Director: Michael Powell
Year of release: 1960
Country of origin: UK
Running time: 101-102 minutes
DVD/Blu ray: Both
Also Known as: Face of Fear
Casting the spotlight on the slasher genre
Story: Thought of by many as the first ever slasher film, Peeping Tom was released in 1960 shortly before the much better known Psycho. Hated and reviled by critics at the time to the point of effectively ending the career of its director Michael Powell it has since been hailed as a misunderstood masterpiece and indeed something of a classic. The story follows a young man by the name of Mark Lewis who works within the film industry. On the side he photographs lingerie models in the top room of a seedy newsagents, the owner of which sells the snaps on as what would pass for the pornography of the day. After hours however Mark puts his camera to a far more macabre use. Bearing the scars of a troubled unconventional childhood, Mark's mind has been shaped to covet the effects of fear, in particular the fear one feels when confronted with death. This compulsion pushes Mark to murder, all the while using his camera to record the reactions of his victims. Complicating matters for Mark is his blossoming friendship with Helen, the young woman who lives in the same building and has developed something of a crush on him. Mark soon finds himself developing feelings for her himself which clash with his darker impulses.
Good points: Despite being nearly sixty years old now the film still retains its ability to shock and paints a picture of a very unsettling creepy individual in Mark Lewis. Without the need for a mask or costume of any kind Mark is a different type of villain, one who blends in convincingly with his community. This is something we see to an extent in Psycho as well but Mark is more integrated into society than Norman was. Although I very much like costumes and masks in this instance the lack of one maybe makes Mark more scary as he seems more real and someone who could be in our own lives. Carl Boehm does a very good job portraying the character with his slight German accent adding to the sense of unease.
In addition to not looking like your typical movie killer Mark Lewis is also more complex than most sometimes evoking feelings of sympathy from the audience. We can see he had a difficult upbringing suffering at the hands of his scientist father and his bizarre experiments. His feelings towards Helen also lead to him becoming very conflicted as seen when he can't bring himself to harm Helen's mother despite her suspicions about his true nature. His feelings of course also prohibit him from harming Helen herself. The more layered killer seen here is quite a different approach from some of the most popular killers that came later like Michael Myers and Jason but it is effective and works in this instance.
The music score largely done on the piano is impressive throughout and suits well what we see on the screen. Although not as memorable as many of the iconic scores and sound effects from things like Halloween and Psycho it still proves effective and adds to the films creepy atmosphere.
The film looks really good and is in colour throughout unlike Psycho of course which was released slightly afterward. This helps it hold up better to today's standards.
Mark Lewis aside the rest of the characters are both interesting and entertaining with Helen doing a strong turn as the final girl and the woman who falls for Mark and makes an effort to understand him. Another pretty solid addition to the cast is Helen's mother Mrs Stephens, a blind character who is the only one who seems to realise there is something not quite right about Mark. Seeing that the film is so old now the Vivian and Milly characters also provide some surprisingly good eye candy. There is also a funny exchange between the sleazy newsagent owner and an elderly customer who comes in to buy some dirty pictures.
Bad Points: There is no blood in the film at all which is a little disappointing. Considering the storm the film stirred up on its release as it was though I guess blood and gore would have enraged the critics even further. It is a shame though that we don't even get to see the bodies without blood. I was kind of intrigued to see what Vivian's corpse would have looked like stuffed into the trunk but of course never got to see. As some of the best films can though, it still manages to be thoroughly enjoyable without relying on any of the red stuff.
It is a bit unrealistic that Helen pursues Mark so much and puts in such an effort to get to now him asking so many questions. You would think it would be the other way around with the pretty girl having her pick of men and the man having to do all the groundwork and pursuing to get to know her. That is certainly how it would be today but with the film being so old I guess it was a different time. Dating was different perhaps.
Verdict: An excellent film which although unfairly pulled apart in its day is now rightfully being recognised as a true classic. As what could be the first slasher film it has to be praised along with Psycho for helping to inspire so many films that came later. In spite of its age the film as a whole and in particular Boehm's villain still hold up well without seeming too dated. Much of this is down to the well written character of Mark and Carl Boehm's excellent portrayal of the troubled individual. If you are a slasher fan you simply must see this not only to enjoy a great film but also to witness the beginnings of the genre.
Bodycount (contains major spoilers):
1) Escort Dora: killed in the upstairs room of the brothel by method unknown as Mark didn't have his tripod weapon on him at the time.
2) Vivian: Stabbed with a blade concealed in a tripod leg. Corpse later stuffed into a trunk.
3) Milly: Was alone with Mark as he photographed her at the newsagent. Was presumably killed with the same weapon used on Vivian.
4) Mark: Kills himself after the corpse of Milly is discovered and the police close in. Stabs himself in the throat with his camera tripod blade.