Alien Women

ANNOUNCEMENT: Next post is the big 100. Thanks to all my regular readers!

Since women scare men anyway, it’s only natural that there would be a lot of sci-fi movies in which the creature or otherworldly being is a female. Let’s take a look at some of the stranger ones.

One of the most intriguing (and most frustrating) films I saw at the drive-in was Curtis Harrington’s Queen of Blood (1966), starring John Saxon, Dennis Hopper and the unforgettable Florence Marly.

The distributing company, American International, had picked up an earlier Russian space film with spectacular (for the time) special effects, and Harrington was ordered to incorporate as much footage from it as possible into his movie. As a result, it’s a frustratingly heavily-padded movie whose intriguing central story would make a good “Twilight Zone” episode.

After aliens contact Earth to inform the population of an impending visit, their ambassador spaceship crashes on Mars. American astronaut rescuers find only one survivor on board (Marly)—a female with green skin, a Dairy Queen ice cream cone hairdo and a lust for human blood. The male astronauts are intrigued by their green guest, while the lone female astronaut, Laura (Judi Meredith) is suspicious, particularly since the alien woman—who is completely mute–reacts with disgust whenever she’s nearby.

Hopper’s character in particular is drawn to her, so of course he’s the first to go. The surviving astronauts realize they must protect themselves from her while assuring that she’s brought to earth safely for experimentation.

She can hypnotize the males, but not Laura. When this All-American woman catches the alien feeding on Brenner (John Saxon), a girlfight ensues, and the green lady is scratched.

Later, Laura and Brenner find her dead in a pool of green blood. They realize that she was a hemophiliac and was not able to clot after the scratch. She gets the last laugh, though—when they get back to earth and technicians start to search the ship, they find that the alien had lain glowing, throbbing red-green eggs all over the place.

Marly’s creature is great. Having no dialogue, her facial expressions, and the way her eyes are illuminated when she hypnotizes her victims, are quite memorable. But it really feels like about 30 minutes of the 81-minute film are filler: Rathbone speechifying, clips from the Russian film and long sequences of the astronauts walking around their training grounds and blathering. You can always do what I did—I recorded it from a cable broadcast, digitized it on my computer and made my own cut, which I burned to DVD. I think it runs about 45 minutes.

From England came Devil Girl from Mars (1954), a really low-budget sci-fier whose main interest (besides the great title) is the fact that it came from the U.K. at a time when its fantastic film industry was focused more on the Hammer remakes of classics horrors like Dracula, Frankenstein and The Mummy.

Patricia Laffan stars as the martian Nyah, a cross between Darth Vadar and a dominatrix, who lands in on earth to round up men to repopulate her planet. Since it’s based on a play (yes, really!), there’s a who-o-o-le lot of talking and not a lot of action, but if you’re fond of home country color with a bit of cheesy sci-fi thrown in, it might be right up your alley.

Some couples are staying at a little inn in the Scottish moors when Nyah struts in and states her purpose. Why such an out-of-the-way place to harvest men, you may ask? Her ship was damaged upon entry into the earth’s atmosphere, so she had to redirect from her original destination of the heart of London to the middle of nowhere. And instead of clamoring to get into Nyah’s ship, the men resist her plans because they don’t like—ahem—powerful women.

What little action the film has is buried by heaps and heaps of dialogue, but its most hilarious aspect is Nyah’s robot (pictured here). Intended to induce the same kind of fear Gort generated in the classic The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), this one is just hilarious.

Also of note are early appearances by genre stars Hazel Court (Masque of the Red Death) and Adrienne Corri (Vampire Circus), but this is another one that needs to be loaded on the computer and edited down into a highlight reel.

Another alien-woman-comes-to-earth film is The Astounding She-Monster (1957). It’s super-cheap, restricted to just a few sets, and basically the same action happens several times: alien comes into cabin, earthlings run out and go to the jeep. Alien confronts them on the road, earthlings rush back to the cabin.

