groove, is dark and sensual.  The vocals are absolutely amazing on this song. Asher’s vocals are whispery and present band Westin’s back up vocals are nothing short of fierce.  The 5th track is “Mechanism” which is epically industrial-dance and yet…a hard-driving rock track.  The percussion is especially infectious in this song and also quite memorable are the motif and chorus.  This song has become quite the favorite in the local Seattle scene. 1westin The 6th track is “Estranged”.  “Estranged” is another epic song with wonderful complexities and beautiful keyboard lines.  I almost want to compare this song to Depeche Mode.  Yes, you read that correctly and yes, this is a huge compliment from me.  What an extraordinary song all around!  The 7th track is “Shell”, which is a solid, infectious, straight-ahead industrial rock song.  “Shell” boasts a rocking beat, guitars and roaring, tortured vocals.  The 8th track is “Entrophy”, which is a kaleidoscope of industrial goodness.  “Entrophy” would be a perfect soundtrack song.  The 9th track is “Siren”, for which I especially enjoyed the amazing guitar work.  The last track is “Introvert”.  What a beautiful final song.  Once again, a lovely keyboard motif, intense…yet whispery vocals and plenty of mystery and intrigue that draws the listener in.  This entire CD is well worth having in your collection and Endless Sunder is a “must see”, “must hear” band.

endless_sunder

Asher and Kevin have a video and photography company in Seattle called “AVAST Productions”.  They put together a stellar video for The Birthday Massacre, as well as several Northwest bands.  Check them out at: http://www.avastproductions.com  and www.facebook.com/AvastProductions

You can check Endless Sunder out on their website: www.endlesssunder.com, as well as on:  Facebook, Twitter, ReverbNation, myspace, discogs.com, vampirefreaks.com and youtube.com.






Kbatz: Two for One Sweeney Todd Special

Posted in News with tags , , , on April 12, 2014 by kbattz

A Tale of Two Sweeney Todds

By Kristin Battestella

Despite liking musicals new and old as well as films with a touch of the macabre, I wasn’t too interested in Johnny Depp and Tim Burton’s Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street amid it’s theatrical hypeHowever, when I discovered there was also a lesser known, purely dramatic version of our favorite homicidal barber starring Ray Winstone, well then I had to take a peak at both!

Returning to England after being wrongfully imprisoned by Judge Turpin (Alan Rickman), Benjamin Barker becomes Sweeney Todd (Depp) and resumes his barbering business with the help of Mrs. Lovett (Helena Bonham Carter), who’s meat pie shop is struggling below the cuttery.  Todd plots to save his daughter Johanna (Jayne Wisener) from Turpin’s lustful household with the help of her admirer Anthony Hope (Jamie Campbell Bower)- but his vengeance begins with slitting the throats of his customers and then disposing of the bodies in Mrs. Lovett’s now tasty pies.

Well, the macabre is certainly an integral part of Sweeney Todd.  While Stephen Sondheim’s (Dick Tracy, West Side Story) 1979 musical production stems from Christopher Bond’s 1973 play, the musical bend must indeed work best on the stage, for director Burton’s (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Edward Scissorhands, The Nightmare Before Christmas) mishmash of song and blood does not work cinematically.  Sweeney Todd has no choreography or complex dance numbers as we would expect in a musical-no matter what the subject matter.  Although I have to say dancing would have been even worse, nevertheless we expect more than fast zooming CGI of London to accompany the big musical crescendos.  That’s your action, CGI? Why make the effort to have realistic music and lyrics if it’s going to be a so obviously fake landscape?  All the musical big booms happen when people are standing still, and the notes they’re holding aren’t so big anyway.  What’s to catch and awe the audience?

