Spooktober Movie Review: Peeping Tom (1960)

What is Peeping Tom?

Loner Mark Lewis works at a film studio during the day and, at night, takes racy photographs of women. Also he’s making a documentary on fear, which involves recording the reactions of victims as he murders them. He befriends Helen, the daughter of the family living in the apartment below his, and he tells her vaguely about the movie he is making. Peeping Tom is directed by Michael Powell and stars Karlheinz Böhm, Moria Shearer, and Anna Massey.

Peeping Tom Was one of the first horror movies to place the audience into the point of view of the killer. this creates a fascinating horror film to watch because before being a horror film it is a psychological thriller. You see the killer as he goes about committing his murders and it’s terrifying to see, but you can’t look away from it either. The audience is engrossed in the killer and his murders. As the film goes along we get glimpses into his psyche and why he’s doing what he’s doing. It almost makes the killer sympathetic which is a testament to how good the writing is because after seeing him commit murders of innocent women you never expect to actually feel for him. But that’s the great thing about putting the audience in the killer’s point of view, You are opening them up to seeing what makes the killer tick and if that means seeing the good along with the bad of the killer then so be it. Not that there’s not much good about the character in the first place but seeing what made him into a serial killer, you do you feel empathy for him. But empathy can only last for long.

I believe Peeping Tom makes for a good horror movie but an incredible psychological thriller and character study because of not only what it says about the protagonist but also what its protagonist says about us the audience. You may find yourself feeling sympathy for the protagonist despite seeing the murder of innocent women for his own personal enjoyment. That says just as much about the main character as it does about the audience watching the film. That the audience is willing to feel compassion for a character inherently evil. This is what makes Peeping Tom such a compelling film to watch and why it’s a psychological thriller first and foremost before being a horror movie. It’s incredibly nuanced and complex seeing the commentary Powell wanted to display with Peeping Tom. It feels way too ahead of its time because of the commentary and the violence depicted in the film. This is especially known to be true if you know about the outrage the film received when it was released back in 1960. The outrage of the film was so huge it ended director Michael Powell’s career. I find that awfully sad, but not hard to believe because the world was just not yet ready for Peeping Tom in 1960, but they are now.

Peeping Tom has just as much to say about its protagonist as it does for the viewer. By putting the audience into the eyes of the killer, the audience offers its sympathy to the killer despite of the evil things he’s done. Peeping Tom wants to mess with how you think of the protagonist by not making the run of the mill serial killer, instead of portraying him as the shy, sympathetic, likable main character who just happens to murder women in his free time. Audiences in the 60s were not prepared for the violence depicted (which seems pretty small scale in 2020) in the movie nor the commentary weave in between the writing of the movie. Peeping Tom is a pretty standard horror by today’s standards, but Peeping Tom is one of the best psychological thrillers I have ever seen and is well worth your time revisiting in 2020.

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