There’s no synchronized dialogue during the outdoor scenes (they were probably shot MOS), so a loudmouthed narrator keeps advancing the plot along. The She-Monster (Shirley Kilpatrick) isn’t terribly astounding—she looks like someone who got a Divine makeover while wearing a body stocking.

It’s rumored that Kilpatrick was actually a younger, thinner Shirley Stoler, who attained cult status with films like The Honeymoon Killers, Seven Beauties and Frankenhooker. Frankly, it does kind of look like her!

It is also rumored that Ed Wood had a hand or two in the making of this film, and the dialogue certainly sounds like it could have issued from his Remington typewriter. Monster‘s director, Ronnie Ashcroft, worked with Wood on Night of the Ghouls. And Kenne Duncan, one of Wood’s stock players, has a leading role. Even the trailer makes it look like an Ed Wood film. Hmm…

http://www.liveleak.com/e/727_1182699230

Finally, let’s take a look at a shoulda-coulda-woulda-been. Tobe Hooper, whose career has been revived more frequently than Zsa Zsa Gabor (sorry) got a cash infusion from Cannon Films in 1985 to make three films—Lifeforce, Invaders from Mars and Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2—and they all stink!

The plot of Lifeforce sounds great: batlike creatures and three humanoids emerge from the tail of Halley’s Comet and transform most of the population of London into zombies. Plus, the lead alien (Mathilda May) who’s responsible for the outbreak is frequently naked, for those who are interested. As a matter of fact, most of the positive reviews on IMDB are from fanboys who’ve become human tripods because of the nudity.

Well, it’s not. The movie is a mess. As a matter of fact, it makes no sense at all. I’ve tried to watch it at least three times and have just been worn out by all the frantic goings-on. It’s like Hooper, four years after his estimable triumph with Poltergeist and 12 years after Texas Chainsaw, is trying to prove how relevant he still is. I really, really wanted to enjoy Lifeforce, but there comes a time in every wrongheaded film when the viewer’s brain becomes unplugged and enthusiasm deflates. That happens to me every time.

Invaders from Mars, despite the promising casting of Karen Black, who plays a school nurse helping the kid (her real-life son, Hunter Carson) who suspects his parents have “changed.” The only memorable scene in this film that I can recall involves Louise Fletcher, as a teacher who’s been invaded, gulping a live mouse down her gullet.

So what’s my favorite female alien movie? Well, for sheer entertainment value, I’d have to go with Plan 9 from Outer Space. Even though Vampira looks like…well, Vampira…she’s supposed to be an alien. And from the cardboard gravestones to the spaceship’s shower curtain door, man—it’s so funny.

Criswell: “Greetings, my friend. We are all interested in the future, for that is where you and I are going to spend the rest of our lives. And remember my friend, future events such as these will affect you in the future. You are interested in the unknown… the mysterious. The unexplainable. That is why you are here. And now, for the first time, we are bringing to you, the full story of what happened on that fateful day. We are bringing you all the evidence, based only on the secret testimony, of the miserable souls, who survived this terrifying ordeal. The incidents, the places.

“My friend, we cannot keep this a secret any longer. Let us punish the guilty. Let us reward the innocent. My friend, can your heart stand the shocking facts of grave robbers from outer space?”

Oh, and Hunter Carson was the original Bud Bundy in the unaired pilot for “Married with Children.”

I’m Ed Wood and You’re Not

Ever since Ed Wood’s re-emergence into the public consciousness in the early ’80s, thanks to the Medved Brothers’ 1980 book The Golden Turkey Awards, in which they declared Wood to be the worst director of all time, people have been quick to describe a bad movie as being “like an Ed Wood film.”

Nothing could be further from the truth.