I’m in the minority for disliking Sweeney Todd, I know, and it’s a shame for the drama is quite fine.  The period and despair harkens to a Dickensian feel.  Fate and story collide with coincidence and irony.  It’s the uneven distribution of song and seriousness that hampers the true dramatic development-as proven by the nearly song free final half hour.  Sweeney Todd’s conclusion is its finest hour, but you have to get through all the bad singing to get to it!  The cockney accents don’t seem fit for the singing, and truthfully, the leads don’t sing that well.

The split personality of Sweeney Todd also hurts the performances.  I get the feeling this film is meant to be a black comedy.  However, as bizarre, weird, and macabre as the visuals and lyrics are; the musical styles and singing montages are still too happy for the twisted story.  What are we supposed to feel while Todd is singing the ballad for his lost daughter Joanna whilst he’s killing innocent customers at his barbery? It’s just too weird for a truly dramatic, emotional connection.  Thankfully, Johnny Depp (Pirates of the Caribbean, From Hell, The Ninth Gate) is worthy outside of the singing and bizarrity.  His skill, depth, and range of emotion from the maniacal murderer to the tragic husband and father are all there.  Nevertheless, the arrangement of Sweeney Todd never lets us forget that ‘OMG! It’s Jack Sparrow Singing! in a Freaky dark musical directed by Tim Burton!’

Despite my complaints, the sadistic murders and seriously kinky drama here is wonderful.  If you’re looking for the seriousness of Sweeney Todd, the long spaces without music about the middle of the picture are delightful.  But of course, the bipolar style rears its ugly head again, making the quiet scenes seem at odds with the musically laden opening.  When Alan Rickman (Harry Potter) gets his tune, you suddenly realize how ridiculous it is for this horror movie to be a musical.  Alan fricking Snape badass Rickman singing while laid back in a barber’s chair with a deadly blade to his throat.  It’s not Jailhouse Rock I’ll tell you that!

The talented support also only has few and far between moments.  Thankfully, Timothy Spall (Harry Potter, Auf Wiedersehen Pet) and a little too over the top Sasha Baron Cohen (Borat) make the most of their time. Of course, I haven’t forgotten Helena Bonham Carter (A Room with a View, The Wings of the Dove) as Mrs. Lovett.  The oft-nominated star and quirky companion of Burton is exceptional dramatically-but she’s annoying as hell vocally and visually.  Again, the feeling that she only got the part because she and her husband are kind of freaky and macabre is intensified by her weak singing and goofy look.  Sadly, this trumps her performance.  If her Bellatrix in Harry Potter got this kind of screen time in that franchise, however, I would be quite happy.

Fortunately, I have more praise for the BBC’s 2006 production of Sweeney Todd.  This purely dramatic edition directed by Dave Moore (Merlin, The Forsyte Saga, Peak Practice) didn’t get nearly as much press as its flashy successor, and honestly I don’t know why.  After serving twenty years in prison due to the crimes of his father, Sweeney Todd (Winstone) curbs his quiet, good-natured barbering and surgeoning whilst slitting the throats of the wicked jailers and street urchins who enter his barbery.  After befriending and attempting to romance the widowed Mrs. Lovett (Essie Davis), Todd helps her set up a new meat pie business beneath his shop.  From above, he is able to observe her suitors, dispense of them quickly, and donate fresh meat towards her juicy pies.

Ray Winstone (Indiana Jones and The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, The Departed, King Arthur, Beowulf) may not be as well known or beloved in America as Johnny Depp is, and it’s a damn shame.  His subtle, yet sinister and kindhearted Todd is a lovely and somber performance.  He dispenses justice by killing those who harm women and pain children whilst also healing kind hearted youths and performing- oxymoron as it is- kindly and comforting abortions.  The examination of the sinister mixed with the faithful doctoring is slower than the spectacle of Burton’s presentation.  The viewer has to pay attention to the silent ruthlessness of a man who kills because of the cynical hell on earth he witnesses, yet also seeks to make people happy where he can.  Winstone is much quieter, but no less charming in his portrayal-and he does it with pure acting, not stressful singing.  He’s not considered a hottie or such to the American girlie girl teens like Depp, but it’s impossible to take your eyes off Winstone in his Sweeney Todd.  His barber kills Mrs. Lovett’s lovers and then presents their meat to her for cooking in her steak pies!  It’s not a quirky sing a long duet here, just all disturbed Sweeney.  In one twisted moment, he allows his adorable apprentice Tobias (Ben Walker, The Golden Compass) to eat one of the nefarious pies before sending him away with five guineas towards a better life.  This Sweeney is much more complex than Depp’s strained appeal trying to charm the masses.

