dir. Michael Powell, “Peeping Tom”

1960

Released the same year as Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, Peeping Tom takes ‘scopophilia’ to newly literal levels. It tells the story of Mark Lewis, who has a conspicuously German accent and works on a film crew, shooting soft-porn photos part-time. He lives in his dead father’s house, where he poses as a tenant and lets the other rooms to tenants. In the first scene, Mark follows a prostitute into her home, murders her while filming, and watches the tape of it at home. He later kills an extra on the film set where he works, and the film builds tension as he becomes particularly taken by his neighbor Helen. (Her mother, a blind woman, senses that something is “off” about him and worries for her daughter, but she is dead before she can do anything about it.) His last murder is of a pin-up girl named Milly. Mark shows her some home movies from his childhood, revealing that his psychologist father obsessively filmed him when he was young by putting him under duress and documenting the child’s reactions for “research.”

We discover only at the film’s conclusion that part of the horror of his victims’ last looks (this is how the police link the first two murders) lies not only in the knowledge that they are going to die as he comes towards them while filming, but also that they are seeing themselves at the moment of death, since Mark has affixed a mirror to the pointed camera leg that also serves as his weapon. In the final scene, Mark corners Helen when he catches her watching his snuff films and approaches her to kill her. The police arrive and Mark impales himself on his own camera while filming – the last shot of his documented life. Thus, in classic horror film mode, Helen is both the “girl who gets away” and the only one to live to witness the mode in which the killer kills being turned against him (think Halloween, etc.).

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