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Notorious murder thriller which was years ahead of its time, and resulted in the downfall of its great director.
Jonathon Dabell6 May 2005
To understand the stir that Peeping Tom caused when it was released in 1960, you need to think about what audiences at that time were accustomed to when they went to the cinema. Innocent love stories, historical epics, action-packed westerns and colourful musicals were the staple cinematic diet of the time, certainly not dark, disturbing and intensely violent murder thrillers like this. What probably unsettled contemporary film-goers even more was the fact that a film of this kind could come from a much-loved and revered director like Michael Powell. In modern times, the equivalent would be if Steven Spielberg were to make a graphic and reviled film about paedophilia or bestiality, consequently never being allowed to stand behind a movie camera again. When Peeping Tom hit the big screen, it was rejected by the public and crucified by the critics, and left Powell's hitherto glorious career in ruin.

A film cameraman, Mark Lewis (Karl Boehm), displays psychotic tendencies as he murders women with a spiked tripod attached to the bottom of his camera, capturing on celluloid their final screams of agony. It is revealed that when he was a child, Mark was used as a guinea pig by his father (Michael Powell) in a series of psychoanalytical experiments about the symptoms of fear. Among other things, Mark's delightful dad would wake him throughout the night and shine lights in his eyes, drop lizards into his bed, and on one occasion even forced him to pose for photographs next to the dead body of his mother. As a result, Mark has an unhealthy obsession with fear and, in particular, the expression that people have on their face during moments of fear.

Peeping Tom is one of the few films that still has the power to shock all these years on. Psycho, released roughly at the same time, is still a great film but its shock value has been diminished by years of repeat viewings and increasing permissiveness in the cinema. But Peeping Tom is an altogether more disturbing piece of work. Boehm is excellent as the killer whose entire outlook has been skewed by his father's experiments. Also impressive is Anna Massey as the killer's fragile and unsuspecting fiancée. Powell directs the film brilliantly, using bold and dazzling colours to disguise the horrific atrocities that punctuate his film. It is understandable that the film was met with revulsion and rejection at that time, but in retrospect it is a film of real importance and power. In a 21st century world bombarded and desensitised by harrowing images on the news and in the movies, the theme of losing one's grasp on what is and isn't morally acceptable is more pertinent than ever. This is not easy viewing, but it IS essential viewing.
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Revered and reviled, but no longer ignored
Andrew Leavold11 August 2004
In these supposed enlightened times, director Michael Powell is considered a genius of British cinema. Emerging during the War as one of Britain's finest craftsmen, Powell and his partner Emeric Pressburger created the undisputed classics The Life And Death Of Colonel Blimp (1943), Black Narcissus (1947) and The Red Shoes (1948).

But despite critical and commercial success, his career was in tatters by the early 1960's. The abrupt death of Powell's career can virtually be pinned down to one film, his most uncompromising portrait of madness, 1960's Peeping Tom.

Powell's infamous shocker opens with a movie camera-wielding Mark Lewis (Carl Boehm) following a prostitute to her boarding house room. Once inside, he slides a spike from his tripod leg and films her action of terror before stabbing her to death. As the credits roll, we find Mark alone in his apartment, replaying the footage with wide-eyed fascination.

As the film progresses, Mark is revealed as a stuttering loner whose sex drive has been somehow twisted into a murderous voyeuristic mania - working at a movie studio by day, he moonlights as a ‘glamour' photographer above a seedy newsagents. His blonde buxom model (Pamela Green), constantly taunting his virility, is the embodiment of the female he despises. The inquisitive girl downstairs, on the other hand, becomes his ideal and his possible salvation. Ultimately she is doomed by her altruistic attraction when she insists Mark must show her one of his 'films'. Horrified, she watches Mark as a child, tortured by his father's camera experiment of recording a child's reaction to fear. Mark's own experiment of filming his murder victims leads him on a downward spiral of insanity to the film's tragic conclusion.

Despite Peeping Tom's sensational subject matter, Powell's intention was deadly serious: to make a sober study of sexual violence, as well as a meditation on the audience's role of voyeur. Powell's camera positions us directly behind Mark and his spectators so that we become his unwilling accomplices - the audience watches Mark watching his films. Carl Boehm as Mark gives a chilling performance, at once icy reserve and murderous rage. Powell creates a garish red and pale blue twilight landscape of backstreet London in perfect detail.

At the film's completion, Powell believed he had made a masterpiece. Peeping Tom is certainly a personal film; Powell and his co-scriptwriter toiled for months until they had mastered a sympathetic three-dimensional serial killer. In later years, Powell would remain tight-lipped about his real reasons for making the film. But Britain's premiere 'glamour' pinup queen Pamela Green - Peeping Tom's photo-model and penultimate victim - would offer clues to Powell's hidden agenda.

