No one truly sets out to create a cult movie, rather takes a number outside factors that achieve this, often it does something unruly or unorthodox against societal norms to achieve this status, but it often comes at a financial cost or reputation sometimes both, and that was the impact it had with filmmaker Michael Powell. He had enjoyed a fine and respectable career in British cinema for several years, and even became good friends with Alfred Hitchcock, including on several pictures, in the year of 1960 one that saw Hitchcock rise exponentially that to Psycho and it saw Powell’s fame out in the scandalous release of Peeping Tom. First for those unaware of this movie, it is not a graphic pornographic movie, if made today, the label of ‘Arthouse horror would be slapped on it, similar that of Velvet Buzzsaw (2019). Leo Marks, the screenwriter for the project work tiresomely to explain the visual concept to Powell, the vivid look of sexuality and murder, while nothing explicit occurs on the screen, it’s the mere reference to the common folk people that would engage or want to witness these desires. Leo never took the normal process of outlining, roughing and drafting his screenplay rather large sections of visual descriptions of the story, scattered with dialogues, sounds insane, red flags, but Powell was ready to embrace the challenge.
Aside from it being one of Martin Scorsese’ favorite flicks, and who helped the movie achieve a better standing in the cinematic world, 16-years after its initial release, it was mistakenly labelled as one of the first movies in the slasher genre, as stated in Scream 4 (2011) that showed the killer from POV (Point of View), that technique actually originated in The Lodger (1944) by director John Brahm, which built on angles and brushstrokes from Hitchcock’s The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog (1927). That’s not to disregarded Powell’s creation he did borrow stylizations from his friend, Alfred’s Vertigo (1958) and Strangers on a Train (1951), and enhance to new degrees. In this review, very obviously even by now, that similarities exist between Peeping Tom and Psycho, first they were released two months apart, with one occurred in Britain and other in California, merely separated by two different cultures and the Atlantic Ocean, while they both celebrate their 60th-anniversaries with various degrees of acclaim. Nevertheless one primary reason Psycho excels pass Peeping Tom, is that Hitchcock’s film based on a Robert Bloch’s book that hints back to gruesome real-life Ed Gein, convicted in 1957, and that standpoint gives credible foundation.
The movie itself focuses on a shy introverted young man, Mark who engages in murdering women, (who are prostitutes) with a portable film camera to record the death face in sheer terror, and while this already sounds like numerous television episodes and movies, including the lesser known Infliction (2014), it was very strong and offensive material for 1960. Mark Lewis (Carl Boehm), works part as adult photographer and on film crew with desires to become a director, but it seems to languish in rejections, as if all know that this normal looking neighbor is hiding dirty little secrets. Overall, no suspects him, however as the film progresses we learn of his traumatic childhood those memories resulting in violent outbursts, while he tries to create his masterpiece, those scenes actually disturbed the critics greatly. The images which represented Mark’s ‘home movies’ were actually portrayed by Michael Powell as Mark’s father Professor Lewis and his real-life son Columba represent Mark as a youngster and finally the lifeless mother in bed was truly Columba’s mom, talk about keeping in the family. This cost saving action had a disaster effect, the viewers despised the director for the suggested exploitation of his son in a tormented segment, thereby the accusation of abuse swirled around them. Clearly from the opening scene we saw from the view that are placed in the killer’s body, we know everything from the beginning, similar to that of opening of Halloween (1978) the audience experiences the thrust from narrative to the taboo position of voyeur and killer. He suffers from psychosexual disorders, which is commonplace in the slasher and extending into the psychological thrillers using murder as a release for his sexual prowess, much of the killing actually occurs off screen, and gives the impression that its occurring on screen, just like Psycho did with the famous Shower Scene; rather it just ups the suspense and a dash of black humor. Mark becomes attracted to his neighbor Helen (Anna Massey (Dead of Night )) and her blind mother (Maxine Audley (The Brain )) seems to know that something is peculiar about this young man, a mother always knows.
