Monday, December 6, 2010

Peeping Tom (1960)

Well, ladies and jelly-spoons, today's offering is a bit of an oldie, but it's like what they say about re-runs; "If you haven't seen it before, then it's new to you".

So, I will grudgingly admit that this girl didn't even know of this film's existence until about a year and a half ago, but I guess that shouldn't be so surprising, considering the sort of reception 'Peeping Tom' got when it was released caused it to get relocated to the status of 'cult film'.

Sure, by today's standards, 'Peeping Tom' is about as disturbing as moldy pudding, but this was England in 1960, stiff upper lip and what have you, through that lense its understandable that at the time it was considered pretty much the filthiest thing ever.

I'm not going to say that there aren't themes in 'Peeping Tom' that even by today's standards aren't a bit risque, but in our modern age of films like 'Hostel', 'The Hills have eyes', and Hell, even 'Silence of the Lambs', this film is shot in such a tasteful fashion that you almost can forget that there are some deeply warped psychological themes at work here. Almost.

But let's not get ahead of ourselves.

Much to my disappointment, the lead of this film is not, actually, named Tom. I guess that would have been to kitsch, but whatever. His name is Mark Lewis (I still think that is should have been Tom), he works as a 'scene puller' for a movie studio. I don't know tons about making movies, but as far as I could tell its got to do with setting the optimal scene up so all the camera man has to do is press the button. Mark also works part time taking erotic pictures for small newspaper store.

A little odd, but meh.

Anyway, Mark is a pretty quiet unassuming kind of a guy. Except for the fact that he likes to murder prostitutes with his tripod, whilst filming their expressions as they bite it.

But, you know, who doesn't ...

He also spends almost every night in his little home theater re-watching his snuff films. This is pretty much the extent of his social interaction until one night when he comes home from a long night of staking prosies and runs into his downstairs neighbor Helen.

She's having a party for his 21st (yeah, right, 21st) birthday. She tries to get him to come join the party, but, being the socially awkward thing he is, Mark declines and scurries upstairs to his apartment.

Now too long after this Helen traipses upstairs with a slice of cake and wiggles her way into his apartment, and his home theater. Once inside she pretty well browbeats Mark into showing her one of his little films. A bit pushy, but hey, some people like forthright broads.

Mark has enough common sense to not show her one of his 'stabby-stabby' productions, and instead pulls out a reel that introduces us to the undercurrent of the film that is possibly even more disturbing then the obvious one of Voyeurism.

The film that Mark shows Helen is one of him as a little boy that his father took. Apparently, Daddy was a psychiatrist, and a pretty warped one at that. His main focus was studying the effect of fear on people, specifically children. So he experimented on his own son, and filmed the results. We aren't shown what, exactly, the old man did to young Mark, but leaving it to the viewer's imagination lets us assume the worst possible.

And so lays our groundwork for Mark as a serial killer; his fascination with viewing everything through the lens of a camera, and his further fixation on fear. The only thing not surprising about this whole thing is that Mark doesn't have Daddy's bones under the floorboards or something.

Despite the fact that any sane person would have taken their fashionable taffeta party dress and ran like hell, this actually sparks a sort of romantic relationship between Helen and Mark.

Go figure.

Their little romance is pushed a long by the fact that Helen is writing a Children's book about a child with a magical camera, and she wants Mark to collaborate with he for the pictures of the book. He agrees, giddily, even.

While on one hand he is having a sort of sweet, childish, romance with Helen, he is still making his snuff films on the side. Adorable, right?

Early on in their courtship, Helen's blind mother's "spidey senses" go off about Mark, and despite her warning her daughter against him, Helen goes along merrily with her beloved serial killer.

But when one of Mark's victims for the sake of cinema is high profile enough that it gets a full on investigation going, Mark starts to lose his cool a bit, and enter into a downward spiral, eventually leading to the film's conclusion.

Okay, the plot is a little simple, but if you are able to get beyond that, 'Peeping Tom' is a psychological goldmine.

Voyeurism is definitely the prevailing theme in this film, and its done quite cleverly if you're willing to give it a good look.

The opening of the film is shown entirely as though you are looking through the lens of Mark's camera. This makes the viewer, the audience, into the predator. Stalking the first victim from the street, up to her loft, and closing in on her face as she is killed in a way that makes you feel like you're even hovering over this woman, and delivering the final blow yourself.

In this sense its a commentary on society and its desire to look at the grisly/uncomfortable. 'Peeping Tom' is just an analysis on mankind's need to stop and stare at car wrecks. Ironically, the same public that loudly denounced 'Peeping Tom' as "nauseating" and "vile", are the same people who slow down to look at a freeway accident, with no intention of helping the people involved.

Mark is just one person made into an analogy for the majority of mankind.

And another thing is, beyond the fact that, yes, Mark is totally a cold-blooded serial killer, he is still a character that you feel sympathetic towards. The way he acts with Helen is so charming its ridiculous, he becomes a little boy around her. Especially when you take into account that this was a guy who didn't really get to have a childhood thanks to dear old dad.

I will admit, that at first I had trouble with Mark as a lead. Mainly because through all of it I felt like I was watching Graham Norton's deranged uncle.

tell me you don't see it

But once I got past that, he was kind of endearing. But then again, I've been known to sympathize with the protagonist anti-hero in these types of things.

Right, so, should probably wrap this up because I'm running out of things to say that won't be just long rambling nonsense. So let's tie this up here.

Is 'Peeping Tom' worth watching? I think so. I can see how it is considered a classic, and I also see how it can be seen as a compliment to Alfred Hitchcock's 'Psycho'. No, I don't think it's for everyone, and I'm pretty sure that by today's standards it's too slow moving for a lot of people. And it's not a gore fest by any stretch of the imagination, in fact the murders are very subtle. At the heart of it, 'Peeping Tom' as actually a quite sensitive movie, and I think that if most of the critics who slammed it took a closer look at it, they would see that it actually a quiet, repressed, almost heartbreaking portrait of a psychologically damaged little boy trapped in the guise of a grown man.

So until next time my darlings,
Love and kisses!

Spooky Pie


  1. i feel 'dirty', in a kinda 1960's type of way. ish....

  2. Really great review. I've heard a bunch of stuff about this movie but never really got that "urge" to see it. Perhaps I should.

  3. @ Stonerphonic - That's the best kinda dirty in this girl's humble opinion.

    @ The girl who loves horror - Oh I totally think you should, as long as you go into it with an idea that it isn't horror in the strictest sense, or at least not by our standards today.

  4. Such a great review, I can't believe I never realised he looks like Graham Norton, that really had me giggling like a girl here, excellent observation, now everytime I see it I will see Norton. Thanks for the post

  5. @Dempsey Sanders - Thank you so much! Yeah, once I realized the whole Norton thing it couldn't be unseen.