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Overall Rating
4.64

Awesome72.73%
Worth A Look: 22.73%
Average: 0%
Pretty Bad: 4.55%
Total Crap: 0%

2 reviews, 10 user ratings


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Peeping Tom
 
by Rob Gonsalves

"A maligned masterwork turns 60."
5 stars

Perhaps the most shocking thing about Michael Powell’s notorious 'Peeping Tom,' sixty years now after its premiere in England, is that it looks respectable and classical and almost sedate — until it doesn’t.

The movie genuinely appalled critics of its day, who must have assumed they were getting a delectable, harmless thriller from the director who, solo or with Emeric Pressburger, had presented many of England’s most prestigious films. (Critics already knew pretty much what to expect when Alfred Hitchcock unveiled his near-contemporaneous Psycho.) But no. Peeping Tom, written by Leo Marks, may look and play “normal” but is drenched with the flop sweat of sexual mania. I think if it had been made by anyone else, possibly in America, in the poverty-row style of something like The Brain That Wouldn’t Die, it might still have kicked up a fuss, but not as much rage.

Peeping Tom turned out to be part of a wave of thrillers in the ‘60s, including the better-known Psycho but also movies like William Castle’s Homicidal, that focused on a killer’s psychological damage inflicted by cruel parents. Here, our subject is Mark Lewis (Carl Boehm), who acts as a focus puller on movies and takes naughty photos for a local bookshop. He also has an elaborate fetish involving women looking frightened. He films them at the moment they realize they’re going to die, and he adds a vicious touch that should remain unspoiled for newcomers to the movie, though the most horrifying moment in Kathryn Bigelow’s 1995 Strange Days owes most of its punch to it.

Mark has been doing his thing unimpeded for a while now — in the opening scene, he disposes of a prostitute, who screams in her room though nobody cares enough to look in until he is long gone — but when he meets Helen (Anna Massey), a tenant in the building Mark inherited from his father, his thing deflates a bit. He shows the kindly Helen footage his demented shrink father (Powell himself) shot of himself tormenting the young Mark at night. She feels for him, and part of him responds to her sympathy. He promises he will never photograph her. He seems to want to cordon his psychosis off from her, but we and he know that’s not going to work. He has a run-in with Helen’s blind mother (Maxine Audley), who senses what he is but can’t do much about it. Helen, who has just turned 21, may be falling for Mark precisely because of his pain.

I imagine part of the vehemence of the response to the film was due to Powell’s pre-punk indifference to what his more monocle-dropping viewers would think. For instance, Powell takes Moira Shearer, beloved star of his The Red Shoes and The Tales of Hoffman, and contrives an undignified fate for her comparable to Janet Leigh’s. Yet always, the filmmaking is smooth, assured, suffused with cinematographer Otto Heller’s sumptuous palette. Powell shows us pretty pictures but uses them to lure us into a dark, seedy alley where two-quid whores loiter and warped men get them alone. It’s a classic bait and switch, and the trope of the voyeuristic beast locked in the city with his own misery until a beauty comes along may have informed Taxi Driver, directed by Martin Scorsese, whose reverence for Powell almost matched his reverence for Christ.

We also sniff a Scorsesean element in the finale: a beauty cannot redeem the monster; only submission to the same treatment he has given his victims might do that. Roger Ebert mused that Peeping Tom’s real crime in the eyes of its early haters was that it implicates the viewer — it uses its own medium to wrench us into complicity with a killer. It wasn’t the first film to pull this rug, but it did it with such blunt-force trauma that it has been called the first slasher film. I don’t know about that; proto-slasher, maybe, or even proto-giallo — it predated Mario Bava’s seminal The Girl Who Knew Too Much by three years.

In any event, 'Peeping Tom' survived its initial shower of spit and rotten tomatoes — largely due to Scorsese, who spent some artistic capital to restore and re-release it in 1979 — to become a feverish cult object among horror acolytes and classic film buffs alike.

link directly to this review at http://ctfqcd.com/review.php?movie=1537&reviewer=416
originally posted: 06/09/20 05:51:45
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User Comments

3/27/15 stanley welles brilliantly fascinating 5 stars
1/24/10 PAUL SHORTT A CHILLING, METHODICAL LOOK AT THE PSYCHOLOGY OF A KILLER 4 stars
5/25/07 action movie fan quite sluggish and dull-circus of horrors was alot better and more thrilling 2 stars
6/26/06 MP Bartley Stylish and creepy with an encroaching sense of dread. 4 stars
12/29/05 S.F Allound fantastic.Upto the high standard of a Powell film 5 stars
10/25/05 tatum Colorful and creepy, but I'm jaded now 4 stars
1/14/04 elisabetta bellissimo 5 stars
3/01/02 John Linton Roberson In many ways, a direct comment on Hitchcock... 5 stars
3/03/99 little jerry Interesting rather than entertaining.Powell's style not as timeless as Hitchcock's. 4 stars
2/02/99 Binky A scary old flick, somewhat dated now but still a little "ew". 4 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  15-May-1962 (NR)

UK
  N/A

Australia
  02-Feb-1999


Directed by
  Michael Powell

Written by
  Leo Marks

Cast
  Karlheinz Bohm
  Anna Massey
  Maxine Audley
  Moira Shearer
  Esmond Knight


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