Thursday, October 29, 2015

Deep Cuts #11: Peeping Tom

(Just in time for Halloween, the "Deep Cuts" series highlights horror films I think deserve a little more recognition. Not to say they're obscure by any means-- most are major releases. I just want to give them a little more love is all. Enjoy!)

Index of all "Deep Cuts" entries, updated as they're posted

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Peeping Tom
British, 1960, d. Michael Powell

I'd call "Peeping Tom" the forbear of cinema that explores what we now think of as found footage, especially in the horror genre. "Cannibal Holocaust", "Videodrome", "Man Bites Dog", "The Blair Witch Project", "Ringu", "Sinister", and the proliferation of present-day found footage films bear its influence. It also engages the form with a critical angle not seen since-- although I'd say "The Dirties" comes close.

The story is not rendered exclusively in terms of first-person footage. In fact, the majority of the film is a conventional narrative thriller, linking it as much with Cronenberg, "Sinister" and "Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon" as with "V/H/S", "Trollhunter", or "Creep". Though the story is somewhat complicated, the legacy at the film's core is elemental: a young filmmaker contrives to record the expressions of women in their dying moments, shooting footage of his victims as he murders them.

I'm sure that plenty of graduate theses have been written on the film-theory implications of this film's interweaving of voyeurism, objectification, documentary, power dynamics, and what have you. But it's unfortunate that the film hasn't found more of a mass audience-- though released around the same time as Hitchcock's "Psycho", and similarly themed in terms of the pairing of voyeurism and serial murder, "Peeping Tom" received scathing reviews upon its release which effectively ruined director Michael Powell's career.

And that's too bad-- this is a uniquely cerebral movie, and I'd call it essential viewing for anyone curious about the origins of found footage flicks. And it's a well-crafted film to boot. Michael Powell was not, as they say, messing around.

imdb listing

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