Top Horror Films – #30 – Peeping Tom

Peeping Tom
1960; directed by Michael Powell; screenplay by Leo Marks

Jeremy: Peeping Tom is one of the most controversial, excessive, and devastating movies ever made, let alone one of the best horror movies. It completely shocked the movie world to the core when it was released, so much so that the career of Michael Powell, arguably the greatest British director of all time, crashed and burned. What makes the film so explosive is its condemnation of the film medium itself. Powell suggests that film will eventually lead to a cold, detached, voyeuristic society. His argument is fierce and passionate, and Powell’s anger can be felt all throughout the film. It’s interesting to note that Peeping Tom was made in the same year as Psycho, but the impact of the two films were remarkably different, mainly because Psycho, while a brilliant piece of low budget, boundary defying cinema, also happened to be about nothing much at all. Peeping Tom’s subtext is striking in comparison and even more shocking because his predictions seem eerily accurate.

Mark: Perhaps the picture so convincingly outraged critics because it suggests that appearances can be deceiving. The protagonist carries a modified camera: there is a fatal blade in one of the tripod legs and a large mirror attached to the front. While the audience knows from the opening sequence that Mark Lewis (Karl Boehm) is the murderer, it never seems to make sense. His baby face, topped with blonde hair and encrusted with blue eyes, often expresses hyper-awkwardness in social situations; he is so acutely shy that for years his tenants don’t know that he is the homeowner. Even behind his black curtain, seated in his secret cinema, watching films of his recently murdered victims, he seems at once entranced and out of place.

Brandi: One character in this film doesn’t realize how appropriate her words are as she wryly comments on Mark: “I don’t trust a man who walks quietly.” Well, for the most part, Mark’s victims do trust him, do accept his appearance as a polite, well-behaved man. They find him intriguing, wondering what’s under the quiet exterior. They trust him to the point that when their instincts finally begin to shout that what’s under that exterior is a monster, it’s too late to get away.

Powell creates a maddening sort of leisurely tension for the viewer. We watch helplessly during a long sequence where Mark flirts with an actress after hours on the film set where he works. He is able to tell her straight out that he wants to film her with the fear of death on her face, and she believes that it’s all a fun experiment. But then comes the blade. This kind of killer is more terrifying than a monster or an immortal slasher could ever be.

Team Rankings:
Jeremy – #7
Mark – #10

Read further thoughts on the film from Mark at his blog.


Brandi is one of those people who worries about kids these days not appreciating black and white films. She also admires great moments of subtlety, since she has no idea how to be subtle herself.

Follow her on Twitter or email her.

View all posts by this author