Peeping Tom: Powell’s Controversial Serial Killer Movie that Destroyed his Career

In 1960, British maestro Michael Powell directed Peeping Tom, a seminal psychological horror-thriller, written by Leo Marks, and starring Carl Boehm.

The film centers on a serial killer who murders women while using a portable camera to record their horrible and horrifying dying expressions.

An exercise in self-reflexivity (before the concept was even invented), Powell used the story as a meditation on the very creation and viewing of cinema, and nature of voyeurism in all its manifestations and consequences.

Initially, the film’s controversial character and its extremely harsh reception by critics had a severely negative impact on Powell’s career as a director in the UK.

However, it attracted a cult following, and in later years, it has been re-evaluated and is now widely considered a masterpiece.

Historically, Peeping Tom was released several months before Psycho, but whereas the later enhanced Hitchcock’s career and commercial appeal, the former destroyed the career of one of England’s and the world’s greatest filmmakers, previously known for such masterworks as Black Narcissus and The Red Shoes.

Both Peeping Tom and Psycho are regarded as progenitor of the future genre of the slasher movie.

The BFI named it the 78th greatest British film of all time.  In a 2017 poll of 150 actors, directors, writers, producers and critics, Time Out ranked it as the 27th best British film ever.

The score, composed by Brian Easdale, contains a part for solo piano, performed by Australian virtuoso Gordon Watson.