‘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 Night of the Living Dead put the final nail in the coffin of gothic horror. 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 fanatical love of filmmaking to kill pretty 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 Scorsese – Peeping Tom is now regarded a masterpiece. It has also been given a new lease of life on Blu-ray following a careful restoration by Studio Canal 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. There are, however, no subtitles.
The extras on this release include:
• Introduction by director Martin Scorsese.
• Eye of the Beholder – featurette, produced by Canal+ and Image UK Ltd, in which 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, produced by Studio Canal. 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, in which Powell’s widow looks at Scorsese’s efforts to re-release the film. (11min).
• Restoration comparison – Yes, there is no sound here. (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 the best films to be made in Britain during in the 1960s. And if you fancy a trip down into the past, the real life Newman Arms in London’s Rathbone Street is the location for the film’s opening sequence, while 29 Rathbone Place, which is now a café, was the shop where Mark supplied his soft-porn pictures.
Out now on Blu-ray