Film Review: Peeping Tom [dir. Michael Powell; 1960]

21st century cinema goers aren’t especially shocked by films which depict serial killers venturing into the seedier realms of society to look for their victims. We tend not to be put off by excessive violence. We don’t mind the odd bit of gore or exploitation. That’s why Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom now makes such fascinating viewing. Today’s audiences would probably see it as an intelligent, sharply focussed exploration of a young man’s descent into madness as he finds himself unable to fight his murderous (and artistic!) urges. Some may even consider it rather slow and question the inclusion of a few set pieces which, on the face of it, appear to add little to the narrative. But I daresay that very few people would be able to understand why the film – which was, it must be remembered, made by a highly respected director who’d enjoyed considerable acclaim for A Matter Of Life And Death and The Red Shoes – caused such scandalised outrage when it was released and effectively ended Powell’s career. Yes, it’s a compelling, creepily unsettling movie and well worth for those attributes alone. But as a marker of how deeply society has changed since 1960, it’s even more remarkable.

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