Obsessed with his camera, the tripod of which he fashions into a secret weapon, Lewis embarks upon a killing spree in the name of documentary filmmaking, endeavouring to capture his female victims’ facial expressions as they die.
Needless to say, Peeping Tom is not a comfortable watch; when it was released in 1960 it was considered so shocking by critics and the public that it was swiftly pulled from cinemas. So negative were the reviews and responses at the time that Powell, widely regarded as a national treasure, found himself demonised to the point that both his reputation and filmmaking career were irreparably damaged.
Contributing to the profound discomfort and disgust that Peeping Tom has notoriously evoked in audiences is the fact that the murder scenes are filmed in such a way that they implicate the viewer in the killer’s voyeurism. However, deeply confronting and frightening as this suspenseful slasher movie certainly is, its most disturbing qualities are what make it such a successful exploration of what Martin Scorsese describes as “the danger of gazing”.
After encountering so much hostility and causing so much outrage, it’s a true testament to Powell’s filmmaking genius that 61 years after its initial release Peeping Tom is renowned as a cinematic masterpiece and celebrated as one of the best British horror films of all time.