FEATURE: Shocktober '15 - Peeping Tom

Over the course of October, I shall be watching one horror movie a day and reviewing it right here for your reading pleasure. I haven't seen any of the films I'll be watching before and you can find the full list here.


Mark Lewis (Carl Boehm) is a young, socially awkward individual with a talent for film-making and photography. He also happens to be a serial killer documenting his kills with the camera permanently on his person. He's creating the film of his life, from the childhood abuse he suffers at the hands of his psychologist father to the killings that he carries out as an adult. As the police start to close in on Mark, his relationship with his neighbour, Helen (Anna Massey) begins to complicate his work.

Films about film-making are one of the most fascinating branches of cinema, allowing the audience insights into the processes that we rarely see outside of behind-the-scenes documentaries. Satires like The Player play up the absurdity of the industry, whilst Peeping Tom is set partially on a film set, it isn't about the creation of cinema in a commercial sense, but rather the inherent manipulation and voyeurism involved in it. The horror derives from how complicit we are in Mark's actions. We feel sympathetic towards him knowing how his abusive father has tormented him and twisted him into the voyeur he is as an adult. We see the killings from his perspective, the fear on his victims' faces the sole focus of those moments. 

It's a searing analysis of the way in which audiences, in their own way, process the films that directors, writers, actors et.al create for us. We see these stories played out for our entertainment, always removed from the action by the camera that films the proceedings and the screen that shows it. Martin Scorsese, saying it better than I ever could, stated that this film and Fellini's 8½ "say everything that can be said about film-making, about the process of dealing with film, the objectivity and subjectivity of it and the confusion between the two [...] Peeping Tom shows the aggression of it, how the camera violates."

Mark tries to use film to bring some sense of order to his disturbed childhood and as a way of capturing some kind of authenticity of fear in the same way that his father tries to do the same with Mark as a child. Showing Helen the images that his father shot, he describes his mother's death as a 'previous sequence' rather than using the word death. His father's abuse of him is remembered and relived via the films that Mark watches with an obsessive eye in the same way that he observes his own experiences. The camera that his father gives him becomes his protection, a barrier that in turn becomes the way he processes everything he sees; his victims become images, objects that can be spliced into the film of his life rather than complex human beings that he has murdered.

Michael Powell constantly plays with our sense of perception throughout the film. As Scream observed, it puts us literally in the eyes of the killer, watching from his perspective as he murders his victims, their fear filling the screen before us whilst we sit passive, unable to save them. There's also a great dramatic irony that builds into the tension of Mark's activities; the audience are privy to his secret and any woman that he interacts with becomes a potential victim as a result. His initial scenes with Helen bristle with this tension, helped by Massey's confident and inquisitive performance, starkly opposite to Boehm's awkward retreating.

It's a fascinating, emotional piece of work and one of the richer films that I have viewed this month. Peeping Tom practically begs to be viewed repeatedly, if only to delve further into the complex and disturbing world that both Powell and Mark create.

- Becky

You can find my other Shocktober '15 reviews here.

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