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  • Writer's pictureAndy Ross

Peeping Tom



I’ve been trying to remember where and when I first saw Michael Powell’s 1960s horror thriller “Peeping Tom.” I think it was around 2016 or 2017, and I feel that maybe it was when it ran on Turner Classic Movies. I do remember it being an appointment viewing as I was texting with a friend who was also watching it, it was her suggestion to watch it when she found out I had never seen the film “You have to see this, it’s amazing and ruined Michael Powell’s career” she said. 


Powell was best known for his collaborations with Emeric Pressburger, the two making some of not only the greatest films of all time but films also among the most cherished and revered of British Cinema. The week before I dove into the new Criterion Collection edition of “Peeping Tom” I had revisited my favorite of the pair’s films, the truly transcendent “A Matter of Life and Death.” "Peeping Tom" is wholly different than that film. The British press despised “Peeping Tom” upon its release in 1960, Powell took a raking over the coals and never directed again in his home country. 


“Peeping Tom” has a certain kinship to another thriller from 1960, Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho”—but more on that later. “Peeping Tom” is about a young man, Mark Lewis (played by Carl Boehm), who is a hobbyist photographer and aspiring filmmaker. Mark’s two-day jobs are working as a focus puller at a motion picture studio in London and doing pin-up photography for a man who runs a tobacco shop that also sells “specialty pictures.” 


Mark struggles with the traumas of his childhood, experiments in fear his professor father forced upon him. How does our young man deal with these traumas? By engaging in his own experiments in fear, murdering women, and filming their deaths with his camera. When Mark hits it off with one of his downstairs neighbors, he struggles against his impulses. “Peeping Tom” is a disturbing movie, and at over 60 years old it still manages to shock. Not to mention having one of the creepiest endings to a movie I’ve ever seen. 


But it is fascinating to think of how this film plays along with “Psycho,” they both land in a very similar ballpark. “Psycho” was in black and white, and one of the most successful films of Alfred Hitchcock’s storied career. “Peeping Tom,” however was shot in color and was allegedly pulled from theaters after five days due to the reaction the public and British press had to the film. 


Yet over time the reputation of "Peeping Tom" has grown to one of a classic of British cinema, and now it’s a celebrated film. I can’t help but wonder if the film being in color has something to do with that original revulsion to the movie. Hitchcock purposely chose to not film “Psycho” in color saying it would be “too gory.” 


In a collaboration between The Film Foundation, The BFI National Archive, and StudioCanal, “Peeping Tom” has been restored in a new edition that has been released on 4K UHD and regular blu-ray by The Criterion Collection. The new restoration and disc are stunning. When I first saw the film I remember it looking fine, but a little dingy. Here, the colors are bright and vibrant, and at times recall the trademark type of “hyper-color” that Powell was known for in his films with Pressburger. 


The film is given plenty on room on the 4K disc, with an average of 85mbps. The original mono soundtrack comes from the 35mm optical negative. It sounds clear and sharp, with no distortion. The bonus materials, except for the two commentary tracks are all on the blu-ray disc and are a healthy mix of archival bonus features. One of the two commentary tracks comes from Criterion’s first release of the film on laserdisc in 1994. 


We also have an introduction by Martin Scorsese, who is a big fan of the film, plus a documentary about the film’s writer and another about the film’s history, together they both make up a healthy running time of almost 90 minutes. We have an interview with film editor and Powell’s widow Thelma Schoonmaker, plus a program on the film’s restoration. It’s a very healthy and nice collection of features which helps to make one of the best releases of the year. 


When Criterion announced they would be releasing “Peeping Tom” on 4K there was much excitement, this disc set lives up to that excitement and after being a film that was hard to track down for a while, it’s now been released in what is easily the definitive edition of the film on home video. “Peeping Tom” is a movie that will stay with you, haunt you, and leave you asking lots of questions even after the creepy ending rolls. This disc is highly recommended by yours truly. A fantastic release all the way around. See you next week. 


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