Mark Lewis, works as a focus puller in a British film studio. On his off hours, he supplies a local porno shop with cheesecake photos and also dabbles in filmmaking. A lonely, unfriendly, sexually repressed fellow, Mark is obsessed with the effects of fear and how they are registered on the face and behavior of the frightened. This obsession dates from the time when, as a child, he served as the subject of some cold-blooded experiments in the psychology of terror conducted by his own scientist father. As a grown man, Mark becomes a compulsive murderer who kills women and records their contorted features and dying gasps on film. His ongoing project is a documentary on fear. With 16mm camera in hand, he accompanies a prostitute to her room and stabs her with a blade concealed in his tripod, all the while photographing her contorted face in the throes of terror and death. Alone in his room, he surrounds himself with the sights and sounds of terror: taped screams, black-and-white "home ... Written by
Considered to be the first mainstream British movie to show female nudity. See more »
During the opening sequence we can see a shot of Mark's camera, showing that it is somewhat concealed in his coat, at chest level or lower. In the subsequent "first person" shots of the prostitute (supposedly showing what's being seen through the camera's viewfinder) it seems to have moved to eye level. See more »
[Mark approaches the prostitute, covertly filming her]
It'll be two quid
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Peeping Tom is a philosophical movie that investigates the nature of perception, rather than an edge-of-the seat thriller. The phrase "snuff films" hadn't even been invented in 1960, nor did videotape cameras exist, so the movie was far in advance of its time. You might be disappointed if you looking for pure excitement, you have to be willing to examine deeper issues.
Carl Bohm is perfect in the role of the killer, and his faint German accent (which might be interpreted as a. psychogenic speech defect) adds to the creepiness of his character. Instead of an over-the-top maniac (Jack Nicholson, are you listening?), he portrays a frightened and insecure little person who can only relate to the world by looking at it, preferably through a camera lens. It is easy to condemn him for his obsession with peeping, but -um- aren't we doing the same thing by watching this movie, or any movie? The most interesting movies are those that provoke such questions in us. This aspect also helps explain why Peeping Tom was so fiercely condemned in 1960.
(The scenes between Bohm and Massey remind me of those between Gustav Diesel and Louise Brooks in the last part of Pandora's Box (1928), and you can bet the Michael Powell was familiar with Pabst's work.)
The idea that scrutiny = punishment was explored by Michel Foucault in his book Surveiller et Punir, which I happened to read a long time ago. We will be finding out more about this as the "National Security State" draws closer. Anyway, here you have a powerless little guy who tries to feel the same sense of control by turning his camera - literally - into a murder-weapon. The technical details of this contrivance seem unrealistic, but the symbolism is so powerful they scarcely matter.
The hard-edged sound of late-50s cool jazz works very nicely in setting the atmosphere, similar to Town Without Pity (1960). Nowadays we tend to think of that era as idyllic, so its useful to remind ourselves of the dark edges that existed.
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