Sunday, July 1, 2012

Peeping Tom: The British Psycho

Title: Peeping Tom

Year: 1960

Director: Michael Powell

In 1960 Alfred Hitchcock brought terror into every shower in America and with a single scream and cued violins. It was of course Psycho. That same year another film was made across the pond that would rival Hitchcock in style and fright. Peeping Tom was released to a shocked audience and caught a fire storm of controversies, so much so that Michael Powell film career would never recover. Sadly though this film seems to get forgotten about. Its only in the last few decades that this brilliant film is finally being recognized as the masterpiece. 

Tortured Mark with his camera. 

Peeping Tom is just a down right dirty sleazy and disturbing film. I believe its lasted so long because It taps into a very human urge to want to see things that are maybe forbidden or taboo. This is more true in the age of internet quick fix voyeuristic thrill that is just a click away.

You could see Peeping Tom as the British brother to Psycho and cant help compare the two. But Peeping Tom is more daring with exploring taboo subjects such as sexuality, voyeurism and prostitution. It also is more graphic. Right out the gate Powell wastes no time in giving us a point of view shot of a lady of the evening meeting a very nasty end. Like Psycho you are left to imagine the horror which makes it all the more unpleasant. Another way this film is sets itself apart from is for a split second you can see a woman's bare breasts  It doesn't seem shocking but this was 1960 Britain, this was very cutting edge. While Psycho is a masterpiece in its own right, P.T just deals more deeply rooted psychosis. I`d even be so bold to say that P.T is a all around better film. 

Much like Hitchcock Powell injects dark humor which also out does Psycho. No spoils but their is a wonderfully bleakly funny scene in which a body is discovered. Dry Brit wit abound.

The cast is great. Genre fans will right away recognize Anna Massey. She is most know for starring in Hitchcocks Frenzy and Vault of Horror. She as always is wonderful and plays off of Mark brilliantly. German actor Karlheinz Bohm brought life to the complex title character of Mark Lewis. Karlheinz makes him both terrifying and sympathetic. Wisely he is built up to be a tragic abused victim rather then a snarling beast. By the end of the film you begin to really feel bad for him.  There are also some great cameos such as Miles Malleson who gives a funny performance at the start of the film. Miles also worked with Hitchcock in Stage Fright and was a star in his own right. Also not only does Michael Powell make a cameo as Marks father but Powells son plays young Mark and in a morbid scene young Mark is filmed paying his respects to his dead mother. In real life it was Powells wife. So you have the whole family basically playing themselves in a macabre way. It would be remiss not to mention Maxine Audley who plays Mrs Stephens does such a wonderful job as the blind mother. She may not be a huge character, she does make a major impact and has some critical scenes with actor Karlheinz. One of those perfectly casted films. As the Brits would say there are spot on.

There are some truly inspired visuals. For example a major theme is voyeurism so its very fitting that the film opens a P.O.V shot when Mark kills the hooker. You can also notice the symbolic use of the color red. Also slick subliminal images like a skull of victim can be seen to the keen viewer. Marks weapon can also be seen as a phallus symbol. Marks world is all visual and its very interesting that the blind mother would be the only person to "see" Mark for what he really is. There is a wonderful scene between him and the mother, in which you could say stumbles on his real nature. The tension that is created in this scene is deliciously palpable, its creepy yet darkly funny. Having a blind character that is all knowing is nothing new, in fact it goes all the way back to accident Greece.

See the skull?

There is so much more I could write about this film but there are many essays already written about this film which dissects every frame.But this is Gorehound Mike and I give you the shorter version.

If your looking for a slash fest via Friday the 13th part 20 then Peeping Tom is probably not for you. Its much more of a dark character study then body count. I urge readers who have not seen it to give it a chance because it really is a dangerous film and way ahead of its time. Hitchcock might have left Tom in the shadows Its much more bleak, tense study of a disturbed man torn between two worlds, one fantasy and one reality. In the end only one will wins.    Lights Camera SCREAM!


  1. Just watched it the other day on Instant Netflix. It does indeed feel like a Hitchcock endeavor. I found myself bored at times, but I kept watching. Maybe that was because of the strong performances. Where the guy will ultimately end up kept me intrigued as well.
    Welcome to the HBA.

  2. Thanks Yes Peeping Tom is a little slower but what I call a pot boiler.