peeping tom | michael powell | leo marks | karlheinz bohm | anna massey | moira shearer | slasher | united kingdom | drama | thriller | maxine audley | brenda bruce | miles malleson | esmond knight | martin miller | michael goodliffe | jack watson | shirley anne field
Film: Peeping Tom
Director: Michael Powell
Writer: Leo Marks
Starring: Karlheinz Böhm, Anna Massey and Moira Shearer
This was a movie that I heard about through podcasts and the idea that was a proto-slasher that came out the same year as Psycho intrigued me. If you’ve seen Scream 4, they give this movie the nod as the first slasher film and I will admit, it does have more elements for sure. This one is from the United Kingdom. I decided to finally give it a viewing as part of the Journey Through the Aughts segment over on Journey with a Cinephile: A Horror Movie Podcast. The synopsis here is a young man murders women, using a movie camera to film their dying expressions.
We start this off with a bull’s eye with arrows being shot into it. It then shifts over to point of view with someone coming up to a prostitute on the street. There’s an agreement to go up and she starts to undress. What is interesting here is that we’re seeing this through a camera lens that has the crosshairs as well. The woman starts to scream as she is attacked.
The man who is doing the filming is Mark Lewis (Karlheinz Böhm). He keeps to himself and lives in an apartment building with a few others. His downstairs neighbors are the Stephens. Helen (Anna Massey) is having a birthday party when Mark looks in through the window. I found this interesting as he legit being a peeping tom here. He goes up to his room when Helen follows him up.
He is intrigued that she wants to learn more about him. He’s quite shy and doesn’t really know how to respond. For a birthday gift, she wants him to show a movie he has made. Before she came up, he was watching what he just filmed with the prostitute. He almost puts that back on, but instead shows her a movie his father made. He was a doctor that was researching fear in children. What he shows her is pretty disturbing psychologically, but is an interesting way to introduce us, the audience, to a bit of his back-story.
Mark turns out to be the person who owns his building. It belonged to his father and he rents out the rooms to pay for it. He also takes pictures of scantily clad women as a side job. He does this above a store that sells them. It is here we get to meet Milly (Pamela Green), who is brash, as well as Lorraine (Susan Travers). She is disfigured and this intrigues Mark as he can feel her pain through it.
His other job is on a movie set. It is there that he’s taken a liking to Vivian (Moira Shearer), the stand in for the actress in the movie that they’re working on. The main actress is Pauline Shields (Shirley Anne Field) and she’s not as good as she thinks at her profession. Vivian has dreams of making it big and stays late with Mark, since he’s making a movie of his own. It isn’t a part that she wants though.
Now that’s where I want to leave my recap of this movie and shift over to my analysis. What is interesting about this movie is the character of Mark as well as the title to the film. There’s a lot of voyeurism, as you should probably expect. Mark takes pictures of scantily clad women that men ogle over. He also works on a movie set, which if you think about, is us watching a slice of events or someone’s life. Mark peeps in the window at Helen’s party and this seems to be something that he has done in the past as well. He is also capturing the moment of death with the women that he is killing. His weapon isn’t the greatest, but it works better with the full reveal at the end.
It makes a lot of sense though through the back-story we’re given by the home movies. Mark’s father would record much of his life for research purposes and this includes the wake for his mother along with the burial. On top of this, he would wake his son up in the middle of the night with a bright light at the end of the camera and do things to scare him. The light that shines on his victims makes sense and I wonder if he’s using the same camera to capture his victims that was his father’s. The duality to Psycho is fitting, just sub in the father and Mark having that ‘boy next door’ look.
That’s not where it ends. Helen is intrigued by Mark and I think part of this is that he’s making it a challenge for her. She ends up deciding to write a children’s book with Mark as the inspiration. It will capture people with a magic camera. Then going farther, her mother (Maxine Audley) is also blind. She is a shrewd judge of character and in this situation, she’s right. I think that’s about it with these aspects to the movie.
Next I want to go to the acting. Böhm does really well at playing the lead here. Much like Anthony Perkins, he has that charm about him that is disarming. The time this movie came out, we wouldn’t expect a person like this to be a killer like they are. This isn’t a spoiler as we learn this extremely early on by the way. Massey is solid as the person that is trying to help Mark and we see flashes that maybe she can. I really like the performance of Audley. She is bitter with the world for losing her sight and is a tough judge of character. Seeing her showdown with Mark was one of the better parts to the movie for me. The rest of the cast rounded this out for what was needed as well.
The last thing that I really want to go over would be the effects. I’ve already said my piece with the weapon that is used in this movie. Again though, I am forgiving when seeing the full set up to everything and then it makes it a bit more interesting. Seeing that Mark was scarred by what his father did to him and the lasting effects that it caused with the needing to film is intriguing for me. We don’t really see a lot of blood and it really isn’t a movie like that. There is some really good cinematography though, I will give credit there.
Now with that said, I’m glad that I finally got around to seeing this movie. It is really interesting to come out the same year that Psycho did as there are some parallels to the two stories for sure. I really like the concepts explored here with the variations of voyeurism and the ‘scientific’ look at fear. The acting from the three stars in my eyes is good and really help to drive this, especially from Böhm. There’s not a lot in the way of effects, but it doesn’t need them. The soundtrack didn’t really stand out aside from we get interesting use of screams with things that get revealed. I don’t love this movie, but I found it to be good. I will warn you that this is from the United Kingdom and the year 1960. If that is an issue, I’d avoid this. If not though, we get an interesting film that can be paired with Psycho.
My Rating: 8 out of 10