While you can certainly apply the adjectives “low-budget,” ramshackle,” “nonsensical” and “ridiculous” to the auteur’s oeuvre, lumping merely incompetent films into an “Ed Wood genre” is not only unfair, it’s also inaccurate. Wood’s films are a genre unto themselves. Granted, they’re all made on shoestring budgets, populated by horrendous actors, chock full of stock footage and mismatched shots, but what elevates them above merely “bad” status is that they also inhabit a bizarre universe of their own, with mad scenarios driven by the passions of the exuberant filmmaker himself. And they’re not boring.

In the 1950s, Wood wrote and directed a group of memorably strange films that displayed his own peculiar worldview. His first, Glen or Glenda (1953) was a plea for tolerance of transvestism, when such things weren’t even thought of in the American zeitgeist. Poverty row producer George Weiss wanted a film about sexual reassignment surgery, to cash in on the then-shocking news story of Christine Jorgensen’s sex change, and Wood instead delivered a surreal tale about cross-dresser who just can’t help himself. There is a brief, non-explicit surgery scene, presumably to placate the producer, but the rest is a jaw-dropping, film noir biography of Wood himself—a “normal” heterosexual man who enjoys wearing soft things….like angora.

Anxious to enter into a traditional marriage with a woman who will accept his proclivities, he is tortured by strange nightmares, probed by judgmental psychiatrists and watched over by a mysterious narrator—played by Bela Lugosi—who interjects dramatically-intoned non sequiturs that have nothing to do with the plot of the film itself. I wonder what the drive-in crowd made of this one as it unspooled on the screen.

After Glenda, Wood attempted to make more traditional, commercial narratives in the sci-fi and exploitation genres, but he just wasn’t wired that way.Plan 9 from Outer Space, cited by many critics as the worst film ever made, is actually his masterpiece, a treasure trove of strangeness whose pleasurable impact perseveres even as other cheapjack sci-fi films of the ’50s have faded into oblivion. The difference is that the other “bad” movies were made by money-hungry producers anxious to cash in on the packed drive-in theatres (which were then experiencing the zenith of their popularity) while Wood’s films, as misguided as they may have been, came from the heart.

The plot of Plan 9 is an indictment of modern society (yes, I just said that), bringing aliens to earth to stop scientists from blowing up the sun. Why they’d want to do that, no one knows, but it doesn’t stop Wood from pulling his familiar cast of stock players—Lugosi, Tor Johnson, the Amazing Criswell—into the story to add to the nearly-incomprehensible fun. By now everyone is familiar with the favorite moments of Plan 9—Lugosi’s obvious double stalking the graveyard; the shower curtain in the airplane cockpit; the wobbly cardboard tombstones; Johnson’s difficulty extricating his bulky frame from the open grave—and it’s these moments that make it so beloved, along with the copious amounts of Wood’s babblespeak dialogue.

It’s gratifying to watch for those wonderful Wood touches in all of his films. In The Sinister Urge, a shocking expose of the smut film racket, he’s cast the most terrifying female lead you’ll ever see (the amazing Jean Fontaine)—and it’s not even a horror film! There’s also a folded-up movie screen in the corner of a detective’s office and an endless sequence of a car backing out of a parking space, exiting the lot, making a safe right hand turn and slo-o-o-w-w-ly driving past the camera down the street. Hell, I guess in Woodworld if you’re going to go to the trouble of photographing a car driving, you might as well use it all! Wood himself cameos as a young thug who starts a seemingly unprovoked brawl at a malt shop.

In Bride of the Monster, there’s a scene in which a file clerk has a pencil stuck in her hair in forward-facing shots but not in the reverses. Rubber snakes hang motionless in trees. There are lots of close-ups of Lugosi’s rheumy eyes and arthritic hands as he “hypnotizes” his victims. And, of course, in the film’s climactic scene, he sits in a cold, shallow pond, being “killed” by an obviously phony octopus. Yet even with all this insanity, Wood writes a monologue for the old trouper that’s actually rather touching…and Lugosi delivers it with relish.

