Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Peeping Tom

Don't get too excited. That's the title of this horror movie.

This movie is great, and it's great for two distinct reasons. One is that I think it best exemplifies (and perhaps even had a hand in creating) the "Serial Killer Genre". I would argue that widely, this genre includes films such as Se7en, Silence of the Lambs. Psycho, Halloween  and American Psycho. Unlike most of these films however, instead of following the exploits of the killer's victims or the cop/detective/psychiatrist charged with stopping them, like American Psycho, this film follows the killer himself. Unlike American Psycho however, we get a good sense of who this man is and arguably, come to understand him and maybe even like him.

He, like many of the killers from this specific genre, comes from a troubled childhood background, where his father used him to conduct informal experiments on the nature of fear in children for his psychology career. He has a crippling social anxiety disorder and connects more with film and cameras than he does with humans. He is never creepy though, and his shyness comes off as being adorably charming more than anything. When he befriends and becomes involved with one of the neighbor girls, I actually found myself rooting for them to make it, rather than feeling like I should warn her to run away screaming. "I'd like to offer you a drink, but...I don't have anything to drink. Do you want some milk?" It's cute, and it endears you to the character, whereas I will never connect with Hannibal Lector, John Doe, Michael Myers or Patrick Bateman.

The second reason this movie is great is the number of themes touched upon while never becoming too preachy about any of them. The viewer is left to decide what kind of message this sends based on his or her personal opinions. For example, the women that the killer (Mark) decides to murder are all in either the business of acting or modelling, usually to a scintillating effect, and the woman he falls in love with is meek and even prudish. What does that say about how we treat women when viewing them with a virgin/whore lens? When conducting his murders, he keeps the camera trained on their faces at all times. What does that say about horror movies and those that watch them? Further, the title, Peeping Tom, suggests that viewing death is a kind of voyeuristic act. Perhaps we are the peeping toms, watching a movie where women take off their clothes and are then stabbed. It is significant that Mark harbors resentment towards his father not only for the whole "informal fear experiments" all the time, but also for remarrying shortly after his mother dies. There is a connection here between the disposable nature of his wives and the disposable nature of the sexy models and actresses that Mark interacts with and murders.

It's interesting and as I said, it refuses to come down on any side of the argument. There was very little in terms of overarching messages or morals to be taught, and instead focuses on the character of Mark, who again, while reprehensible, is able to gather some sympathy from the audience. What is even more amazing is that this movie seems to have been ahead of the "serial killer" curve, coming out in 1960 long before this genre became mainstream

1) Well made? - Delicately crafted, this movie made me interested in the director's, Michael Powell, other works
2) Contributed?  - This stands out in the serial killer genre and may have been the forerunner of it
3) Good time? - The movie makes you uncomfortable watching people die from the vantage point of the camera held in the killer's hands, but your attachment to the character of Mark makes the movie as a whole more palatable
4) Watch again? - For sure. I suspect upon rewatching this I will notice things I didn't the first time around
5) Worth it?  - Absolutely, a necessary element of the horror genre
6) Who should watch this? - Fans of psychological horror or serial killer horror

No comments: