dir: Michael Powell
Peeping Tom is a first of sorts. It’s not the first flick about a serial killer, nor about voyeurism, nor about the killing of prostitutes.
But it’s one of the first flicks I can think of that has a character study of a sociopath with something of an explanation of how and why he does the things he does. And, oddly enough, it’s a sympathetic portrayal.
It starts with a first person point of view, where we are to understand that the camera is a character itself. He or she, we don’t know yet, approaches an old boiler of a prostitute, who squawks that whatever it is that they’re referring to, it’ll be “two quid”. She leads him up some stairs to a slum-like room, and she looks as excited by the prospect of servicing another punter as she does about filling out her next tax return.
But then the scene starts to turn odd, as we realise that the first person perspective, isn’t the person themself, but someone holding a camera as he hired the woman and followed her to her room. When she starts freaking out, we realise that whoever is doing whatever to her is also filming it.
Later we get to watch the scene again as he filmed it, and plays it back to himself on his projector, as he watches the scene with a barely restrained passion, and rises up out of his seat climactically when the crucial moment is reached.
Is this some sick shit or what?
The identity of the killer is hardly a mystery. We begin spending time with him in his messed-up world right from the start. Mark Lewis (Karlheinz Böhm) has the googly eyes and sweaty discomfort of Peter Lorre reincarnated with more hair and a matinee idol tan. For those of you too young or ignorant to know who the legendary Peter Lorre is, he’s famous for playing these almost supernaturally odious characters in flicks like The Maltese Falcon and Casablanca. His appearance alone and his halting German accent marked him as an accomplished actor who was never going to be playing a good guy character.
Coincidentally, Mark has a strong German accent as well, but no-one really mentions it. It reminds me of the classic scene in trashfest Universal Soldier, where the love interest asks the character ably and masterfully played by Jean Claude Van Damme “What’s your accent?” to which he of course responds, “What accent?”