Hello, I’m a unicorn. The 1960 film, Peeping Tom, like Psycho that came out that same year, is considered a lesser known precursor to the slasher genre. Unlike Psycho, which was well received from the start, this movie generated a lot of controversy from critics. It generated so much controversy, in fact, that the director, Michael Powell was driven out of the business. It has since been lauded as a masterpiece of film making, becoming a favorite of Martin Scorsese and Roger Ebert.
The plot follows Mark, a mild mannered yet disturbed man who feels the compulsion to film everything about his life and the ending of others. His voyeuristic tendencies stem from the fact that his scientist father would film every moment of his childhood and experiment on him. His father’s experiments in fear causes Mark to become obsessed with capturing it perfectly on film. To accomplish this, he makes his own snuff films, preying on the women he photographs and films in his day job. He also owns an apartment building and develops a crush on one of the tenants, Helen.
What makes this film so great is the way Carl Boehm plays Mark, our titular peeping Tom. He straddles the line of creepy and sympathetic in such a way that you root for him and Helen about a third of the time, pity him a sixth of the time, and spend the rest of the time terrified of what he’ll do next. In a way, he reminds me of a combination of the Erik from the Phantom of the Opera and Norman Bates. He’s a psychotic killer with parent issues that comes off as awkward but sweet to the love interest. He’s the type of character that, in a story with a more romantic edge, would be romanticized because he may be a compulsive murderer, but he’d never hurt our female protagonist, so it’s okay that he’s a murderer. That, my friends, is a trope I’ll complain about on another day, because thankfully it doesn’t happen here. His relationship with Helen does serve to humanize him, but it also makes their interactions much creepier. When we first meet Helen, the audience knows he’s already killed at least once, and it ramps up the tension because we have no idea how he will react to her. His awkwardness around her and other women makes him both terrifying and somewhat endearing.
This movie is one of the earliest examples of the slasher genre, setting up many of the conventions. It begins with the an opening kill girl and the kill done from the point of view of the killer. The killer uses an unconventional weapon. He has severe parental issues and a thing about sexuality and the expression of it. He goes after promiscuous blondes while letting the more innocent and brunette final girl live. While Peeping Tom isn’t the first to use these tropes, it still is considered one of the building blocks of the genre.
Overall, this is definitely worth hunting down. It’s a well acted, beautifully shot, and genuinely suspenseful proto-slasher movie that’s genuinely worth hunting down. It journeys into the mindset of voyeurism while turning the audience into voyeurs themselves. It’s a shame that, at the time, it was reviled by critics and audiences, but thankfully, it is beginning to get the attention it deserves. So what are you waiting for? Watch it now!
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“Hey Kirin, it’s happening again,” Textbox called from downstairs. Kirin put down her computer.
“What is it this time?” As soon as she stepped out of her room, the lights began flickering on and off. Kirin rolled her eyes and pulled out an iron knife. “Look, we did this dance last year. Is this going to be a regular thing now?” she asked the entity in the house.
“That depends,” Textbox said, “do you think the writer will get sick of the same shtick every October?” Kirin opened her mouth to retort, but was cut short by a crash coming from the guest bathroom. She entered slowly, holding her knife at the ready. The mirror had cracked, and the cracks formed the word “incomplete”. Kirin chuckled to herself. She sensed the entity lurking in the corners of her vision.
“Seven years bad luck. Looks like it’ll start now.” She threw the knife across the room, lodging it in the wall above the bathtub. The entity yelped.
“What are you, James Bond?” Textbox groaned. Kirin pulled out the knife.
“I thought it sounded cool,” she said sheepishly. “Now c’mon, whatever’s in here can’t have gone too far.” She left the bathroom. Entering the hall, she cupped her hands around her lips and shouted, “I know you’re there. Come out and no one gets hurt.” From the shadows emerged a girl with long, dark hair. On her forehead was a crescent moon tattoo. She crossed her arms and grinned triumphantly. Kirin lowered her knife and asked, “Who are you?” The girl looked slightly disappointed.
“You don’t recognize me?” The girl pouted. Kirin shrugged.
“Should I?” she asked, lowering her knife.
“But I’m your worst enemy,” she whined. Kirin shook her head.
“Still not ringing any bells. Textbox?”
“Nope. Wait, maybe she’s from the future, or the past, or maybe an alternate timeline. Or, she could just be nuttier than me, which, believe me, is pretty impressive because I’m nuttier than squirrel poo…” Textbox rambled. The girl stamped her foot.
“I’m not crazy, you stupid cow,” she yelled, “I’m Zoey Redbird.” Kirin’s jaw dropped.
“You’re joking, right? Zoey Redbird’s just a character from a terrible book series. You can’t be her. She isn’t real,” she said. Textbox cleared his throat.
“What am I, chopped liver?”
“Right. Sorry, Textbox,” she said sheepishly. Turning back to Zoey, she asked, “So, what do you want?” Zoey grinned. The ground shook underfoot.