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SWEENEY TODD

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"Walking into this production I said to the studio, ‘You know, guys, there's going to be a lot of blood in this movie,'” recalls director Tim Burton, who clearly understood that such a twisted tale needed to be as packed with gore as one of Mrs. Lovett's infamous pies; after all, Sweeney Todd was a truly horrific figure.

Though some claim he never existed, others have documented a concise history of the 18th century's legendary "Demon Barber” of Fleet Street. To the tabloid press who adopted him, the "Penny Dreadfuls” that exploited him and the theatrical stage, which immortalized him, "Sweeney Todd” is proof positive of the maxim (acknowledgments to John Ford's "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance”) "When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”

Sweeney Todd was reputedly born in 1748, the only child of poor, alcoholic silk workers. At that time London was plagued by disease, pollution, poverty and corruption, and young Todd grew up working alongside his parents in the clothing mills. His mother and father disappeared under mysterious circumstances and, at age 14, Todd was arrested for a petty robbery and sent to Newgate Prison; this was actually considered merciful, as most child thieves were hung for their crimes.

Living among killers and crooks, Todd allegedly became the apprentice of a prison barber and fellow-convict, Elmer Plummer. Since barbers also performed certain surgical duties (hence the origin of the blood-red stripe on a barber pole), Todd learned his trade, aspects of anatomy, and how to pick the pockets of his reclining customers. These skills served him well upon release, but greed, jealousy and unbridled anger overtook the young man and his killing spree began.

Todd soon opened up shop at 186 Fleet Street next to St. Dunstan's Church, beneath which lay forgotten tunnels and catacombs holding dead parishioners. Todd advertised his services by displaying jars of teeth, hair, and blood in the window, while in the center of the room lay his most ingenious and sinister device of all: the barber chair.

To disguise his crimes, Todd reportedly created a trap door that swung a full 360 degrees. He attached a barber chair on each side, so that when a lever was pulled the customer's weight caused the occupied chair to flip upside down, dropping the victim onto his head in the basement many floors below. As the panel continued its rotation, leaving an empty barber chair in its place, Todd would race down into the basement. If the fall hadn't killed the customer, he used his razor to finish the job. Todd then stripped the body of all valuables and hid it amongst the ancient corpses under St. Dunstan's. This plan worked for a while, but as the killings continued, Todd started to run out of places to hide his victims.

Meanwhile, Todd met the money-hungry widow Margery Lovett. The two became lovers and partners-in-crime after Todd set up Mrs. Lovett's pie shop in Bell Yard, which was connected to his barbershop via the underground tunnels. Todd used his surgical skills to butcher the bodies, delivering the meat to Mrs. Lovett for her pies while hiding the skin and bones in the church catacombs.

As Todd's bloodlust flourished and Mrs. Lovett's pie business boomed, a foul stench rose up from the bowels of St. Dunstan's. Authorities investigated and it didn't take long to connect a string of missing men with piles of rotting corpses and a trail of bloody footprints leading from under Todd's business over to Mrs. Lovett's. That's when the public hysteria began.

Todd was arrested without incident, but when authorities arrived at Bell Yard for Mrs. Lovett, her pie-eating customers learned both about the murders and that they had consumed some of the victims. The crowd tried lynching her on the spot, but Lovett was quickly taken to Newgate Prison. She c

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