Green became his leading choice for the role, although she had not appeared outside 8mm stag films, after seeing a life-sized nude portrait in her business partner Harrison Mark's studio. Her initial reception on the set was one of polite British reserve - until Powell unleashed his Jekyll and Hyde personality and she became one among many targets for his boorish, intimidating manner. On the day of Green's death scene, Powell changed his former plans of prudence and demanded she sprawl topless across her bed before she is skewered with Mark's tripod leg. She reluctantly gave in. Mid-shot she looked across the studio in horror. Beneath Powell's camera were his two pre-teen sons, watching unwaveringly according to their father's instructions. This incident brought a chill over Powell's casting of his son as Mark junior and of himself as Mark's father.

Whatever reasons drove Powell to make Peeping Tom, he had effectively signed his career's death warrant. The film opened to scathing reviews in April 1960, just months after the similarly-themed Psycho. Ironically, Hitchcock floated out of the controversy surrounding Psycho as the consummate old trickster, and saved his slowly sinking career. The time seemed ripe for Peeping Tom among audiences and critics alike. Unfortunately for Powell, the critics could find none of Psycho's black humour in his sober tome. 'Sick' and ‘vile' were a small sample of their vitriol. The papers were outraged that a filmmaker of Powell's calibre could sink his talents into material so vulgar and perverse. Powell hoped the distributor would weather the storm and allow the audience to find the film on its own merits. Instead, the plug was pulled on Peeping Tom after five days and at least in Britain the film was buried.

The print was sold to the American Roadshow circuit, with a lurid ad campaign designed to sell the film to a jaded American public. Shorn of twenty minutes footage, the film was considered too 'British' and was shelved after a limited run. There it sat, gathering dust for almost 20 years. Then in 1978 a cabal of admiring filmmakers led by Martin Scorsese (himself no stranger to controversy) rescued a complete print from Britain. Peeping Tom was thus relaunched in 1979 at the prestigious New York Film Festival to a predictably mixed reception. Correct-minded commentators grudgingly accepted its 'masterpiece' tag but were nonplussed with the Film's treatment of its sexual violence.

As for Powell, the British film industry no longer considered him bankable after Peeping Tom. He made one more film in Britain before exiling himself to Australia. The antipodean They're A Weird Mob (1966) was on of his final films before his death in 1984. Luckily for Powell, the film he considers his masterpiece is still revered and reviled, but no longer ignored.
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Watch And Learn
rmc1298 September 2001
Despite a long and distinguished career the production team of Powell and Pressberger were effectively ruined by the furore of criticism and demands for censorship generated by this film.

'Peeping Tom' is a great film and one that modern film makers could learn from. Even good films like 'Seven' and 'Silence of the Lambs' have a regretable tendency toward melodrama and gross overacting in the portrayal of serial killers. 'John Doe' (Kevin Spacey) and 'Buffalo Bill' (Ted Levine) are laughable travesties of their real life counterparts, who seem harmless when approaching or luring a potential victim.

One of the things that critics of his time could not forgive Powell is that he makes his killer 'Mark Lewis' (Karl Boehm) human and likeable. a sensitive and intelligent young man, he is the product of bestial cruelty inflicted upon him in childhood (the scenes showing film of him being tortured as a boy by his scientist father are horrifying in the true sense of the word)

This is a sophisticated film demanding of the viewer that he or she not only takes part in watching a compelling thriller but are also provoked into contemplating the forces that work on a man who commits such crimes.

After watching 'Peeping Tom' one does not have the customary closure common in such thrillers of seeing a 'monster' the viewer could not emphasise with destroyed and the world made safe again, (much the theory behind the justification of capital punishment). Rather we have the experience of seeing the tragic self destruction of a man arguably as much a victim as those he killed.

To critics this was reprehensible - 'siding with the murderer'. The man who wrote the script, however, knew at first hand what makes a killer - since he was responsible for selecting secret agents to fight behind enemy lines in World War 2. He had to choose men - and women - who would not hesitate to kill. How many writers can claim this level of insight?

'Peeping Tom' is a classic and I rate it an eye catching 9 out of 10
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Macabre voyeurism
jotix10026 September 2005
Michael Powell, the distinguished English director, probably contributed to his own demise from the film industry with "Peeping Tom", a movie that proved to be well ahead of its times and a masterpiece by this man who gave so much to enhance the industry in Great Britain. In fact, it's a shame this was almost the last film he directed before going on to a kind of exile in Australia.

"Peeping Tom" is an exercise in voyeurism Mr. Powell, and his screen writer, Leo Marks, created to prove to what extent how one is capable of watching things one shouldn't watch. At the same time, Mr. Powell created a psychological essay about what makes Mark Lewis, the central character of the film, act the way he acted. Mark has been scarred for life thanks to what his own father did to him during a period of his growing years that formed his character into the reclusive man who feels at home doing the despicable crimes he commits.

One of the strengths of the film is the amazing portrayal of Mark Lewis by the German actor, Carl Boehm, who made a superb contribution to the movie. Mr. Boehm is perfect because by just looking at him, one would never guess what's inside his soul, or what motivates him to kill and record his crimes.

Mr. Powell brought together an amazing cast that shines in the film. Moira Shearer, Anna Massey, Maxime Audley, Brenda Bruce, Bartlett Mullins, are among the most prominent players one sees in the film.

