In the year that Hitchcock made Psycho, director Michael Powell created another deviant killer.
But this one lived in London, and as well as trashing our cheery wartime image of a nation united, Peeping Tom implicated the audience in its voyeurism, which didn’t go down too well.
At least killer Carl Boehm (real name Karlheinz Böhm) is German, but his twisted mind and unsettling modus operandi were at odds with Powell’s reputation as a purveyor off sophisticated Britishness.
The story begins following the murder of a prostitute. Film technician Mark Lewis (Boehm) films onlookers’ faces from across the street.
Mark shows Helen film of himself as a child with his father, a scientist studying the psychology of fear. Helen is appalled at the film, which shows the child’s terrified reactions to his father’s experiments.
Later, at the deserted film studio where Mark works, he pretends to make a screen test of Vivian but instead films her murder and hides the body, recording the horrified reactions to its discovery the next day during rehearsals.
Learning that Mark is the son of the famous Professor Lewis, Inspector Gregg has him followed.
That night, Milly is murdered at the studio where Mark photographs models for ‘art’ magazines and the police head for his home where Helen has just discovered the film of Vivian’s murder.
Mark tells Helen how he kills his victims, using the sharpened leg of his camera tripod while focusing a mirror on their faces so that they can see their own fear.
Realising he cannot escape, Mark secures his camera to the wall to film his own suicide.
The police discover him dead, stabbed like the others – the room filled with the long-ago tape-recorded sound of his father telling him not to be frightened.
The film received astounding amounts of abuse from critics, with the Times alone in not condemning the film.
Derek Hill in Tribune said, “The only really satisfactory way to dispose of (the film) would be to shovel it up and flush it swiftly down the nearest sewer”.
By the time of its US release two years later, Peeping Tom had been cut from 109 minutes to 86, with European released versions also suffering cuts.
Still, it was worshipped by later viewers such as Scorsese, Coppola and Almodóvar.
Shirley Ann Field