Upon its release in 1960, Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom was greeted with absolute disgust – Audience’s were repulsed. A couple of decades later and it is one of the most influential films of our time. One of the first films to focus on the issue of voyeurism, Hitchcock touched on this topic in Rear Window but Peeping Tom magnified the issue.
Mark Lewis is a focus puller in the studio; he also has a part time job taking unorthodox photographs of women above a newsagent shop. The movie opens with us, the audience, watching a prostitute through a camera lens. We follow her up to her room where she undresses and then the unexpected occurs. She starts shouting and looks horrified as we approach her, then she dies.
The opening sequence is a terrifying suggestion that the audience is voluntarily appearing as a ‘peeping tom’ by enduring the movie. Are filmgoers all merely repressed voyeurs?
The next sequence is of Mark Lewis watching the film of the call girl, we instantly know he is the killer. We see him at work and how he is pretty much in the background in life, lurking in the corner-observing people, unnoticed.
It’s his encounter with Helen, his neighbor that is far more perverse. They strike up a relationship and she is intrigued by him, he is honored someone has taken a direct interest to him and decides to leave his beloved camera at home when they go out.
Their interactions with each other is bizarre – Helen is stereotypically British in every way, her strong aristocratic accent and mature manner is unsettling, the film seems to hint rather heavily that British culture is extremely problematic. The repressed nature of it breeds individual’s like Mark. Helen’s mother is an interesting character, she is blind yet seems to be extremely perspective and understands that Mark is a troubled man.
We learn about Mark’s father and how he performed psychological / neurological experiments on him – Inflicting fear on young Mark in order to write his book. The film introduces the idea that with a difficult upbringing and a repressed culture breeds voyeurs.
Even if some of its plot devices and symbolism will seem obvious to today’s savvy audiences, Peeping Tom is still one of the most influential films ever made. It’s a stylish movie and explores many issues such as cultural repression in Britain, psychoanalysis, sexuality and voyeurism. It’s a daring, unconventional horror film that gets us close to the killer’s mind, we are part of the film, without the audience there is no Peeping Tom, this makes it even more petrifying.
Peeping Tom is re-released in selected cinemas in the UK 19th November and out on Blu-ray 22nd. We are running a competition here for three lucky readers to win the Blu-ray.
Director: Michael Powell
Cast: Karlheinz Böhm, Moira Shearer, Anna Massey, Maxine Audley
Runtime: 101 min