The newly restored copy we saw as part of the retrospective shown at the Walter Reade this year has been enhanced in ways one didn't think would be possible and it's a tribute to the great director, who should have been proud of how today's audiences are reacting when they discover his movies that seem will live forever.

It's ironic that Mr. Powell didn't get the recognition he deserved during his lifetime.
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"Did You Get the Point?"
Prof_Lostiswitz7 December 2003
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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A slasher flick with a heart of gold
Spleen22 January 2000
I'll admit it: I was completely stumped; for almost all of the running time I had no idea where Michael Powell was going with this one. (Not that there are any twists in the plot - my uncertainty was of a different kind.) I think this made me all the more delighted when I at last found out.

Although it was made without co-archer Emeric Pressburger, we see the old Archers' logo at the start; except that this time it's overlaid with `A Michael Powell Production' - in tiny letters. This gave me a pang of sadness. `Peeping Tom' all but completely destroyed Powell's career; and however much and for whatever reasons critics and audiences may have loathed the film, this simply ought not have happened - especially since, good or bad, it's manifestly the work of a director at the height of his powers. The photography is wonderfully assured, the colours are as bright and stark and controlled and fantastic as ever, the script is clever and trusts to our intelligence, and Powell still knows how to keep our minds glued to the screen even when our eyes tell us that nothing much is happening. Every scene is unsettling. Most are creepy.

I could go on about the technical details - the use of sound and music is amazingly innovative, too - but what really elevates `Peeping Tom', what makes so many of the contemporary criticisms absurd, is its compassion. There's none of that watered-down Freudian guff we encounter in `Psycho'. Powell makes us feel for his serial killer - not so much by showing us that he feels pain but by showing us that he has ordinary, likeable human qualities as well as madness. A number of Powell's war-time said the same thing about Nazis. It's clear that he really meant it.

Not that this is an overt message of `Peeping Tom', and not that there aren't a lot of other things going on as well. I not only recommend, I BEG, that any admirer of Powell's earlier work give this one a try as well. Since Powell is striking out in a new direction there's an excellent chance you won't like it; but it deserves to be tried.
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Lumpenprole5 June 2003
Warning: Spoilers
The first time I saw Peeping Tom, it was exhilarating. The clever films within the film, puns, raw Freudian imagery, the bold acting and the way the plot unfolds as logically as a fable kept me enthralled through to the end. I tried watching it again last night and I couldn't shake an absolutely crushing sadness that emanates from Mark Lewis. He's like some aborted twin of the director in 8 1/2. But whereas Guido's creative instinct and drive emerged from a house full of women pampering him and a magical incantation that he was told will animate an ominous painting, Mark's is a murderous urge to have some of the control and power denied him by his father. Like a record stuck playing the same sound over and over, Mark has grown into an emotional cul-de-sac where he watches the story of his torture and his revenge every night.

Mark is trying to work his way out of this loop by filming a documentary. If he can create a record of sadistic control over everything around himself, maybe the act of making a story out of his life will at least give him an end to his suffering. The frenzied excitement, practically joy, of his suicide is a miserable thing to contemplate. He says that he's spent a long time preparing his walkway of cameras to capture his final rush to meet the fate he inflicted on so many others. At previous points in the film, he's noted that he expected to get caught and it's clear he's very happy to have been revealed in exactly the circumstances he staged. His documentary is a success.

Mark tries to develop a world outside of the documentary that he knows will kill him. He talks to the psychologist about getting help and his expression clearly indicates that he just can't see giving years of therapy a chance. Mark's clumsy and sincere attempts to develop a normal relationship with Helen fall into the same category - it would be so nice, but he's got something he has to do. Something creative, albeit monstrous, hardwired into Mark has to express itself `regardless of the consequences.'

As with other Michael Powell films, it's not for all audiences. Powell tells his stories with lavish color-coded signals, revels in dramatic extremes, and is unapologetic about pulling dirty tricks like dragging out Moira Shearer's death scene to the point where 1) you fully realize that Mark is an exacting composer and 2) you long for him to get on with it and kill her already.

Like everything else filmed before 1999 (when The Matrix set the current standard for believable CGI and HBO programming made R-rated material ho-hum), the fx/gore do not live up to contemporary expectations.
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The British 'Psycho'
Gazza-310 February 1999
It's difficult to imagine the effect that this film had on critics and audiences when first shown as in the 90's we have become desensitized by the violence and cruelty of slasher movies.

Yet even today this film is deeply disturbing. The lead character is portrayed in a sympathetic light, thanks to a stunning performance from Carl Boem. He is a victim of a cruel and abusive father, desperate to escape the curse that has been handed down to him. There are some memorable scenes: the home movie showing him and his father (played by Michael Powell and his own son), the shot of the beautiful model turning round and showing her hare lip and the projection of one of the murders to the blind mother, with part of the frame projecting onto the murderer.

