Movie Review #42 / 250 : ‘PEEPING TOM’

I don’t normally do this, but, Spoilers.  Seriously.  There was sod all to talk about here unless I spoil a lot of it.  A good sign, I find.

Evening, WordPress.  Remember me?  I’m not sure I do.  I digress.  Let’s just crack on with talking about films, eh?

‘Peeping Tom’ is widely revered as a killer thriller tour de force.  It’s been in the cinema mill for absolutely donkey’s years, and from what I understand, it was one of the very first to push a cold-blooded psychopath to the forefront, to almost protagonist status.  It also got banned, cut, slashed, what-have-you, in reverence of the sheer gratuituous horror it purveys.

So, this got me thinking.  A film that’s maintained notoriety for well over fifty years has to still carry some sort of shock factor these days, doesn’t it?  I mean – Psycho still gets some people.  Christopher Lee’s fanged menace still sends chills. Peeping Tom is a film that I first heard about years back, and have been so mesmerised by the almost hushed chatter about its infamy that I’ve choked back several chances to watch it.  Maybe that’s why I’ve been away all this time – maybe I’ve been stunned by either its majesty, or by its brain-freezing horror.

Sadly, it’s neither.  Before I fly into my opinions (as I am wont to do, dear reader), let’s have a look at the plot.  Mark Lewis (Carl Bohm) is a bit of a weirdo.  A repressed, reclusive chap, he’s a jobbing cameraman for his local film studio, while taking bawdy shots of willing lasses for paying pervs.  Only thing is, Mark’s camera isn’t just his work tool.  He’s obsessively attached to it.  Disturbing accounts from his childhood unveil how he has a rather unsavoury habit.  That is, he gets his jollies from filming women, killing them, and capturing their final moments of terror on celluloid.  He then catalogues it all in his gloriously over-the-top filming library in his penthouse flat.  The film surrounds an unwitting new friend, his ground-floor neighbour Helen (Anna Massey), being sucked into his previously private world, and her incredibly slow realisation that the bloke she’s showing interest in is a bit of a psycho.

It’s a great concept.  There’s some brilliant story touches throughout that help establish Mark as a troubled man, one with a bit too much investment in his whirring little moviebox, and of course, in his thrill of knifing women in the neck while recording the moment to eat popcorn over (euphemism).  It’s a classic slasher story, only this one is vaguely different in that it foregrounds the killer as a protagonist.  Most of this genre sees an unwitting innocent or future victim pushed to the front of the story, with the killer acting as a forever shadowy menace, antagonising behind the scenes.  For its time, this is daring.  Absolutely so.  It’s most definitely creepy, and to have a story stitched so tightly into its character’s frankly mental childhood is a move unseen.  Sadly,. it doesn’t hold up against absolutely monstrous pieces of cinema such as Saw, but then, sadly again, that’s going to be expected.  Very much like I’d explained in my review of the original Ladykillers, concepts of humour and horror change.  They evolve, and stuff dates.  Sometimes terribly.  Often terribly, in fact.

Peeping Tom does actually date quite badly.  The performances aren’t amazing, and the characters are beyond paper-thin (excluding Mark).  While I’m taking into account time’s hideous weathering effect upon cinema, however, there is one element in this picture that I simply cannot escape scrutiny, nor childish derision.  If you’ve seen Peeping Tom, you know where I’m going, and you may skip to the end if you wish.  Mark is meant to be British.  He has a distinctive and inexplicably German accent.  Granted, his actor is German, so that’s a given, but – there is absolutely no piece of dialogue, nor story footnote, that alludes to why Mark should be German.  His Dad was British, we assume his mother was.  He was brought up and has lived in Britain all of his life.  Why does he have a German accent?!  Don’t get me wrong – Bohm plays his part better than anyone else in the picture – but it’s jarring.  It’s like if Norman Bates in Psycho had a French accent despite a blatant American upbringing and heritage.  It’s a really weird touch that I can’t un-notice.

Despite that last point, it doesn’t really ruin things.  But I was pretty underwhelmed.  I think, taking into account the passage of time, the evolution of taste, and my expectation given its holy reverence, seeing Peeping Tom as being anything other than disappointing from the off was perhaps a massive given.  A shame, really.  It’s an absolute milestone of cinema.  And it’s pretty damn creepy.  But, here’s the thing – you won’t care.

BEST BIT : Mark unveiling his grand scheme to Helen in the last two minutes of the film.  Superb last-minute unveiling, it has to be said.

WORST BIT : Mark’s accent.  Or the awkward sequence where that bloke goes in to the newsagent’s to buy porn.  You know, the one that lasts about twenty minutes.  Still.  Has to be the accent.

RATING : 4 / 10.

UP NEXT : ‘GROSSE POINTE BLANK’.  God, I hate Minnie Driver.  But John Cusack is always worth watching.  This could be messy.  Good to be back, folks… here’s hoping I can stick with it!

Advertisements