Essie Davis’ (Australia, The Matrix Reloaded and Revolutions) turn as Mrs. Lovett is equal to Winstone in her somewhat more honest portrayal than Helena Bonham Carter’s crushing and happy to kill performance.  Here, Lovett is beaten by her husband and is mostly uninvolved in Todd’s debauchery, yet she’s a bit kinky and loose- trouble that comes back to haunt her and change her baking business.  It’s quite a pair to observe here.  Todd loves Mrs. Lovett from afar and cares for her with as equal devotion as his deadly barbery.  It’s more twisted than Bonnie and Clyde but no less enjoyable to watch.  David Bradley (Hot Fuzz, another one of the Potter folk) is also delightfully dirty and creepy as the lecherous and blackmailing Father who abandoned Todd to prison.  David Warner (Doctor Who, Hornblower, Titanic) and Tom Hardy (RocknRolla, Layer Cake) are also period piece fine as the investigator and his idealistic lieutenant closing in on Todd.

More focus is spent on the messy, Old World mix of barber skills and medical surgery in our 2006 version.  Where Depp and Burton’s interpretation can be for the macabre youthful viewer, this one is not for kiddies or the faint of heart.  The medical gore is more pronounced, and a few questionable sex scenes put more fuel on Sweeney Todd’s fire.  A Todd who has horrid prison stories and some subsequent impotence and jealousy is far more interesting to watch as a killer than an attempt at a heartwarming but deadly family man barber.  The nudity and deaths are not darkly comical by any means.  However, the candlelit and natural daylight colors in this smaller television production are in some ways more pleasing to the eye than all the black, garish CGI in the musical edition.  The wardrobe is perfectly colonial, too, not steampunk.  I adore this straightly dramatic, thrilling, and artful production more compared to the finely decrepit costumes and art decoration from Burton’s Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.  The musical’s positive values are simply too tainted by the over use of CGI.  Perhaps Burton’s version was so popular not for its goth look and dramatic performances, but simply because it was achieved.  You can have highbrow actors in a not all warm and fuzzy musical, who knew? Well, anyone who’s been following musicals knew.  Sweeney Todd seems almost like a capitalistic gimmick; a who you know outside Hollywood but Hollywood approved combination of Moulin Rouge and Saw!  The fine story, emotion, and drama need not such sensationalism.  The 2006 edition is proof of this.

I used to like Burton’s subtle and creepy early work, and a long time ago, I did have a Depp phase- 21 Jump Street and Cry Baby, anyone? More and more, however, I feel this working pair is far too similar to Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe-too full of themselves and the extremes of what they are doing to the point of parodying themselves and banking on a niche audience always going to see anything with their names attached.  I had high hopes for the Burton and Depp collaboration for a big screen adaptation of Dark Shadows.  They own the rights to the series now and are of the macabre bend to do such a gothic classic.  However, on the one hand, they are too busy with every other project to take the time in getting to Dark Shadows; and secondly, if this is how they are going to do, no thanks.