This is a deeply unnerving film but brilliantly made. Go see.
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Peeping Tom (1960)
MARIO GAUCI3 April 2005
I've watched Michael Powell['s PEEPING TOM a couple of times on TV but I've yet to give my Criterion DVD a spin. Certainly one of the most original, challenging and bleakest films ever made and to have come from a British film-maker, albeit an iconoclastic one, makes the achievement all the more remarkable. While I do think that comparisons to its contemporary PSYCHO (1960) are a bit tenuous, it has to be said that both films can be thought of as belonging to the horror genre – in fact, PEEPING TOM was the third British "slasher" movie in a row, following HORRORS OF THE BLACK MUSEUM (1959) and CIRCUS OF HORRORS (1960) - but can also lay claim to being a very dark sort of black comedy. Besides, both films feature dysfunctional, immature, adult male protagonists haunted by a terrible upbringing which vents itself in a series of murders. Furthermore, while both films have been harshly reviled by critics when first released, in time, they have had their reputations make a complete about face and nowadays are numbered among their respective directors' unassailable masterpieces!
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not your usual horror film
didi-59 May 2004
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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Not a masterpiece, but very good
Undead_Master2 August 2006
Warning: Spoilers
I enjoyed this movie a great deal, but i don't think it's Powell's masterpiece.

In fact, it's probably the second weakest Powell film I've seen so far. Sometimes a controversial film will gain a reputation that it doesn't deserve and I think this is one of those cases. It's greatest flaw probably comes from a puritanical lack of violence. I know that's an odd thing to say about a movie with this kind of reputation, but it's true. Peeping Tom is very violent for a movie released the early 60's, but this shouldn't have been made in the early 60's. It was too soon for a movie like this. The subject matter needed a more explicit approach.

Imagine Henry: portrait of a serial killer, only without any blood, and every time a murder is about to happen, the camera cuts away or fades out. That's what Peeping Tom is like. It's so well made that you don't really notice this right away and I'm sure it was very shocking to people when it was released... I didn't really begin to realize this was the problem until about half way through the movie but even before that i felt a certain detachment and the movie seemed to lack an emotional punch that should have been there.

Hitchcock got around this in psycho with ingenious editing that made the audience believe they were seeing more than they were... Fritz lang does it frequently in movies made even before this through manipulative techniques that cause you to use you imagination to fill in the blanks... Powelll doesn't resort to those kinds of tricks. For one thing it's not really his style and also because peeping tom is a much different kind of film. While psycho is fundamentally a horror film, and most of Fritz Langs more daring efforts are noirish crime thrillers, peeping tom is really more of a morbid character study. A clinical examination of an insane mind. A movie about a killer where the audience views the film from his perspective. A movie like that needs to make the audience feel uncomfortable. You need moments in the film where you are sickened by what you see on screen but peeping tom handles the viewer with kid gloves. That's not really anyone's fault..

Peeping Tom is simply a product of it's time and it's one of those cases where they could have made a much better movie about 12 years later. It's rare that i see a movie and my main complaint is that it's too old fashioned, but that's what's wrong with Peeping Tom.

There are great scenes though... Moments when you get an idea of what a great movie it could have been, like the scene where the killer is showing his girlfriend home movies from his childhood. We see his father frightening him on purpose and sadistically filming it. It's a graphic demonstration of emotional violence that makes you wince. It's all expertly filmed and edited and it gives you a hint what Powell might have done a few years later.

In the end I have to recommend Peeping Tom.. It's certainly worth viewing, but make sure and lower your expectations if you've built it up as some kind of masterpiece.. It's not a masterpiece, it's just excellent, but that's OK.
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david-19762 June 2006
Warning: Spoilers
I have been of two minds about Michael Powell, ever since I discovered that I couldn't understand how "The Red Shoes" would make any little girl want to be a ballerina--any more than I have never been able to figure out how "The Little Prince" or "The Velveteen Rabbit" could be liked by anyone under 30.

Having just watched "Colonel Blimp" and "Black Narcissus," both of which are certifiable masterpieces, I think that"Peeping Tom" obviously shows the want of a Pressburger to make it a viable product. It's just plain bad. Bad cinematography, bad acting, bad screenplay, bad choice of material. Were this the film by which Powell is judged, he would be compared to Ed Wood. I know Martin Scorsese likes this movie, but for the life of me I can't figure out why.

I understand that this film has been compared to "Psycho." Can't figure that one out, either.

"Peeping Tom" does bear comparison to a Hitchcock film, however: "Frenzy," the only one of Hitch's films whose trailer is better than the movie, and the only one in which Hitch resorted to cheap effects, including the choice of a bad musical score, gratuitous nudity, and that ludicrous shot of Barbara Leigh-Hunt's "corpse." Powell doesn't quite go that far, simply showing the "protagonist," Mark Lewis, played by Carl Boehm, unsheathing his hidden tripod spike to stab his victims in the throat. Powell used a stag film star as one of the victims, which I guess was kind of louche, and therefore attractive to some.

The overall cheapness of the project, despite the use of Anna Massey and Moira Shearer, contributes to the overall tawdriness of "Peeping Tom." While I certainly number some low- budget masterpieces among my favorites, it's obvious that Powell took some awful short- cuts in making this one, and never asked his actors to provide anything like acting.