By the 1960s Wood was unable to find financing for his projects and he began writing pornographic novels—anything to get by. Still, the monster nudie Orgy of the Dead, which he wrote but didn’t direct, is made memorable by his out-there screenplay. Try to follow this plot: Criswell plays the Emperor of the Dead, who has a Morticia-like assistant (Fawn Silver), and two henchmen, the wolfman and the mummy. They’ve come back from the dead (for one night only!)to sit in a graveyard and watch breasty strippers perform their acts. I’m not kidding. They snatch a young couple who’ve just been involved in the calmest car accident you’ve ever seen, tie them to posts and force them to watch as well. While plotting a way to escape the monsters’ clutches, the couple bickers. One of their more memorable exchanges:

BOB: They wouldn’t dare bury us in the same grave…

SHIRLEY: I hope not. I hate you.

BOB: That quick, huh?

SHIRLEY: Yes, that quick.

It’s so packed with these choice Wood-isms that you find yourself fast-forwarding through the absurd striptease sequences to enjoy the hilarious wraparounds. Here’s Criswell’s intro, which is almost identical to his Plan 9 intro—except in color!

Of course we have Tim Burton to thank for the semi-biographical film Ed Wood, which blends fact with idealized fiction. Wisely ending the story before the agony of the last years of Wood’s life, Burton (along with a dynamic Johnny Depp) preserves the memory of a truly one-of-a-kind filmmaker at his most enthusiastic and energetic. I think it’s a fitting memorial. It was also a zillion times more expensive than all of Wood’s films put together!

I hope I’ve made my point. Truly “bad” films are defined by unoriginality, dullness and a craven contempt for their audience on the part of the filmmakers. Today, mind-numbing drek like the Hostel series and the remakes of Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street fall into that category—cynical heaps of commercialism that make even the cheapest piece of vintage drive-in flotsam look like a classic in comparison. I know I’d certainly rather see Bride of the Monster again—with or without MST3K enhancement—than to suffer through Rob Zombie’s Halloween II even once.

I’m certainly not saying that Wood’s films need to be viewed in solemn silence or celebrated as examples of extraordinary works of art—but in a way they are. After all, here was a man who didn’t let lack a lack of talent or budget stop him from doing what he wanted to do most…to make movies. Wood died just a few years before his films were rediscovered and celebrated. I wonder what he would have thought of that ironic turn of events? Would he have embraced his unlikely cult status…or would he have been offended? I think he would have been pleased.

So invite some friends over, order some pizza, put on Plan 9and have a good old-fashioned riff-fest. I’m sure that, wherever he is now, Ed Wood will be smiling down on you.

I'm Ed Wood and You're Not

Ever since Ed Wood’s re-emergence into the public consciousness in the early ’80s, thanks to the Medved Brothers’ 1980 book The Golden Turkey Awards, in which they declared Wood to be the worst director of all time, people have been quick to describe a bad movie as being “like an Ed Wood film.”

Nothing could be further from the truth.

While you can certainly apply the adjectives “low-budget,” ramshackle,” “nonsensical” and “ridiculous” to the auteur’s oeuvre, lumping merely incompetent films into an “Ed Wood genre” is not only unfair, it’s also inaccurate. Wood’s films are a genre unto themselves. Granted, they’re all made on shoestring budgets, populated by horrendous actors, chock full of stock footage and mismatched shots, but what elevates them above merely “bad” status is that they also inhabit a bizarre universe of their own, with mad scenarios driven by the passions of the exuberant filmmaker himself. And they’re not boring.

In the 1950s, Wood wrote and directed a group of memorably strange films that displayed his own peculiar worldview. His first, Glen or Glenda (1953) was a plea for tolerance of transvestism, when such things weren’t even thought of in the American zeitgeist. Poverty row producer George Weiss wanted a film about sexual reassignment surgery, to cash in on the then-shocking news story of Christine Jorgensen’s sex change, and Wood instead delivered a surreal tale about cross-dresser who just can’t help himself. There is a brief, non-explicit surgery scene, presumably to placate the producer, but the rest is a jaw-dropping, film noir biography of Wood himself—a “normal” heterosexual man who enjoys wearing soft things….like angora.

