Thursday, 21 October 2010

Peeping Tom (1960)

 Another film to make you scream this Halloween is Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom (1960). The film ruined the career of the director whose career as one half of the Powell/Pressburger director-combo had been much celebrated in their run of films that embodied British realism. In a brave move, Powel ditched the partner and decided to take a huge risk with his original horror movie. He may as well have dug his own grave.

Peeping Tom tells the story of scopophiliac Mark Lewis, a sexually repressed employee of the British film industry. As a child Mark fell victim to his fathers obsession with the psychology of terror and partook in some disturbing experiments. As a result of this, his adult life sees him enjoying nothing more than frightening women to death, brutally murdering them and recording their reactions on film.

Like Hitchcock’s Rear Window (1956) Powell toys with voyeurism but with greater extremity by removing the safeguard of the camera. In the opening scene, the use of the lens places the viewer firmly in the position of the murderer. The effect is immediate and visceral. There is no turning away, the killers hungry eyes are bulging from your head. Powell was brave enough to challenge everything that we knew as an audience prior to this, a challenge that has continued to reverberate throughout the film industry to this day.

The outrage generated by the film inspired critics to create with some of their best quotes ever. Here are my favourites…

"The only really satisfactory way to dispose of Peeping Tom would be to shovel it up and flush it swiftly down the nearest sewer,"

"Sick minds will be highly stimulated."

“Wholly evil”

"I have carted my travel-stained carcass to some of the filthiest and most festering slums in Asia. But nothing, nothing, nothing-neither the hopeless leper colonies of East Pakistan, the back streets of Bombay, nor the gutters of Calcutta-has left me with such a feeling of nausea and depression as I got this week sitting through a new British film called Peeping Tom."

The film is often referred to as ‘the British Psycho’ but Peeping Tom is much more ‘real’. It has the feel of some stinking dirty secret that you found in your dead granddad's shed, but a secret so dirty that you feel obliged to share it with your friends.

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