The plot of "Peeping Tom" is outlined elsewhere on this web page, and I don't feel it necessary to duplicate the efforts of others. I would like to see some of the later Powell efforts, especially "Age of Consent" and the two Pressburger collaborations in Australia from the 1970's, but I think none of these probably rises to the heights Powell and Pressburger reached in the 40's and 50's.

There's some great Powell out there; however, undiscriminating praise of his art does him no favor. If Criterion is going to bother to release "Peeping Tom," I think it might behoove them to release some of Anthony Asquith's previously unreleased (At lease in America) films, like "The Way to the Stars."
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a disappointment
howells27 September 2005
After having heard and read about this movie for years, I finally got the chance to see it on TCM this weekend, during the month-long Michael Powell tribute. I was really looking forward to seeing it, but I have to say that I was a little disappointed. Compared to "Black Narcissus" and "The Red Shoes" - both amazing films - "Peeping Tom" seemed a big step down. I was left with the impression that the critics were probably right, in that it was not a very good movie. Had it been better paced and better written, it might have made a much better impression on critics at the time, but as it is, it just sort of came across as a rather dull and poorly done version of the sort of thing that British television specialized in at the time (The Saint, The Avengers, Thriller, etc.), only more lurid. Carl Boehm was miscast, and the scene with Moira Shearer seemed to go on for far too long, and its only purpose seemed to be to show off her dancing. I would have preferred having her play a larger role. The detective element of the film was weak at best. The notion of Mark Lewis moonlighting as a porn photographer was interesting, and I would have liked to have seen that explored a little more. It just seemed like the film was made up of a whole bunch of loose ends that were never tied up. The brightest spot was the casting of Anna Massey as Lewis' girlfriend. She brought an honesty to the role, and her plain looks brought a certain beauty to the part that a more traditionally glamorous actress might have spoiled.

Overall, not a bad movie but not a great one either, and Michael Powell didn't deserve to have his career ruined over it.
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Unsuccessful as horror but successful as a tribute to Powell's career
Maciste_Brother7 October 2003
PEEPING TOM is a thin excuse of a horror movie. If you're watching it as a horror film, PEEPING TOM will look very self-indulgent and needlessly melodramatic. Personally speaking, I didn't buy the story for one second. It looked more like a cleverly constructed homage of the director's career than a real horror film. The film is mostly a pity fest: tortured, misunderstood artist who's totally possessed by his need to express himself through, in this case, a most deadly artform of capturing death on film by killing the women (and only women) he meets. As usual in these kind of "tortured artist" stories, there's a woman who falls for Mark and the thing sorta becomes a tragic love story (thank god Alfred Hitchcock didn't write a love interest for Norman Bates in PSYCHO). The idea of Helen (wonderfully played by underrated Anna Masey) falling for Mark is ridiculous and totally forced. The clunky premise isn't helped much by the unconvincing psychology behind the killer's motivations: his father tortured him when he was a kid and yet Mark, as an adult, only kills women. Okay. Things only got less subtle, with Helen's mother being a blind woman who's all seeing and wise which SCREAMED to me that the film was more of a not-so-subtle symbolic exercise from Michael Powell about himself and his career as a filmmaker than anything else. The fact that Michael Powell himself played the domineering father in the black and white home movies and that the kid who plays young Mark was Michael Powell's real son and the fact the home movies were shot where Powell grew up as a kid only reinforced the whole self-indulgent aspect of the movie: me, me, me! This obvious self-indulgence in the story and direction killed ALL attempts at horror.

But if you watch PEEPING TOM as a tribute to Michael Powell's career, made by Michael Powell himself, well, the movie is suddenly fitting and brilliant. Fitting as a tribute because PEEPING TOM suddenly became Powell's last "major" movie after the uproar it created when it was released. PEEPING TOM, or the controversy surrounding the movie, basically killed Powell's career as a serious filmmaker. The elaborate behind-the-scenes moments or the scenes with Moira Shearer (who worked with Powell in THE RED SHOES) dancing around the studios say more about the famed filmmaker than the film's tortured character. Watch PEEPING TOM as some sort of elaborate post-modern tribute to the director. Don't watch it as a horror movie. It's just too melodramatic and self-indulgent to create anything close to disturbing or creepy.
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I'm ready for my close-up, Mr. Perverted Killer...
Coventry26 October 2005
Warning: Spoilers
Absolutely, positively BRILLIANT movie that single-handedly caused a major earthquake in the, until then, overly politically correct British horror industry. Many critics and audiences weren't ready for this type of groundbreaking disturbance (I doubt they even are nowadays), which regretfully meant an unfair boycott of the film, as well as of its genius director Michael Powell. The magnificence of "Peeping Tom" almost can't be described in words, since it's so all embracing and frighteningly up-to-date. Every single detail in the production…every single line in the script…every single movement by the actors & actresses reaches damn close to perfection. It already starts with a controversial – but hugely courageous – basic premise: "Scoptophelia", or the morbid desire to watch, as explained by a psychiatrist in the film. Mark Lewis, the main character, can't live without registering everything he sees on camera. This hardly causes any problems in his daily life, as he works in the film-industry and gains some extra cash as the photographer of nude-pictures. But the complexity of Mark's persona doesn't stop there. He constantly struggles with childhood traumas, brought on by his scientist-father who always used Mark as a guinea pig for his own psychological research regarding the study of "human fear". As a result of these inhuman tests, Mark grew up a very timid and introvert man...but simultaneously with an insane and restless mind that can only be calmed down by committing gruesome murders...

