The obsession with seeing and being seen is central to this 1960 cult movie, Peeping Tom, where voyeurism becomes the focus of a disturbing psychological horror thriller.
This story takes place in the vibrant chaos of London, home to the relentless serial killer Mark Lewis, a cinema technician who hides behind the innocuous appearance of an ordinary professional photographer.
Actually, the man is a macabre fetishist, intent on recording the ultimate terror in the last moments of the women he chooses as victims.
Indeed, he kills them with a blade fixed to the camera he films before killing them, a gruesome desire from a distant family perversion.
His father etched into his soul this obsession with eyes and sight, being an evil psychologist who experimented on him with crazy theories about fear mechanisms, using young Mark as his guinea pig and filming him constantly all day long.
The building in which Mark resides, inherited from his deceased parent, also houses the young and innocent Helen, whose proximity marks the beginning of a tangle of fates that will lead to the downfall of this madman.
Helen becomes intimate with the mysterious Mark, obviously unaware of his dark and disturbing habits, and tries to get close and break through his wall of discretion.
In contrast, her mother is a blind older woman who distrusts him, warning by intuition how dangerous this bizarre figure may be.
Mark and Helen’s relationship intensifies as he continues his day job on a cinema set and privately as a photographer for some teasing girls.
At the same time, he keeps up his murders as the police begin to see a pattern in the trail of victims he leaves along the city, just in time for a merciless ending with no salvation for anyone.
The wonderful lie of screen images
Director Michael Powell, a leading figure in the British film scene, shaped his career path from its earliest days, masterfully navigating his way through cinematic evolution.
Embracing the silent and black-and-white era, he ventured into CinemaScope and Technicolor, leaving an indelible mark on film history.
The resonance of his work came with the greatest power in the year 1960 when his movie Peeping Tom met that of another titan of the genre, Alfred Hitchcock.
Indeed, at the same time, the Hitchcockian masterpiece Psycho also made its appearance on the big screen. These two works, though distinct, share a disturbing affinity for exploring the darkest depths of the human psyche.
The focus of both stories lies in the figures of inwardly torn protagonists, where fear is the lingering echo of childhood torments, a constant presence that brings the protagonists back to relive the pain of the past.
This fear translates into a violent, uncontrollable impulse, as evident in the figure of the schizophrenic Norman Bates, whose maternal past resurfaces with each murder.
A deep love of cinema, intertwined with a macabre fascination with blood, is the red ribbon Powell weaves through the camera, which is no longer a mere tool of storytelling but becomes a weapon of death.
Amid this tenebrous setting, Mark Lewis is a man obsessed with his own on-screen existence and dedicated to reliving his crimes, embodying the most dreadful aspect of the love of cinema.
His torment is a perpetual cycle, a prison of self-observation and self-destruction from which it seems impossible to escape.
In this labyrinth of illusions, the blindness of an older woman, rather than a limitation, is a gift to see beyond appearances and uncover the dark abyss behind Mark’s face, leading us to reflect on the power and deception of movie magic.
Love and death in front of the camera
Of course, the plot’s core lurks in the troubled protagonist, played masterfully by Carl Boehm.
His Mark Lewis initially appears to us as the ideal neighbor, a man with a clean, innocent face. However, when the madness takes possession, his eyes reveal the daily personal hell behind his quiet mask.
Ironically, the exhausting routine of his work on the cinema set among clueless actresses and directors is far more painful and unbearable than hunting and killing young and beautiful women.
However, make no mistake because Mark is, for all intents and purposes, another victim, becoming a lethal weapon from his youth due to his father’s cruel experiments.
Indeed, his humanity comes out with the woman who attracts his heart, the curious and likable Helen Stephens, played by the talented Anna Massey. His character has an irresistible attraction to Mark, who seems to live only for his work.
Despite her interest in his photographs, Mark refuses to film her on camera, aware that this might awaken the murderous impulse he tries to keep at bay.
This dark and complicated relationship of love and suspense is the beating heart of the narrative, which would otherwise be just another exponent of the serial killer genre.
Complicating matters further is the character of Helen’s mother, the shrewd Mrs. Stephens, played by Maxine Audley, who, from the start, harbors an innate distrust of Mark.
A psychological duel that, cannot be a coincidence, finds its dramatic conclusion in front of a movie projector in a terrifying and magnificent ending.
Obviously, these topics and the innate perversion in the story created quite a few problems for a movie like Peeping Tom in 1960 and clashed with the stupendous Psyco by fellow Brit Hitchcock.