31 days of horrorHorror
Peeping Tom: a look through the curtains at a British horror classic
Peeping Tom has rightfully been reappraised as a masterpiece and not just a precursor to the slasher movie. It’s a fascinatingly complex portrayal of ‘evil’.
It would probably be weird if I said that Peeping Tom’s Mark Lewis is the cutest serial killer in all of horror movie history, but that’s pretty much what I’m about to say.
Central to Peeping Tom, the 1960 British psychological horror directed by Michael Powell, is the performance of Austrian born Karlheinz Böhm, playing the dangerous pervert the title alludes to. But Mark Lewis is so much more than your standard dangerous pervert.
Look at him there in his nice duffle coat, his sensible haircut and Germanic handsomeness. He’s such a nice boy. He enjoys all the nice creative hobbies that only the most sensitive boys spend their time enjoying. He loves photography and filmmaking. He even has a part-time job on a film-set. Yes, Mark is really coming up in the world and he has a lot to offer one very lucky lady!
It’s just such a shame that his experimental-psychologist father did such a damaging number on him that Mark now spends many of his evenings soliciting prostitutes and murdering them with a phallic-tripod-leg-dick-knife mounted to a cine-camera, so he can later watch his victim’s final death-throes in the comfort of his own squalid dark-room.
But you know, apart from that he’s a real catch.
Peeping Tom is my second favourite British horror movie behind The Wicker Man, and although they couldn’t be set in more contrasting landscapes (the remote paganised landscape of Summerisle versus the bustling luridness of London’s Soho) both say an awful lot about sexual repression in their respective decades of release.
Where the residents of 1970’s Summerisle enjoy a liberated sexually awakened life while the chaste Christian virgins are punished in the most unpleasant way possible, the residents of 60’s London must be confronted by their own shame and mortality when exploring the carnal delights of London.
It’s also one of Martin Scorsese’s favourite films too, and he claims that between this and Fellini’s 8 1/2, the art form of film has said all that it needs to say about the actual act of filmmaking. In Peeping Tom, much of the sympathy earned by Mark Lewis is through his obsession with the art form, and his need to understand the damage done to him through the camera’s lens. His father used him as a test-subject, filming the young boy in extreme moments of terror and sadness. It’s no wonder that Mark seeks the same enlightenment through his own experiments.
Peeping Tom is a bold, beautifully shot film, that was also an act of bravery for director Michael Powell. For much of the 40s, he and his partner Emerich Pressburger made some of Britain’s greatest and most beloved films (The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, A Matter of Life and Death, The Red Shoes). 10 years later in 1960, Powell would go it alone and make his most personal film yet, and in doing so effectively end his career.
Thankfully Peeping Tom has rightfully been reappraised as a masterpiece and not just a precursor to the slasher movie before Psycho got around to it, but also a fascinatingly complex portrayal of a killer whose ‘evil’ isn’t quite as easy to revile as other movie monsters.
For more spine-chilling thrills to watch over Halloween, check out our complete 31 days of horror movies list.