Anxious to enter into a traditional marriage with a woman who will accept his proclivities, he is tortured by strange nightmares, probed by judgmental psychiatrists and watched over by a mysterious narrator—played by Bela Lugosi—who interjects dramatically-intoned non sequiturs that have nothing to do with the plot of the film itself. I wonder what the drive-in crowd made of this one as it unspooled on the screen.

After Glenda, Wood attempted to make more traditional, commercial narratives in the sci-fi and exploitation genres, but he just wasn’t wired that way. Plan 9 from Outer Space, cited by many critics as the worst film ever made, is actually his masterpiece, a treasure trove of strangeness whose pleasurable impact perseveres even as other cheapjack sci-fi films of the ’50s have faded into oblivion. The difference is that the other “bad” movies were made by money-hungry producers anxious to cash in on the packed drive-in theatres (which were then experiencing the zenith of their popularity) while Wood’s films, as misguided as they may have been, came from the heart.

The plot of Plan 9 is an indictment of modern society (yes, I just said that), bringing aliens to earth to stop scientists from blowing up the sun. Why they’d want to do that, no one knows, but it doesn’t stop Wood from pulling his familiar cast of stock players—Lugosi, Tor Johnson, the Amazing Criswell—into the story to add to the nearly-incomprehensible fun. By now everyone is familiar with the favorite moments of Plan 9—Lugosi’s obvious double stalking the graveyard; the shower curtain in the airplane cockpit; the wobbly cardboard tombstones; Johnson’s difficulty extricating his bulky frame from the open grave—and it’s these moments that make it so beloved, along with the copious amounts of Wood’s babblespeak dialogue.

It’s gratifying to watch for those wonderful Wood touches in all of his films. In The Sinister Urge, a shocking expose of the smut film racket, he’s cast the most terrifying female lead you’ll ever see (the amazing Jean Fontaine)—and it’s not even a horror film! There’s also a folded-up movie screen in the corner of a detective’s office and an endless sequence of a car backing out of a parking space, exiting the lot, making a safe right hand turn and slo-o-o-w-w-ly driving past the camera down the street. Hell, I guess in Woodworld if you’re going to go to the trouble of photographing a car driving, you might as well use it all! Wood himself cameos as a young thug who starts a seemingly unprovoked brawl at a malt shop.

In Bride of the Monster, there’s a scene in which a file clerk has a pencil stuck in her hair in forward-facing shots but not in the reverses. Rubber snakes hang motionless in trees. There are lots of close-ups of Lugosi’s rheumy eyes and arthritic hands as he “hypnotizes” his victims. And, of course, in the film’s climactic scene, he sits in a cold, shallow pond, being “killed” by an obviously phony octopus. Yet even with all this insanity, Wood writes a monologue for the old trouper that’s actually rather touching…and Lugosi delivers it with relish.

By the 1960s Wood was unable to find financing for his projects and he began writing pornographic novels—anything to get by. Still, the monster nudie Orgy of the Dead, which he wrote but didn’t direct, is made memorable by his out-there screenplay. Try to follow this plot: Criswell plays the Emperor of the Dead, who has a Morticia-like assistant (Fawn Silver), and two henchmen, the wolfman and the mummy. They’ve come back from the dead (for one night only!) to sit in a graveyard and watch breasty strippers perform their acts. I’m not
kidding. They snatch a young couple who’ve just been involved in the calmest car accident you’ve ever seen, tie them to posts and force them to watch as well. While plotting a way to escape the monsters’ clutches, the couple bickers. One of their more memorable exchanges:

BOB: They wouldn’t dare bury us in the same grave…

SHIRLEY: I hope not. I hate you.

BOB: That quick, huh?

SHIRLEY: Yes, that quick.

