An overlooked gem that was ahead of its time.

In general, I am not a big fan of suspense films, nor do I like films about serial killers.  Naturally, there are some exceptions—one of which is Peeping Tom.  Unfortunately, when Peeping Tom debuted in 1960, it was just too far ahead of its time.  Its plot was HIGHLY disturbing—so much that audiences of the day were shocked because they’d seen nothing like it.  In fact, they were so shocked that there was a huge uproar about the film and the backlash was so bad that the career of the director, Michael Powell, was pretty much destroyed.  And, soon the film was heavily edited and eventually it was simply pulled from the theaters.  At about the same time, a similar sort of film about a severely emotionally disturbed serial killer debuted in America and soon became a classic…Psycho!  So, one was denounced and buried and the other is thought to be one of the best suspense films of all time!  Why?  Well, although Psycho was disturbing, Peeping Tom was a bit more so and folks just weren’t ready for this film.  Plus although Hitchcock based the story on a real person, when you watch it, it doesn’t seem real—though it does seem very cinematic and exciting.  So, when you see Psycho, it just doesn’t disturb you like Peeping Tom.  However, when Peeping Tom is seen today, it seems like a rather mainstream film—brilliant but mainstream…and still a bit disturbing!  And, I am about to say something shocking…so hold on tight and keep reading.  I actually think Peeping Tom is the better picture of the two!  But, as I said, few people saw it and it was quickly shelved.  And don’t get mad at me…you probably never saw Peeping Tom!!  Trust me, it’s a bit better.

Peeping Tom stars an actor mostly unknown to English-speaking audiences, Karlheinz Böhm.  Böhm is probably best known for playing Emperor Franz Josef in the German language Sisi films—and they are about as far from Peeping Tom as you can get!!!  The Sisi films are pure fantasy and offer a very fanciful view of history that is all romance and fine trappings.  Peeping Tom, in contrast, is earthy, dark and will scare the pants off you!! Böhm is terrific in the film as a tortured sicko…and he even manages to create a certain degree of pathos for his character.


The biggest stand-out of the film, however, is the writing. The script is exceptionally well-crafted and very intelligently written. You gain real insight into the killer’s psyche plus the movie takes some genuinely surprising twists and turns. I really appreciate a movie that doesn’t telegraph all its moves. Additionally, Powell’s direction is superb and it’s a shame that the negative public outcry from this film helped to severely damage his career.  He was brilliant and made some of the best British films of all time—such as The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, Black Narcissus and Stairway to Heaven (this one, by the way, has nothing to do with Led Zeppelin).  Yet, after Peeping Tom, he was relegated to only a few minor projects and his career was cut short.

Overall, I would recommend this film to most anyone except little kids and people who have no interest in crime films or psychological thrillers. The film is quite intense but tasteful and well-constructed,…as well as truly unique. And, I found it simply more believable, surprising yet more subtle and complex than Psycho.

Martin’s Grade: A+

Review by Lead Entertainment Writer & Film Critic, Martin Hafer

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