As you can read all over the Internet, "Peeping Tom" is often mentioned in one sentence along with Alfred Hitchcock's "Psycho", released the same year. Supposedly because together they dragged horror-cinema into the present tense by introducing "villains" that show no obvious physical characteristics like these of typical horror monsters and mass-murderers. Indeed so, Norman Bates as well as Mark Lewis are both ordinary and colorless men that turn out mankind's most bizarre perverts, but that's pretty much where the comparison stops. "Peeping Tom" continues in intensity and controversy where "Psycho" eventually throws the towel in the ring. Other than Mark Lewis being a highly unlikely killer, the script successfully covers psychological eeriness (Mark's childhood is far more shocking than that of Norman Bates) AND the alarming confrontation with the omnipresent theme of voyeurism. The uncontrollable desire of observing people is of all ages, but an incredible taboo around the time this film got released. The prudishness and hypocrisy of society is masterfully illustrated near the beginning of the film, when a seemly prominent citizen quietly requests pictures of sexily dressed women in a newspaper shop. If you see how embarrassed he is for buying sexy pictures, you get an idea of how awry and difficult it must have been to shoot a film that actually puts the viewer in the position of a voyeur.

Apart from being very intelligent, very influential and very complex… "Peeping Tom" of course also is VERY frightening! Not in the least because of Carl Boehm's creepy performance (I can't believe the same guy played the fancy and well-behaving Austrian Prince in my mother's favorite epic film-series "Sissi – Die Junge Kaiserin!!!), but also because of the depressing atmosphere and the slow pacing. Not a single drop of blood is shed throughout the entire film, and yet I rarely felt this uncomfortable upon seeing simple 'suggestions'. Watching "Peeping Tom" feels like unintentionally crashing into the set of a snuff film and the only thing you can do is to close your eyes. But…can you? Or, even worse, …do you want to?
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Face of Fear
Claudio Carvalho15 October 2011
In London, the lonely photographer Mark Lewis (Carl Boehm) works in a film studio and moonlights supplying cheesecake photos to a magazine store. He lives in the huge house that he had inherited from his parents that is rented to tenants to help him pay the bills and keep the building. Mark was the subject of bizarre experiments of effects of the fear conducted by his scientist father since he was a child and he has become a disturbed man obsessed by the face of frightened women in the moment of death. He kills women filming their faces while he stabs them in the throat.

When Mark meets his neighbor and tenant Helen Stephens (Anna Massey) on the day of her birthday, he befriends her and sooner he dates the young woman. Mark has a crush on Helen and does not want to film her. But Mark is one of the suspects and a detective is tracking down Mark.

"Peeping Tom" is a good film with an unusual serial-killer, since Mark Lewis is an educated and likable character and also a victim of the experiments of his cruel and abusive father. His character creates a great empathy with the viewers and despite being a murderer, he is charismatic. I believe that the feelings of Helen for him are shared by most of the viewers. My vote is seven.

Title (Brazil): "A Tortura do Medo" ("The Torture of the Fear")
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Dated ambition
paul2001sw-12 November 2003
It's very hard to assess 'Peeping Tom' today, over 40 years after it's release. This is because it is fundamentally a very modern film but one made without modern skills. A serial killer movie made when these were (mercifully) less fashionable than now, it deals with its subject with less gore, and more sensitivity, than most of its modern counterparts. The use of hand-held camera shots (albeit with explicit narrative justification) is similarly modern, while the central character's voyeurism brings to mind Soderbergh's debut, 'sex, lies and videotape'. But the sets are poor, the music ugly, the killer's motivation unconvincing (though in this respect, few modern counterparts do better); while the acting is completely wooden, especially from Anna Massey as the young woman attracted (apropos of nothing) to the weird guy living upstairs. The portrait of the wider social fabric also seems clumsy and quite unrecognisable to a contemporary eye, although from this juncture, it's hard to tell to whether to conclude that the world has changed, or merely our skill in portraying it.

'Peeping Tom' is an ambitious film - a detective story, a love story, a story of trauma and its affect upon character, a horror story and even for a while, a satire of the movie business itself. Yet the absence of realism in the performances is striking - though probably no worse than most cinema of its time (even in Welles' great 'Touch of Evil', shot a year before, only the director appears to really act). What's amazing is how quickly movies were to change hereafter. It's hard to believe that only a decade should separate this work from the still fresh-cinema of the early 1970s.
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Really not that interesting
sunznc10 July 2009
Warning: Spoilers
I was geared up to watch this film after reading about it in "Cult Movies" which has inspired me to watch many films. However, I have to say that this film just wasn't that interesting. I found myself becoming very tired of it quickly.

