SLASHER MONTH: Peeping Tom (1960)

Michael Powell made The Red Shoes, which is about dedication to ballet, and also made this, which is one of the first movies to have a slasher POV shot and it nearly ruined his career and I can appreciate that duality.

Mark Lewis (Carl Boehm) is never seen without his camera, which allows him to capture life, but is really an instrument of death, recording the last minutes of the lives of several ladies of the evening. It doesn’t seem that Mark gets any delight out of these kills, only watching them, planning them, covering up his involvement and doing it again. He’s spent most of his life being a constantly recorded live test subject for his recently deceased father, teaching dear old dad the psychological impact of fear on the nervous system.

When he meets Helen, who is writing a children’s book about a magic camera, he spies on her from afar but she rewards his shyness and oddities with kindness. It’s an alien tongue to Mark, who is used to dealing with women who exchange cash for intimacy and are repaid with death.

Predating Psycho by two months, slasher films find some of their start here. Yet this film goes beyond the codified must-haves of the form to present a killer that we start to empathize with, as strange as that sounds. Mark has never had a chance, never had anyone who cared about him more than as a test subject. He was even recorded as he struggled at his mother’s death bed.

When released in puritanical Britain, this movie was savaged and Powell’s career never recovered. There’s a theory that this reaction is why Hitchcock never screened Psycho for critics and wet directly to the common people with it. He was worried that a film with similar beats would be seen in the same light. It would be years until the film was praised as much as it deserved.

Scorcese went so far to recommend this movie that he claimed that a filmmaker could study only Fellini’s and this and learn all there was to know about filmmaking; they “…say everything that can be said about film-making, about the process of dealing with film, the objectivity and subjectivity of it and the confusion between the two. captures the glamour and enjoyment of film-making, while Peeping Tom shows the aggression of it, how the camera violates. From studying them you can discover everything about people who make films, or at least people who express themselves through films.”

You can watch this on Tubi.

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