In 2010 however the rerelease of the film in cinemas and on Blu-Ray meets with a very different reaction as this psychological chiller, reevaluated since its first appearance, finally gets the appreciation, praise and restoration it deserves as a masterpiece of British and horror cinema.
The film is an in-depth exploration into voyeurism and scoptophilia “the morbid urge to gaze” focusing on Mark (Carl Boehm) a shy and socially inept focus-puller at a film studio who lives his life through the lens of his hand held movie camera.
The torturous upbringing by his father who documented and recorded him constantly has left Mark unable to connect with the real world and driven him towards his gruesome obsession with stalking victims who he murders while recording the final moments in their face fixed with fear which he replays over and over again in the darkness alone in his home.
Driven by his fixation on filming fear Mark is caught between the self destructive path paved by his murders and the possibility of a normal life with Helen (Anna Massey), a sweet-natured young woman who befriends him out of pity. As the police get closer to catching him Mark must decide what is more important to him, living his life or finishing his morbid movie masterpiece.
Directed by one of British cinemas most acclaimed auteurs Michael Powell responsible for such classics as The Red Shoes and A Matter of Life and Death the controversial subject matter, seedy content and shocking story of sex, death and art did not sit well at the time with the critics whose fury and condemnation sadly forced Powell to leave the country.
Released shortly before Hitchcock’s Psycho the two movies bear many similarities not only in that both where directed by cinematic geniuses but that both where thought of as shocking and depraved, both dealt heavily with psychology especially Freudian theory and both where well ahead of their time in their subject and cinematography and vision of horror cinema.
Unlike Psycho, Peeping Tom is lurid and lush in its use of colour which is both beautiful and brutal, something all the more evident in the brilliant transfer to blu-ray the film has now received. Powell’s film is as much about film itself as it is about a police investigation into a murderer and we are constantly made aware of the process of film making on all levels be it in the studio where Mark works or in his private laboratory lair where he develops and watches his victims deaths.
In his role as Mark, Carl Boehm is wonderful moving between pitiful, sweet and childlike to threatening and disturbed sometimes within a scene, painting a true portrait of a deranged psychopath perfectly. A psychological and literal foreigner, being that Boehm was German, we are made to sympathies with Mark not only through Boehm’s performance but through Powell’s direction which makes us complicit in the murders as we witness them again and again sometimes in point of view shots making us question our own voyeuristic addiction as well as Mark’s.
Peeping Tom is not only a great piece of cinema but a highly original and influential piece of horror whose exploration into the psychology of a killer and our obsession with watching other peoples fear are as relevant today as they ever where.
It took years for Peeping Tom to be properly praised and understood as the work of art it is but thankfully we now have the best possible version of it to appreciate and enjoy.