Peeping Tom Michael Powell's 1960 release is an undoubted classic and despite the revulsion it caused in the 60s it is now considered by many to be a masterpiece. Martin Scorsese has identified the film as being hugely influential to the development of his career. Scorsese loved the film so much he used a significant amount of his own money to re-master the film. The British Film Institute included Peeping Tom in its poll for best British film ever made. As a result I feel slightly unqualified to criticise a film which has so much critical respect and admiration. However I really didn't like this film, in fact I thought it was pretty terrible. Clarky has done an excellent job of analysing the film and its importance which I do not dispute but I'm going to base my review on my experience of watching the film As we have mentioned many times on the blog many of the classic films that have been hugely influential to the development of the genre can occasionally be underwhelming to the modern viewer. Despite this it is usually possible to see why the film is so important and well loved. However in Peeping Tom's case I could not see what the fuss was about I found it to be poorly acted, boring and perhaps most damaging really silly. It also does not help that Peeping Tom has aged so poorly.
Peeping Tom is the story of Mark Lewis a lonely, troubled film fanatic. Mark Lewis has turned his entire life into a film carrying his camera with him everywhere he goes. Unable to form relationships Mark lives alone in his small flat which doubles as his dark room. However Lewis is much more sinister than your everyday loner he is in fact a murdering psychopath. As a result of his upbringing by his sadistic psychoanalyst father Mark is obsessed by the effects of fear and of recording these effects on camera. Mark records himself killing his victims in a twisted attempt to capture the perfect moment of fear on their faces.
This is undoubtedly a strong set up and an intriguing premise but despite this the film never really gets going. The film initially manges to keep you attention with an unnerving and bizarre tone particular in the scenes in the seedy sex shop. However this effect soon wears off and the film becomes a bit of a bore-fest. Powell never manages to translate an interesting premise into an interesting film and in some ways the strength of the backstory is part of the films problem. The story of Marks upbringing and his emotionally sadistic father is much more interesting than the main story being told on screen . I wanted to know more about Mark's fathers experiments in fear and the effect this had on Mark. Instead we get the bland story of Mark as an adult. Part of the problem is Mark himself the actor Karlheinz Bohm is very poor and his lack of on screen Charisma makes him very hard to be interested in. It is however really unfair to single out Bohm as the acting is universally poor.
Peeping Tom's biggest problem is its tone, at times I didn't know if I was watching a benchmark horror or a Carry On film. There were moments of bizarre inappropriate humour throughout this film. I have no problem with humour in a horror if it works but I felt it had no place in this film and therefore it was even more jarring.
The lowest point has to be the bizarre dance sequence before Mark's second victim is killed it was quite simply ridiculous. Combine this bad acting, bizarre tone and a dull romance and you get a poor film.
I had looked forward to seeing Peeping Tom for a long time and I'm glad I have finally seen it. However in my opinion it is massively overrated. I think much of the hype comes from people involved in film making and for them I'm sure it has a real appeal however if you are simply a viewer there is very little to recommend.