Peeping Tom (1960) | The controversial British cult favourite is a must see

Here’s are my thoughts on StudioCanal’s 50th anniversary digital restoration UK Blu-ray release.

‘More Horrible Than Horror! More Terrible Than Terror!’
So went the tagline went for one of the most disturbing British films to come out of the 1960’s. At the beginning of the decade, horror was a hit with cinemagoers as Hammer was riding high with its ghoulish collection of vampires, werewolves and mad scientists, while over the Pond, Vincent Price was chewing the scenery in Roger Corman’s Poe-themed gothic melodramas. But as the decade rolled on, five film merchants of fear would stand out in the genre.

Alfred Hitchcock’s shocker Psycho spawned countless imitations; Mario Bava’s Black Sunday proved horror could be artsy as well as frightening; Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby made Satanism fashionable, and George Romero’s The Night of the Living Dead put the final nail in the coffin of old-fashioned gothic horrors. Then there was Michael Powell and his 1960 study in terror, Peeping Tom. It may not have had a direct influence on the genre, but it remains the cinematic masterpiece about filmmaking and the art of the gaze, and our fascination with it.

Austrian actor and longtime charity organiser Karlheinz Böhm plays Mark, a socially inept camera assistant working for a London film studio. But beneath his mild-mannered exterior lurks a monster obsessed with the nature of fear. The product of a sadistic psychologist father (played by the film’s director, Michael Powell), Mark uses his filmmaking obsession to kill young models in a most gruesome way.

Like Tod Browning’s controversial 1932 film Freaks, this unsettling film pretty much ended Powell’s career. It flopped big-time on its release and was vilified by the critics. But, 50 years on – and thanks to the Powell’s biggest fan, Martin ScorsesePeeping Tom is now regarded a masterpiece. It has a new lease of life on Blu-ray following a careful restoration by StudioCanal and Optimum Releasing.

The transfer is amazing. Powell’s lurid Eastman colors and stark contrasts really pop out at you (check out the restoration comparison in the special features section), and the high-transfer is just as powerful as Powell’s other restored classic The Red Shoes. The audio is also a treat, being really crisp and clean, and Brian Easdale‘s score is well balanced.

The extras on this release include:
• An introduction by director Martin Scorsese.
Eye of the Beholder featurette. Scorsese, film critic Ian Christie, Thelma Schoonmaker, Professor Laura Mulvey and Karlheinz Bohm discuss the film’s history. (19min).
The Strange Gaze of Mark Lewis documentary. Director Bertrand Tavernier, film historian Charles Drazin and psychiatrist Dr Olivier Bouvet give an overview of Powell’s body of work. In English and French. (25min).
• Thelma Schoonmaker interview. Powell’s widow looks at Scorsese’s efforts to re-release the film. (11min).
• Restoration comparison (7min).
• Trailer. In English. (3min).
• Stills gallery.
• Ian Christie commentary, in which the film critic deconstructs the film.

This is a handsome release of one of the most important films to be made in Britain during in the 1960s. And if you fancy a trip down into the past, the Newman Arms in London’s Rathbone Street (which is now closed) is the location for the film’s opening sequence, while 29 Rathbone Place in Fitzrovia (now a Middle-Eastern restaurant) was the shop where Mark supplied his soft-porn pictures.


About Peter Fuller

Peter Fuller is an award-winning print, radio and television journalist and producer, with over 30 years experience covering film and television, with a special interest in world cinema and popular culture. He is a leading expert on the life and career of Vincent Price and actively promotes the actor's legacy through publications, websites and special events.

Posted on November 22, 2013, in British Film, Horror, Must See, Must-See and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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