The film has not aged well in my opinion. Perhaps when this was first released it might have interested people but it seems so dated. The dialogue especially. I don't remember people ever talking or acting this way. If a film doesn't seem believable it just doesn't work for me and this is the problem I have with Peeping Tom.

Women today would fight this guy back. They wouldn't just lay back on the couch or bed and let this guy kill them. Especially the women here in Los Angeles. I realize that isn't what the film is about-it's about perception but if the film doesn't seem realistic it doesn't work for me.

Some people will want to see this because it is a cult film but if you are looking for something engaging or interesting, I think you will be disappointed.
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Norman, Have I Got a Friend for You
evanston_dad7 April 2008
An effectively off-beat serial killer film from Michael Powell, the visionary director that gave us "Black Narcissus" (one of my favorites of all time) and "The Red Shoes." As with those films, he chooses to shoot everything in vibrant color, enhancing the luridness of this lurid story.

Carl Boehm plays the disturbed young man who enjoys filming women as he kills them and then watching the films later. He and Norman Bates, the momma's boy serial killer from "Psycho," released the same year, could write a manual on sexually motivated ritual killings. In both films, the psychology is laughably obvious and heavy-handed, though it probably seemed shocking to audiences at the time who weren't used to such frank discussions of the unsavory aspects of the human id. But the film is certainly accomplished, and reminded me somewhat of the films of Dario Argento, without the gore.

Moira Shearer puts in a brief appearance as one of the victims, and even gets an inexplicable dance number to perform. While the number doesn't make a lot of sense in context of the film, she certainly looks lovely doing it. Too bad she ends up in a trunk.

Grade: A-
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So good it ended badly...
Polaris_DiB23 January 2008
Warning: Spoilers
Well hello new favorite horror film and easily one of my new favorite films of all time! Peeping Tom is a film about scopophilia, or the desire or urge to gaze at the intimate, the forbidden, the unattainable. It's main character, Mark, is a troubled but brilliant young man who for the most part leads a reserved life--he works focus on movie sets (the irony is intended), he lives a quiet life upstairs in his father's old house (he has tenants pay the rent), and he's really shy (which is why he doesn't meet the cute young lady who lives under his very house until after the movie starts). He also kills people by stabbing them with a tripod connected to a movie camera he totes around all day. The big skill in this movie, though, is that that's just the thing: the emphasis is his shy sensibilities, his humanity, and his intelligence. The fact that he's a murderer is made all the more disturbing by how attractive and relatable he is.

Now, I understand that that approach has been done before, but here it reaches a new synthesis. First of all, Carl Boehm's acting--Mark isn't just a character you can relate to, he's a character you recognize in your peers, on the street, in yourself. Secondly, Michael Powell's directing, which is second in Britain only to Hitchcock (and Hitchcock moved to America, so really it's second-to-none at this point), is solidly built around bringing the viewer into a magical, open world, only this time it's one that's more likely to shock than amaze. Thirdly, many horror movies use self-reflexivity in the use of cameras and the focus on the entertainment observed in horror movies to make a point about the nature of the violence and the audience's relationship to it, but this movie goes beyond that by introducing sound, set-design, and other parts of film-making that most self-reflexive movies bypass or ignore. Even better, it's subtle--Mark claims only to be looking for a specific image, and the drama is his attempt to find it. It is not Mark making the movie that we're watching.

The approach was so subtle and effective, it almost ended Powell's career. Apparently audiences couldn't handle a monster they could relate to, their own liability in the action, and an utterly believable story of a person driven to do something he soberly knows is wrong. Worse, it's moments of Freudian or psychoanalytic explanation is more compelling than, for instance, Psycho, which came out the same year. Even today, when we've moved slightly beyond Freud, this movie is scoff-free.

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Unremarkable and nasty
Andy Howlett16 October 2006
I'm a fan of the Archers (their films A Matter of Life and Death and Colonel Blimp are masterpieces) but I cannot understand what Michael Powell was thinking of when he decided to make Peeping Tom. I've tried looking for the hidden depths, but there simply doesn't seem to be any point to this film. It is episodic, predictable and the method of killing is risible. Carl Boehm is quite capable of turning in a good performance, but in this he is wasted as the disturbed photographer who is driven to murder his models, and the whole thing comes across as just plain nasty. This is one Powell film that will not be proudly displayed on my shelves.
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Not really a masterpiece
Anewman10226 September 2005
Yes, Pepping Tom has a fascinating plot and yes, some of the images are haunting. Anna Massey is very, very good in her part as a kind and intelligent young woman who likes the extremely-flawed hero. And certainly the movie is nowhere near as bad as the British critics made it out to be. But...Carl Boehm looks, but doesn't act, the part. As little as he speaks, his strong German accent is still apparent, and mystifying in a character who has supposedly been born of British parents and spent the whole of his life in London. This wouldn't matter so much if Boehm were a better actor, if he inhabited the role and made Mark Lewis a real person. (Veteran Miles Malleson puts more oomph into his bit part as a dirty old man, and he's only on the screen for about three minutes). The inclusion of Moira Shearer was, surely, just a favor between old friends--she is too old, too glamorous, too star-like for her very small part. What was the significance of the disfigured woman earlier in the movie? It's a fascinating minute or so, but the idea of how Mark sees imperfection is not picked up again. (If he's that fascinated, surely the heroine's mother, with her ruined eyes, would be more interesting to him?). Better casting and, I think, more money overall would have achieved a better movie--a real masterpiece, where this movie is just the germ of one.
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Not quite as chilling as 'Psycho' but effective in a different way...
Neil Doyle26 September 2005
It's hard to see why the Brits were so shocked over this that it ruined the career of its filmmakers in the 1960s at a time when cheaper, more violent exploitation films were overflowing the market.

