Peeping Tom (1960) / Thriller-Horror
MPAA Rated: Not rated, but probably R for sexuality and violence
Running Time: 101 min.
Cast: Karlheinz Bohm, Anna Massey, Moira Shearer, Maxine Audley, Brenda Bruce
Director: Michael Powell
Screenplay: Leo Marks
Review published March 18, 2001
Peeping Tom is director Michael Powell's (The Red Shoes, Black Narcissus) most controversial British suspenser, and will forever be linked with Psycho, the Hitchcock masterpiece made here in the States, due to its similar subject matter as well as the release date being almost identical. While Peeping Tom is clearly not the monumental piece of cinema that Hitchcock created, it should not be dismissed, as it is actually very good, with some haunting images that many viewers still find disturbing even today.
Peeping Tom follows the story of a cameraman and amateur documentary maker named Mark, who moonlights as a serial killer with a fetish for filming his lady victims at their moment of death just to see the look of fear on their faces. Mark finds a conflict between his heart and his fetishes when he meets one of the tenants in the house that he owns, a lovely girl named Helen, who Mark develops a fondness for, but fears that he may not be able to resist his overpowering urges.
Peeping Tom is an extremely riveting and memorable psycho-thriller that is made well due to the quality writing and inspired direction, and is bolstered by a terrific, almost sympathetic performance by Bohm as the killer. Like Psycho, the film achieves most of its creepy thrills from not showing the violence hinted at, instead letting the viewer's imagination create the horror of the situation. Psychological terror is infinitely scarier than graphic gore, but is also much harder to achieve since one can never be sure how an audience will react.
Peeping Tom succeeds brilliantly in its goals, and as a study into the mind of a serial killer it's also worthy of attention. Surprisingly sophisticated, unflinchingly daring, and lovingly crafted, it's a shame it will always be in Psycho's shadow, because had it been released in any other year, it might be heralded as one of the great works of psychological terror in film. Not for everyone, Peeping Tom is recommended for suspense fans and Hitchcock-philes in particular.
©2001 Vince Leo