Oct. 24: Peeping Tom (1960):
In 1960, the same year that Alfred Hitchcock'92s Psycho came out, there was another film from a famous British director that centered on a boyish, sexually repressed serial killer. It was Peeping Tom, a horrifying film that even today still feels ahead of its time, which is perhaps why it was dismissed, falling into obscurity for a few decades, while Psycho was lauded.
Mark Lewis (Karl Boehm) works as a focus puller at a British film studio. As a child, Mark'92s scientist father (perversely played by the director, Michael Powell) performed a lot of bizarre, extremely cruel experiments in fear on his son. They seem to have taken their toll. Mark has grown up to be a lonely, sexually repressed adult, but he does have one hobby that fills his free time. Mark is a serial killer who picks up prostitutes and films them with his 16-millimeter camera. He has attached a knife to one of the legs of the camera'92s tripod, and when he and the prostitute get someplace private, he kills her with it while filming her death throes with the camera. Later, he takes the footage home and rewatches it over and over. He tells people he'92s making a documentary.
Even today, there have been few films that have made the killer this much of a focus of the film, and have made him this psychologically complex. Psycho functioned more as a murder-mystery, while Peeping Tom is a character study. Boehm gives a really interesting performance as Mark, simultaneously inviting our sympathy while performing despicable deeds. When he meets Helen (Anna Massey), a cute neighbor of his, we don'92t know whether she can help Mark or will merely become his latest victim.
The movie also delves into voyeurism in a way that we may be used to now (it'92s the subject of virtually every Brian De Palma film), but was almost unheard of at the time.
This film was directed by the legendary Michael Powell, best known for his work with Emeric Pressburger, with whom he co-directed several amazing films such as The Red Shoes, A Matter of Life and Death and The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp. Those films were brilliant, but they were also by and large warm, lush and somewhat sentimental. Peeping Tom, on the other hand, is not. Audiences and critics at the time were really not ready for this film, particularly from Powell, and it pretty much ended his career.
Peeping Tom was one of the first movies to implicate the audience in the actions of its characters, both through subject matter and visual strategy, with Powell'92s pioneering use of point-of-view camerawork making us watch Mark murder the girls. As a result, the movie still horrifies us today. We'92re repelled, but fascinated.
By the way, there'92s a terrific Criterion Collection DVD of the movie, but it'92s also showing on Turner Classic Movies at 9 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 25. Check it out.
If you liked this, then check out:
'97'a0'a0'a0 Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986): One of the most disturbing films ever made, John McNaughton'92s enthralling film also follows a serial killer, but you won'92t feel any sympathy for him. Michael Rooker is amazing as Henry, who was inspired by real-life killer Henry Lee Lucas. He forms a sick partnership with Otis (Tom Towles), a weaker man who helps Henry commit his crimes. The film'92s most disturbing scene has the two murdering a family while videotaping it, then later watching the video at home.
'97'a0'a0'a0 Maniac (1980): A vile, yet compelling piece of sleazy early '9280s gore, it follows Frank Zito (Dennis Franz lookalike Joe Spinell), a psycho who was abused as a child by his mother, and as an adult kills women, scalps them and puts them on mannequins that he keeps around his apartment.