Old Ass Horror: Peeping Tom (1960)

By  · Published on October 31st, 2010

Every Sunday in October, Old Ass Movies will be teaming with 31 Days of Horror in order to deliver a horror film that was made before you were born and tell you why you should like this.

This week, Old Ass Horror presents the story of a man with a camera and a need to film something unusual: the screams and tortured maw of a woman’s face as she’s stabbed to death. Unfortunately, the police just can’t leave him alone to create his masterpiece.

Synopsis: Mark Lewis is an aspiring filmmaker, and he uses his skills to create some truly beautiful imagery that happen to be of women being murdered by the blade at the end of his camera. The documentary he’s making is meant to collect the sheer terror of a person’s last moments, which is why all the victims have a frozen face of fear when they’re found. Will he be caught before he has a chance to film his finale?

Killer Scene: Unlike probably ever other horror film ever, the killer scene of Peeping Tom comes not from when the killer is going to work, but when the killer is hiding from the police. The film’s greatest feature is it’s ability to make the audience sympathetic to a man that is stealing the lives of young women right and left and then right again.

As he hides along a cat walk, a few things start to fall out of his pocket, and if they fall it would guarantee his capture. The tension created from the drawn out scene is only topped by the realization afterward that we don’t want the murderer to be caught. There’s a thought that will linger.


Violence: There are a handful of women taken out by the end of Mark’s camera stand, but there’s not much in the way of graphic scenes. It’s fearful and terrifying to see him stalk his victims, but the red stuff is minimal.

Sex: In what might just be the first nude scene in major British cinema, Mark meets up with Milly the pin-up model in order to do some candy photography. Wink wink. Nudge nudge.

Scares: The entire movie is disturbing beyond measure even if it (alongside 8 1/2) says “everything that can be said about filmmaking,” (according to Martin Scorsese). It will challenge the way you think about good, evil, and which side of the debate you’re on, but mostly it will make your skin crawl so much that it will leave the theater before you do.

Final Thoughts: There’s a lot of praise whenever filmmakers create works that are either self-aware or self-referential or force the audience to judge themselves specifically for being an audience. Peeping Tom exists to prove that this tool is nothing new.

Director Michael Powell and company do the tough work of making the serial killer our point of entry, and it does a lot to force the issue of voyeurism out from its dank hiding spot and into the light. The opening sequence has us watch the murder of a young prostitute through the view finder of the camera and is immediately followed by our killer doing the same thing we were just engaged in (most likely, with great excitement and enjoyment).

Beyond the questions the film raises, it’s just a damned good horror film that uses tension like a yo-yo and seeks to drive the audience insane with the slow-moving death (and obvious phallic symbolism) of Mark Lewis’s third, blade-ended, tripod leg.

The movie manages to be absolutely genius while still satisfying the carnal, basic needs of the genre.

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Movie stuff at VanityFair, Thrillist, IndieWire, Film School Rejects, and The Broken Projector Podcast@brokenprojector | Writing short stories at Adventitious.