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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
The film that did a large amount of damage to Michael Powell's film career remains as a prime example of an intellectual British horror film. It has certainly retained the power to shock over four decades later, and leaves the viewer with more questions than have been answered during the fairly short running time.
Carl Boehm plays Mark Lewis, a focus puller at a film studio who feeds his voyeuristic tendencies by filming people everyone he goes. This preoccupation takes a disturbing twist in his need to kill, and film women as he kills them. So far, so unsavoury. Mark appears on the surface as a personable young man who just has this dangerous, psychotic tendency he can't always keep in check. The audience is thus invited to have some sympathy with him, especially after the discovery that the young Mark was the focus for his father's experiments on the nature of fear in children (show in part as the film within the film featuring Michael Powell and his son Columba), and was filmed and recorded for the whole of his young life. No wonder, the film is saying, that he has grown into this disturbed person who has no real life away from either recording things on a camera, or watching the results in his darkened room.
Anna Massey has perhaps the prime female role in the film, as Mark's downstairs neighbour Helen Stephens. She is both repelled and attracted by Mark's movie-making, and perhaps she is closer to him that she would herself admit. It is a restrained performance of considerable power. Moira Shearer has a brief appearance as the studio stand-in who becomes his victim, while Shirley Anne Field provides light relief as the film actress who can never get her lines right and doesn't know how to faint on camera.
Peeping Tom' is a clever piece of work which perhaps came too soon to be acceptable to the establishment. After all, during Powell's collaborations with Emeric Pressburger, they often pushed their luck with their subject matter and the way they presented it. This film was the natural progression of that anarchistic spirit. It is humorous in places Mark is not presented as a one-dimensional monster while being a very dark and disturbing psychological thriller throughout.
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