Often when readers, and viewers alike hear/see the term slasher they immediately identify with madman/maniac holding a machete, butcher knife, or other weapon as the extension of a phallic symbolism used to penetrate their victims male and female in a gruesome manner. Alfred Hitchcock incorporated suspense, tension, and brought the viewer into the scene, hence encouraging future filmmakers a new path to express themselves, while Powell’s set pieces had incredible design to them and full richness, perhaps more identifiable as its presented in bold color. Some critics of today, when seeking out comparisons, often link it to Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986) for the slasher enjoyed filming his kills, this is completely incorrect, the movie is not a slasher genre flick, while it is very true that real life serial killers as well as serial rapist collect trophies to recall their past glories, his character kept this for a scene or two but used with his friend Otis, otherwise disregarded as a linkage to deeds. Critics blasted Powell for his suggestive seedy look of London’s alleyways and stores catering to an immoral culture, however it merely showed what existed in the shadows, and hid in the minds of some men both natural and disturbingly violent. A side note many critics that condemned Powell, also panned Hitchcock’s Psycho movie, for heighten perversions, but praised the complexity of shock and suspense. One must note the exquisite direction from Powell, the camera movements all feel natural, with a hint of claustrophobia from when Mark holds the camera closely to his own body and the maddening array of piano notes especially when played as the primary character is spiraling out of control.
As for the release the movie it has undergone numerous cuts from the initial theatrical release to years later, toning down the murderous scenes, limited the nudity both in photographs and actual actresses, in fact there’s dialogue sequences which sound disjointed due to abrupt editing. However, in a later DVD release the images and scenes were fixed, though many ask for a Criterion Collection to lean their expertise to giving the movie a fitting tribute release for the lovers of film.
Needless to say, all cinematic fans and especially the horror fans, namely future cinematographers who often consider their camera as an extension of themselves, know every piece of their equipment, how to find the pleasure in zooming carefully on their subject, yes it sounds sexual, but get your mind out of the gutter. Everyone is guilty of pleasure of voyeurism, when sitting in any theater or even a living room with others, we wonder how they see the film, and life in general we always observe others, this has been shown in Rear Window (1954) and Body Double (1984), along with several others. Therefore, most likely many might shrug at it for its lack of carnage or gore, chalking it up to an arthouse project, however, often enough these cult films, are usually years or decades ahead of their intended audiences, for example Targets (1968) reference mass shootings, built off the shooting spree of Charles Whitman or taking the POV to the first person setting which was done in Hotel Inferno (2013) or part-way through Doom (2005). If we choose to view Peeping Tom through today’s eyes see always see people filming all sorts of things with their camera phones, engaging in fetish pleasure of voyeurism, for some its newsworthy others its attention seeking, however those fiendish individuals exist with nefarious intentions.
***Good luck in trying to find a copy of this movie to own, the only known versions are foreign and either not play in United States Blu-ray players or available in foreign languages. There are a few on-streaming sites that offer the movie from time to time. In addition, careful with your search engines because the title will bring up questionable search items. ***
- Stark Terror Meets Art in a Deadly Game of Cat and Mouse. (DVD)
- Years ahead of its time and still one of the most disturbing and psychologically complex horror films ever made! (DVD)
- See It From The Beginning!
- It’ll be two quid. Shut the door. … No!
- “Do you know what the most FRIGHTENING thing in the world is …?”
- Terror Meets Art in a Deadly Game of Cat and Mouse
- WARNING! Don’t see Peeping Tom unless you are prepared to see the screaming shock and raw terror in the faces of those marked for death!
- Can you see yourself in this picture? Can you imagine yourself facing the terror of a diabolical killer? Can you guess how you’d look? You’ll live that kind of excitement, suspense, horror, when you watch “Peeping Tom”.
- Don’t dare tell the ending to anyone – you’ll be blamed for nightmares!
- What made this the most diabolical murder weapon ever used?
- An adventure into terror
- More Horrible Than Horror! More Terrible Than Terror!
- marked for death by Peeping Tom – To Look Meant Danger To Smile Meant Death!
- Han fotograferede sine smukke ofre i dødsøjeblikket! [Denmark]
- Den stærkeste kriminal-gyser De nogensinde har set [Denmark]
IMDb Rating: 8.0/10
Baron’s Rating: 8.0/10