The Sunday Cult Film Corner: “Peeping Tom (1960)”

10 Mar

Well hello there!

Things have been really slow today, possibly due to the amount of alcohol imbibed at the annual end of year party by the company that Mrs Sex Farm works for. As well as having the delights of ’90s pop masters Sálin Hans Jóns Mins performing to the slightly drunken crowd, we also had the delights of the voice of conformity, JÓN JÓNSSON play his stuff as well. All the booze in the world couldn’t help me. Gave ti a good try though.

So tonight I’m a little fuzzy, which is the perfect state to watch and take in a superior piece of nasty psycho-sexual horror that ended up destroying the career of the man who made it. Ladies and gentlemen, I give to you PEEPING TOM.

Directed in 1960 by Michael Powell it tells the story of Mark, a lonely, sexually repressed man who works for a film crew and as a part-time soft core pornographer. Mark is obsessed with the idea of fear, and it manifest itself on the faces of those who are frightened  this obsession and how it affects people, this obsession stemming from being subjected to traumatic psychological experiments as a child by his father. As he obsessions grow, he starts to kill  women, recording the fear on their faces as he kills them.

At the time of making PEEPING TOM, Michael Powell was considered on of the best UK directors of his time, directing films such as ‘Black Narcissus,’ ‘A Matter of Life and Death,’ and ‘The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp.’ But when this film was released, it pretty much killed his career stone dead. the level of critical backlash was that strong. But since the film’s initial panning, PEEPING TOM has since undergone a major critical reappraisal.

It´s certainly a film that was years ahead of its time. While thriller with voyeuristic and psycho-sexual overtones are pretty much stand in today cinema, back in 1960, Powell was breaking new ground in filming the philosophy behind sexual violence and what drives people to act on their impulses. It certainly has a very intimate, almost seedy quality to it, like spying or coming across something that you really should not see. This feeling is accentuated by the lighting and cinematography that drips colour across the screen and provides and intriguing atmosphere of London at night, and threatening darkrooms.

Another reason PEEPING TOM works in its objectives is due to the performance of Carl Boehm as the creepy lead of the film, with his clean-cut, almost shiny exterior masking a whole bag of insecurities and neuroses. the horror in Boehm’s face as he is forced to speak to his neighbours and the women he photographs is painfully etched onto his face. With this and the abuse he suffers as a child, you actually start to feel a pang of sympathy for his plight. that is until he kills another prostitute. Apparently it was this humanising of the evil protagonist that was so shocking for the critics at the time. Boehm’s performance is complemented by that of Anna Massey as his downstairs neighbour who reaches out to Mark.

An interesting fact is that Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘Psycho’ came out at the same time, but received little of the backlash that Powell’s film received. And yet I feel that for the most part, PEEPING TOM has aged better than the celebrated shocked. It’s a highly intelligent film that still manages to retain its level of tension and fear. So you should turn off the lights and prepares to feel really uncomfortable…


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Posted by on March 10, 2013 in Film


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