Well! While we wait for all that, there’s plenty here for both Burton and Depp fans-and Winstone lovers- to enjoy.  Goth fans and lovers of quirky off beat film can enjoy Depp’s musical, and appreciators of suspense and Brit thrillers can keep hold of the dramatic 2006 Sweeney Todd.  Both can be found for purchase affordably or through renting means.  I must say, however, that my rented blu-ray of the 2007 musical froze like hell, but I suppose all the fast paced visuals are better served on blu-ray.  The 2006 DVD is billed as a Director’s Cut, but there are no subtitles or any thing else with this bare bones edition- of course, there were plenty of treats with Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.  The Todd enthusiast will delight in all that, but I fear mainstream audiences are a little left in the cold and thus missing out on a finely twisted tale.  Non-musical fan won’t bother with Depp’s take nor would non-fans of British period piece flicks bother with Winstone’s show.  Ideally, the best take would be the happy medium-no songs and more approachability; but if I must choose, I choose Winstone!

View, compare, or choose your close shave tonight-and be thankful to the makers of Gillette and Lady Bic!

FLASH FICTION FRIDAY: Jeremiah Donaldson

Posted in News with tags , , , , on April 11, 2014 by Horror Addicts Guest

Raining Tears

by Jeremiah Donaldson

“What an awful picture,” Cindy said.

Howard sighed. “You’ve said they’re all bad. This is a mass produced print museum. None of these so called paintings were made for more than adorning cottage walls.”

“This probably has the deepest meaning.”

The plaque read: ‘The Crying Boy’. To its right hung one of a girl. Its plaque said: ‘The Crying Girl’. Both subjects had tears streaming down their cheeks. A sheet with barely readable, dot matrix letters hung between them.

‘Mysteries surround these now rare prints. G. Bragolin’s signature adorns these, but several  artists are credited with similar prints from the same period. The boy is thought to be Don Bonillo, a.k.a. Diablo, so called for the strange fires wherever he went. When grown, he was killed in a car explosion. The girl subject has never been identified.’

Cindy sneered. “The awful pictures have an awful story. You won’t leave without them now.”

“And pass the chance to add weirdness to our inventory? These will be better than the Charles Mansion painting.”

“Except that cost as much as both of these.”

Howard grinned. “You want both?”

“Not really.”

“One doesn’t make a set. And it’s my turn to buy.”

Cindy crossed her arms. “That, it is.”

“You got that velvet Elvis I didn’t like.”

“You said you didn’t mind.”

“I didn’t. You paid.”

“I can get whatever I want next time?”

Howard thought a second. No way out. “Of course.”

“Remember that when the time comes.”

“Yes, dear.”

***

Howard’s stomach rumbled as he merged onto the expressway. “What do you want to eat?”

Cindy frowned. “Anything that doesn’t give you gas.”

“Not many options.”

“There’s one.”

“You want hibachi grill for lunch?”

Cindy nodded. “And a drink.”

“This early?”

“Never too early for a drink.”

“The hard life of an art dealer.”

“Hibachi here we come.” Cindy smiled so bright she looked 20 years younger.

The playful exchange ended with a rush of smoke from the back that made them cough.

“My, god!” Cindy slapped at the flames igniting her styled hair.

“Hang on!” Howard stomped the brake.

But the Mercedes didn’t stop. He put both feet on the brake and pushed, but the pedal didn’t move. They careened side to side at 90 and gaining.

Cindy’s screams turned to chokes when fire engulfed her head. Howard smacked at the flames as she wilted in the seat. Blisters rose on his palm. Something in his hand cracked on her skull while she moaned her last. Flames spread to her clothing and seat. They crawled across the center console, blistering the plastic and burning the leather. Heat licked the back of his neck. His hair flared like a match. He screamed, stomped the useless brake, and turned into the guardrail to try stopping.

They rolled into a 100 mile-per-hour cartwheel.

Flames spread across his vision, and he didn’t see the prints tumble, unharmed, out of the back.

**************************

Jeremiah Donaldson lives in London, Ky with his daughter. He’s currently working on multiple projects, including a table top RPG and story collection that will be released later in 2014. He was featured on #17 of HorrorAddicts.net His home on the web is: www.ephiroll.com.
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