101 mins

Director: Michael Powell

Producer: Nat Cohen

Cinematography: Otto Heller

 instant profanity peeping tom 2

Peeping Tom is a British physiological thriller stuffed with nudity, murder and physiological complications with parents of the very best kind. It also destroyed the careers of anyone who was remotely associated with the film. The biggest scalp of which was director, Michael Powell.

Up until the release of Peeping Tom, Michael Powell was one of the most important and respected names in British cinema. He completed a string of hits alongside co-director, Emeric Pressburger. These films included arguably some of the best examples of the Technicolor process ever shot. Black Narcissus, The Red Shoes, and, The Tales of Hoffman.

Powell and Pressburger’s co-directing career spanned over 15 years and was a shining light of escapism in British cinema. Rather than grim and small films theirs were big, bright and over the top. What Baz Luhrman is to the 2000’s, Powell and Pressburger were to the 40s and 50s. Aside from Powell’s 1959 film, Luna de Miel, Peeping Tom would be Powell’s first solo film since his rise to super stardom. And as you can imagine there was a lot riding on it.

instant profanity peeping tom 1

Questions swirled around the production team and filled their heads: Could Powell recreate the success that he had built up? Could he create something bombastic and over the top, something that audiences would love?

Instead of giving them a beautifully shot romp, Powell gave the critics and the audiences a movie visceral, raw and squeamish. To the movie-going public it was as if Santa Claus had just done a shit on a glass coffee table. Rather than giving the public Moulin Rouge, Powell gave them Pink Flamingos.

Peeping Tom has often been labelled a British Psycho, although I have a problem with this. For a start, whereas Psycho seems somewhat tame by today’s standard of horror films, the rawness of Peeping Tom still feels chilling, guttural and disturbing even when watched today. Imagine watching something as creepy as Saw but shot over 50 years ago.

Part of the reason for the public’s revulsion is not only the murderer is a voyeur you as a viewer feel like you’re dragged into the movie as well. You become a voyeur. It’s a feeling that doesn’t go away even after the film has ended.

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Also, rather than setting the murders against a benign sleepy neighbourhood like so many horrors do, (erm, John Carpenter) Powell’s vision of London is filled with nastiness and grimness of society already. People pose for nude photos just to pay the rent and eat, and everyone seems to be a pusher or peddler in some regard.

It’s definitely a film you should see if you want a chilling and hollowing experience. If not, perhaps it’s best left unearthed.

Side Note: Martin Scorsese is a huge fan of Michael Powell’s films. He first watched Peeping Tom in a movie theatre in 1960s Alphabet City (the Lower East Side in NYC before it was gentrified) and slowly became close friends with Michael Powell. Scorsese is the guy chiefly responsible for the preservation and restoration of all of Powell’s films (he even introduced Michael Powell to his third wife Thelma Schoonmaker). Despite Powell passing away, Scorsese and Schoonmaker are still active in bringing Powell’s work to a larger audience (As a trivia note, Schoonmaker has been Scorsese’s editor on all of his films from Raging Bull on).

Tips to enjoy Peeping Tom (1960)

  • Chris Rodley’s documentary ‘A Very British Psycho’ (1997) is an interesting look at the larger picture of the uproar this film created.
  • Immerse yourself in the seedy underworld of your local city and frequent an adult bookstore before watching this movie (no purchase required).
  • Watch ‘The Red Shoes’ (1948) to understand what a change in form and style Powell underwent to direct Peeping Tom.
  • Peeping Tom was voted as one of the top 25 most dangerous movies made by Premiere Magazine.

Can’t find it/ buy it?

Watch it for free here

Other Links for Trivia and Info on Peeping Tom:

Wikipedia entry

IMDB entry

IMDB trivia page


That’s one for the list!

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