It’s so packed with these choice Wood-isms that you find yourself fast-forwarding through the absurd striptease sequences to enjoy the hilarious wraparounds. Here’s Criswell’s intro, which is almost identical to his Plan 9 intro—except in color!

Of course we have Tim Burton to thank for the semi-biographical film Ed Wood, which blends fact with idealized fiction. Wisely ending the story before the agony of the last years of Wood’s life, Burton (along with a dynamic Johnny Depp) preserves the memory of a truly one-of-a-kind filmmaker at his most enthusiastic and energetic. I think it’s a fitting memorial. It was also a zillion times more expensive than all of Wood’s films put together!

I hope I’ve made my point. Truly “bad” films are defined by unoriginality, dullness and a craven contempt for their audience on the part of the filmmakers. Today, mind-numbing drek like the Hostel series and the remakes of Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street fall into that category—cynical heaps of commercialism that make even the cheapest piece of vintage drive-in flotsam look like a classic in comparison. I know I’d certainly rather see Bride of the Monster again—with or without MST3K enhancement—than to suffer through Rob Zombie’s Halloween II even once.

I’m certainly not saying that Wood’s films need to be viewed in solemn silence or celebrated as examples of extraordinary works of art—but in a way they are. After all, here was a man who didn’t let lack a lack of talent or budget stop him from doing what he wanted to do most…to make movies. Wood died just a few years before his films were rediscovered and celebrated. I wonder what he would have thought of that ironic turn of events? Would he have embraced his unlikely cult status…or would he have been offended? I think he would have been pleased.

So invite some friends over, order some pizza, put on Plan 9 and have a good old-fashioned riff-fest. I’m sure that, wherever he is now, Ed Wood will be smiling down on you.

The Tim Burton/Johnny Depp Collaborations

By now everyone has gotten a look at the “sneaked” photo of Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter in Tim Burton’s upcoming “Alice in Wonderland,” their seventh collaboration, and it looks like it’s going to be a wild ride.

The Disney animated feature and the various musical productions made for television throughout the years were all rather light and bright. It wasn’t until the 1988 live action-stop motion production by the Czech surrealist filmmaker Jan Svankmajer that the darkness in the story began to show through. Now, with this release, Burton is poised to do it one better.

Of course, Burton has never been afraid of challenging audiences with his unique vision. “Vincent,” a bleak, black and white stop-motion short about a boy who thinks he’s Vincent Price, got him noticed by Disney, for whom he made another short film, “Frankenweenie,” about a young boy’s efforts to restore life to his beloved dog after the pooch is hit by a car. It was deemed so dark by the studio that it wasn’t released until years later, after Burton became a top-echelon director. “Pee Wee’s Big Adventure,” his feature debut, is a rainbow-colored, crowd-pleasing delight which only provides glimpses (Large Marge, anyone?) of the strangeness yet to come. I saw it theatrically twice: once at a drive-in and once at a midnight show at the Chinese Theater in Hollywood. Both were memorable experiences.

After “Beetlejuice” and “Batman,” Burton met Depp, starting a nearly 20-year collaboration that seems to be the perfect arrangement for both of them. Burton loves to conceive the bizarre characters, and Depp loves to play them. Their first effort, “Edward Scissorhands,” goes back to “Pee Wee’s” brightly colored neighborhoods but stops to lift up a rock so we can see the creatures slithering underneath in the darkness. It also provides the wonderful Vincent Price with his final role as Edward’s creator. I’m crazy about this film. It’s a perfect blend of fantasy, social commentary and sci-fi that never makes a false move. And you get so caught up in the story that you never question how or why Edward was made—or what he’s made of! Depp’s admirable pantomime skills and expressive eyes really put this character across.

