I've already written a review for a Michael Powell film, that being A Matter of Life and Death. I thought that I tried my best to really emphasize how great of a director Michael Powell was. His impact was basically unmatched at the time. He had become such a notable and appreciated director that it's hard to even think he could even make a film that wasn't successful, but sadly that did happen. In 1960, Michael Powell released Peeping Tom. Immediately after its release, it was ridiculed by critics and was a box office bomb. Its subject matter was also deemed too extreme for certain audiences, so it was given an X-rating. In the process, Powell's career was destroyed and would never fully recover.
Horror movies are like comedy movies. There are some extremely good ones and some extremely bad ones. For comedy, I would have to say Airplane, Duck Soup, and Dr. Strangelove are the real masterpieces. But, for horror, my opinion changes rapidly over the years. For a while, I considered The Shining as the best, proceeded by The Exorcist, then Rosemary's Baby; Never really having a concrete list of what I consider the best. After watching Peeping Tom, I now have found a concrete definitive masterpiece of the horror genre.
Peeping Tom centers around a murderer who also happens to be a photographer for a movie studio. I'm leaving the description of the plot very vague and miniscule so I don’t spoil anything.
After seeing both Psycho and Peeping Tom, it's hard not to see the similarities between them. They were both pioneers in establishing a new breed of horror movies called "The Psychological Horror," and premiered in the same year. While it's come to the point that Psycho has become an undeniable masterpiece, it's clear that it suffers in comparison to Peeping Tom. Pyscho functions more as an audience-friendly blockbuster with an ending full of exposition. Meanwhile, Michael Powell crafted a definite "art-house" film with layers of subtext. I'm not trying to say anything bad about Psycho, Hitchcock is my second favorite director and I respect it's very minor influential parts, but over the years it has turned into the "The Best Pre-70s Horror Film," and I feel that's wrong.
Peeping Tom's nothing short of a horror masterwork. The direction in the film done by Michael Powell is unparalleled compared to his earlier films. He perfected the art of composition, exemplified by every frame in Peeping Tom. The audience truly understands the psychological terror the main character experiences in the film, thanks to both the screenplay and director. One of the many underrated aspects of the film lies in the cleverness of the screenplay. The writing almost feels like a book at times, when it moves in surprising ways and relies on hardly any plot devices.
One cannot see Peeping Tom and not recognize the influence it's had on countless other films. Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver derives heavily, in the themes and atmosphere, from Peeping Tom. Martin Scorses has claimed numerous times that it has influenced much of his films and he considers it as one of his favorites. Nearly any film that centers around or plays heavily on a psychological character was influenced by Peeping Tom. Many of Brian De Palma's films take influence from the plot and style of Peeping Tom, most notably Blow Out.
Ultimately, Peeping Tom resembles, in many ways, a bygone horror era. The days when such films could be made with meticulous detail, non-audience frendly endings, and little respect for audience approval. Those golden years are long gone. Now cinemas are filled with reboot after reboot of horror films very few have asked for. Despite the dark ages cinema seems to be going through, films like Peeping Tom and other classics remind us of what cinema can be.
Time Stamp: October 2020