Hailed as one of the proto-slashers, Peeping Tom (1960) takes us into the mind of a murderer and examines what made him that way. Infamously yanked from British cinemas after a mere five days, the film effectively terminated the career of director Michael Powell, but has since gone on to be considered a classic piece of film-making.
Peeping Tom is the tale of Mark Lewis, a socially-inept man who makes a living as a focus-puller at a film studio and moonlights as a pornography photographer for the local newsagent. We learn right out the gate the Mark is also a murderer and never goes anywhere without his 16mm movie camera. With this, he films his killings, reliving them alone in the upstairs room of his boarding house. Mark is attempting to capture the “perfect moment,” but none of his murders meet the elusive criteria he’s searching for (“The lights fade too soon,” he says, ominously, and we can’t help but think he means the light in his victims’ eyes). When Mark catches the attentions of his downstairs’ neighbor, Helen, he finds himself connecting with another human being for the first time in his life. But will his urge to kill rob him of his one chance at normalcy and happiness?
Peeping Tom is an amazing movie, especially considering it was filmed in 1960s. Shot in London just before it started swinging, the film makes Mark a complex character, perhaps even more so than Psycho’s Norman Bates, a film Peeping Tom is often compared to. Mark is a tragic figure, a victim of childhood trauma beyond his control. This doesn’t excuse his actions, but it does make him more than some mindless, masked slasher killing teenagers with the contents of a toolshed. We’re left hoping that maybe there’s some redemption around the corner for Mark and that maybe he and Helen can build a future together.
Tame by today’s standards, Peeping Tom is nevertheless one of those must-see films for any serious film aficionado. I give it a hearty 4 skulls out of 5 and have no qualms about calling it one of the best of the films I’ve watched in 2021. I’m shocked I never heard of this one before this year, but I see myself returning to it again in the future to make up for this oversight.