Then came the major studio production that was made for a comparative handful of people—”Ed Wood.” Beautifully shot in black and white, with Depp in fine form as the infamous cross-dressing director, this is a truly personal work as obsessive as anything John Waters has ever done…made with Disney money! Martin Landau’s superb, heartbreaking (and Academy Award-winning) performance as Bela Lugosi in his final days is a joy to watch, and I love the way the filmmakers took true episodes in Wood’s life and “happied” them up, conveying the joy Wood himself felt while making his films, never realizing that their quality was somewhat lacking. And the upbeat ending, at the preview screening of “Plan 9,” is the perfect conclusion to the story. Ed would’ve wanted it that way.

It took five years for them to work together again, and that was for 1998′s “Sleepy Hollow.” I have problems with this one. While the production values are gorgeous, evoking the technicolor fantasy world of classic Hammer horror films (intensified by a cameo from Dracula himself, Christopher Lee), they are put into the service of a rather limp and unsatisfying story. Depp’s Ichabod Crane is an unfortunately dull nebbish, and I frequently found myself bored. Verdict: despite the surprisingly high gore quotient, the screenplay was simply too normal for a Burton film!

Seven years passed, and Depp saw his star ascend with his depiction of Captain Jack Sparrow in the first of the surprise hit “Pirates of the Caribbean” films. Then, in 2005, he and Burton collaborated on two projects as if to make up for lost time. I must admit I never saw “The Corpse Bride,” so I can’t comment on it, but Depp only provided his voice, anyhow. The other release of that year, “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” a remake of the 1971 Gene Wilder favorite, is a film I can sum up in three words:

I hated it.

Everything about “Charlie” seems so overproduced: the art direction, the costuming, the acting, the music… At first, Depp’s creepy child molester caricature is amusing, but the movie is so busy screaming, “Look how weird I am!” in every stinking frame, it just becomes tiring. Danny Elfman’s songs are awful, and the bizarrely-monikered actor Deep Roy (“Neverending Story”) is obnoxiousness multiplied as the Oompa-Loompas. While “Sleepy Hollow” is beautiful but boring, “Charlie” is just fingernails-on-chalkboard bad.

When I heard that Burton and Depp were taking on Stephen Sondheim’s musical version of “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street,” I was afraid. Their last two collaborations were not successes in my opinion, and I was fearful of what might happen to this wonderful work. I never got the chance to see Angela Lansbury and Len Cariou (or George Hearn) perform it on stage, but I loved the PBS “Great Performances” teleproduction of it. And about a year before the film’s release, I saw the revival of the musical on Broadway with Patti Lupone. In this radical restaging, the actors also play instruments, doing double duty as the orchestra! It worked amazingly well.

So, I thought: What are you going to do, Mr. Burton? Are you going to provide this classic with the production it deserves or are you going to take it to oompa-loompaville? Despite my trepidation, I eagerly rushed to the theater upon its release. As the blood trickled through the sewer system and the main theme played during the opening credits, I could feel a tingle starting at the back of my neck. It was a tingle that never stopped during the entire film.

Burton made wonderful choices. Knowing that he couldn’t “camp up” the grand guignol story, he instead played up the themes of disease, revenge and blood—lots of blood. No one gets out uncorrupted—and in many instances, alive. Depp’s grim-visaged Todd manages to be both humorous and tragic at the same time, a tribute to his skill. Bonham-Carter’s Mrs. Lovett is a revelation, too, as a world-weary piemaker who doesn’t care what ingredients go into her goods and who sees Todd as her last hope for happiness in a dark and disillusioned London. And given the fact that Depp and Helena Bonham-Carter are not professional singers, their songs integrate beautifully in this context. I understand Sondheim himself approved of the film, and well he should.

So now here comes “Alice,” scheduled for release next year. My faith renewed by the success of “Sweeney Todd,” I’m looking forward to it. The cast is chock-full of great English stalwarts (and Americans Anne Hathaway and Crispin Glover) and, if Depp’s makeup and costuming are any indication, it will be a feast for the eyes as well. I hope it’s dark, and I hope it has humor, too.

But please, Mr. Burton…no oompa-loompas.