Peeping Tom

1960 psychological thriller

Rating: 15/20

Plot: A psychologically-damaged serial-killing voyeur films the fear of the women he kills with his portable camera/weapon. As he lurks around acting all creepy, his weird-looking downstairs neighbor becomes interested in him and his work. A blind woman says some perplexing things.

The ideas and images in Peeping Tom ruined director Michael Powell's career. Critics blasted it as "perverted nonsense, "frankly beastly," and as "the sickest and filthiest film [the critic] can remember seeing." One critic wrote, "The only really satisfactory way to dispose of Peeing Tom would be to shovel it up and flush it down the nearest sewer. Even then the stench would remain." I haven't seen a film hated that much since that Tom Green movie where he swings a baby by the umbilical cord and diddles a horse's genitals. I remember that artistic masterpiece getting similar reviews.

This one dug into ideas about voyeurism and the role of the audience in horror/thriller movies, and although it wasn't terribly realistic or even close to flawless, it did manage to create tension and suspense and mood without showing any violence at all. Textured, colorful, and visually interesting, this just seems thematically and stylistically ahead of its time. I do question the decision to cut the scene featuring the protagonist admiring and filming an ejaculating elephant, but what do I know...

Here I am watching the first part of Peeping Tom after waking up on the 1st (had to finish it on the 2nd):


winter rates said...


Shane said...

Is that a decimal?

winter rates said...

they are allowed.

cory said...

On many levels this is one of the most interesting films that you have reviewed. On one level is to review the film itself, but what is more fascinating to me was what it represents and the public and critical reaction.

In the beginning I didn't like it at all. It has a Hitchcock feel, but creepier and more tasteless. The colors are lurid with a lot of garish reds. Well past the first murder and review, I felt dirty for even watching it. Then things changed. When I started to realize his actual motive was not sexual gratification and that he fully expected to be caught, it made the character more accessible, and the story less exploitive. The acting is sometimes stilted and the plot a little over the top, but the payoff (the mirror bit and ending) was shocking and the film entertaining in an offbeat way. There is some great stuff in this movie, but I wonder how far the film would have gone if its hands weren't tied by the time in which it was made (I'm kind of glad I don't know). I would also give the film a 15.

Previously, I watched two Powell and Pressburger films in the past 10 days, "A Matter of Life and Death (excellent) and "The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp" (good). I am amazed how Powell went from those types of movies to this. It is like the old man that goes into that shop and buys the naughty stuff. Maybe Powell was hiding a secret self. My view of this is affected by guessing Powell's intent. The title is intentionally titillating, but I don't know if he was trying to break new ground, make a scandalous buck, or is catering to his inner-perv. I think the pop-psychology of the film is a little simple, but that Powell is trying to make a serious film. Whatever his intent, I think it is a shame and totally unfair that "Peeping Tom" destroyed his career and, for a while, his reputation.

This came out the same year as "Psycho" (ties again to Hitchcock). I can see how being the first snuff film could be a little off-putting, but it is amazing that a cross-dressing maniac is the stuff of classic cinema, but making this can ruin someone. By todays standards it is a little tame. Once the element of sexual gratification is eliminated, it is a no more offensive subject than many others. It is a question of being art versus smut or perversion, and I think this is art. It's cinematic art that certainly made me question many things. Anyone with an open mind that is interested in film, film history, or film's place in culture should watch this. "Peeping Tom" also came out the same year as "Pollyanna", which is number 8 on my top-ten list for that year. I think that I will put this right next to it.

I didn't re-read your review before writing this long comment, so I may have said some of the same things. I was so interested in this that I wanted to put it down quickly, untainted by your genuius. Finally, can you tell me what ejaculting elephants is supposed to mean?

cory said...

GENUIUS? It's like screwing up dummer.

cory said...

I must have been getting tired at the end, for what is ejaculating without an a?

Anonymous said...

Still holding my breath about ejaculating elephants. Also, did you read the book I wrote above, or did you nod off before the end?

Shane said...

Oops. I forgot about this one. I did read your comment (had to take a couple naps in between), and you make some interesting points. 'Psycho' actually seems the more subversive of the two flicks, and it is odd that Hitchcock gets the praise while 'Peeping Tom' just gets a poor guy blacklisted. I don't know much about the history of 'Psycho'...was there any sort of public outcry, cries for Alfred's head, yells of "Smut! Smut!"

I don't like the title 'Peeping Tom' very much. Makes it sound too hokey. Would Powell have had better luck calling it 'The Mean Guy' or something?

I still think this is stylistically ahead of its time and definitely place it in the "art" category rather than the "smut" category. Compare this to real smut films and I'm sure this would look like a Disney movie. Of course, this is coming from somebody who is aroused by the sight of Mary Poppins.


'Ejaculating elephants' is a reference to 'Freddy Got Fingered,' possibly the best movie Tom Green has ever written, directed, and starred in. I can't actually remember which animal ejaculates on Tom Green (I've tried to forget as much of the movie as possible) but I think it's actually a horse. Elephants and horses, as any scientist can tell you, are related because they taste the same and have the same color of ejaculate. In other words, I have no idea what the "ejaculating elephants" label means.

I'm putting 'Freddy Got Fingered' on hold. Maybe I need to give that movie a second chance.

cory said...

Great, I'm responsible for making you watch "Freddy Got Fingered" again. After your explaination, I'm sorry I asked.