Nor is the comparison to PSYCHO a valid one. Hitchcock filled his story with intentional humor so that it became not just a horror film but a black comedy as well with psychological overtones. PEEPING TOM plays it straight all the way through, effectively showing how a tormented childhood turned an innocent boy into a killer who wants to see the fear on his victim's faces.

I watched it with interest but with a certain detachment, never becoming completely involved in the story. For one thing, some of the incidents don't ring true at all. The girl who tries to befriend the anti-hero (Anna Massey) seems clueless to the fact that his stuttering creepiness might be masking a very troubled individual. Her casual attitude toward him becomes unconvincing after he continues to exhibit his odd behavior in various social situations. With credibility lost, the picture is merely an exercise in watching someone self-destruct because of his tormented past.

The acting leaves something to be desired. Carl Boehm with his slight German accent tends to overact when more subtle restraint would have made his role more credible. A more attractive female co-star would have helped (someone like Hitch used in PSYCHO--Janet Leigh), but Anna Massey is a drab, chinless looking little creature with her sad eyes and pursed lips. And the woman who might have made a more attractive co-star, Moira Shearer, is given short shrift with an underwritten role and a brief appearance as a wannabe dancer/actress, although she gets star billing.

Still, as a study of a troubled man, PEEPING TOM does have its compensations--excellent color photography and interesting use of a jazz music background. But none of adds up to a thriller in the same class as PSYCHO. It never fulfills its high potential.
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"A controversial masterpiece."
jamesraeburn20031 May 2005
Warning: Spoilers
PEEPING TOM concerns a shy young man called Mark Lewis (CARL BOEHM) who works as a focus puller at a London film studio by day. However, despite this respectable profession, Lewis has a more sinister side to him. When he was a child his father who was a celebrated scientist (played by Michael Powell himself) used him as a puppet for his experiments into fear. As a result, Lewis grew up to be a psychopathic killer who stalks his victims and films the fear on his victims faces as he kills them.

Anglo-Amalgamated invested $560,000 into the making of this picture, which was more than they had ever spent on a single movie before. The company produced other horror movies such as HORRORS OF THE BLACK MUSEUM (1959: Arthur Crabtree) and CIRCUS OF HORRORS (1960: Sydney Hayers). Both of these films had a certain notoriety at the time especially the former with it's sequence where a girl looks into a pair of binoculars and spikes shoot out straight into her eyes. However, PEEPING TOM has a reputation as the most notorious film in the history of British cinema because of it's story about a particularly lethal form of voyeurism. As a result, director Michael Powell who was the acclaimed director of such prestige British films as A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH (1946: co-directed with Emeric Pressburger) had to leave the country and find work in Australia. Today the film is regarded as a masterpiece by people like Martin Scorcese and the noted film critic Dilys Powell who gave the film a scaving review at the time, but she later came round and called it a masterpiece.

Viewed today, PEEPING TOM is a masterwork thanks to Powell's impeccable direction and great performances from Boehm as the disturbed Lewis, Anna Massey as his neighbour and girlfriend Helen Stephens and Moira Shearer is also brilliant as Helen's blind mother who suspects that Lewis isn't quite right from the start even though she lost her sight during an operation. Also deserving praise is Otto Heller whose Eastmancolor photography is outstanding with none of that awful day for night stuff. PEEPING TOM isn't a graphically violent film, in fact there isn't a spot of blood anywhere but one can see why the film caused such an uproar at the time as it really is a disturbing story. Yet thanks to the distinguished people involved, the story is told with a measure sympathy for it's troubled killer (even though it never justifies his actions) and if any one else (well almost anyone else) other than Powell had directed it - the film would be nothing more than exploitation rubbish!
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very good movie
vampi19606 November 2006
i saw peeping tom on rob zombies underground cinema on turner classics,i have to admit it is a good movie,scary like Alfred Hitchcock's;psycho.but for some reason i did'nt think it was a movie in color.anyway its a highly recommended film.if rob zombie says its good i have to agree with him.he knows good horror/monster films.i don't really know anyone in the cast except Moira shearer, who did some movie called the red shoes,heard of it but did'nt see it. the story concerns a shy but demented photographer who likes to film his victims before killing them with his spiked tripod.remember this is 1960 so don't expect buckets of blood and gore.i cant believe i never seen this movie before,but then again there's a lot of vintage films i never seen yet.i recommend this movie and i also recommend rob zombies underground cinema on turner classics.8 out of 10.
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