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PEEPING TOM (DEVIL’S ADVOCATES) *****

Written by J.T. Nicholas.
RRP: £8.99 338 pp

 

Out now from Auteur Publishing.

 

In the latest release from the consistently great DEVIL’S ADVOCATES series, in which different authors examine cinematic horror classics, Kiri Bloom Walden gives us a good long peep at Michael Powell’s controversial classic PEEPING TOM.

 

Upon the film’s original release in 1960 it was savaged by critics, and this subsequently had a profoundly negative effect on its director’s career, but it is now widely hailed as a masterpiece. One of the key questions that Walden tackles in this book is; “The film hasn’t changed, so why have the opinions of film viewers and critics changed so significantly over time?”. However, she doesn’t take the new reputation of the film for granted stating; “the primary intent of this book is to make the case for [PEEPING TOM’S] cultural influence rather than its artistic worth” and so she does also highlight some contradictions within the film’s critical re-evaluation.

 

We open with a plot summary and then Chapter 1 contextualises PEEPING TOM as a film released in the Britain of 1960, a country that was on the cusp of change but still very much socially and culturally of the 1950s. Using this historical context Walden then unpacks the original scathing British press reviews which she posits were “more nuanced than subsequent writers have allowed”, pointing out how many actually acknowledged the impressive craft behind the movie, and its effectiveness as a thriller, but condemned it morally.

 

Chapter 2 explores the making of PEEPING TOM, looking at the casting and also highlighting the contributions of screenwriter Leo Marks who is often overshadowed by Powell.

 

The next two chapters are the ones that I found the most interesting. Chapter 3 argues for and against considering PEEPING TOM as a ‘proto-slasher’ movie. Then, following on from that, Chapter 4 compares the film to PSYCHO, also released the same year and both by “well-respected and experienced British directors […] featuring softly-spoken killers and violent murders”. This discussion brought to light things that I otherwise wouldn’t have considered, by exploring the ways in which Hitchcock effectively got away with making a much more violent and disturbing film than Powell actually did.

 

The last chapter explores the film’s critical rehabilitation in the 70s and 80s after Martin Scorsese helped re-release it. Finally, Walden ponders whether this is new reputation is rightfully deserved or not since “many of the things PEEPING TOM is now lauded for are incidental rather than intentional”.

 

Although only a compact 101 pages this is a thorough and incredibly well researched book, including lots of great sources such as excerpts from Powell’s autobiography, archive interviews with cast members and even the author’s own personal correspondence with Thelma Schoonmaker (Powell’s widow).

 

Overall, this is another worthy addition to the DEVIL’S ADVOCATES series. It is an easy read, written in a clear and comprehensible manner, and so is appropriate for casual horror fans and not just academics. Informative, concise and passionately and intelligently argued, it will make you appreciate PEEPING TOM in a whole new light.

 

John Upton.

 

 

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 © 2000 - 2018