Serial Killer Double Feature – Peeping Tom (1960) & Psycho (1960)

Last night I watched two serial killer films that both seem to have voyeuristic fetishes. Both come from 1960, but are two completely differing films, dealing with murderers.

I’ll be honest, until I read the title in that wonderful little book, 101 Horror Movies, I had never even heard of  Peeping Tom.

I’ll be honest with you, it may have slipped through the cracks of films I knew about, but Peeping Tom was an interesting film. Though unlike Psycho, which stands as a classic and can even be viewed today with maximum enjoyment, there was something about Peeping Tom that made it feel dated.

It would be interesting to see a worthwhile update of this film, especially in today’s society where we are always watched by cameras. And by worthwhile I mean something that had character development, and story and wasn’t there simply for the gory kills.

Mark Lewis (Karlheinz Bohm) lives behind his camera,working at a film studio during the day, and occasionally working at a news agents photographing nudes, and erotica. He keeps the world, his fears and desires at a distance, though his lust is also served by his use of his camera, as he stalks, and films his prey, right until he slaughters them.

But Mark knows he’s mad, he’s aware that he has issues of sexuality and fear that are served by his camera, but until he meets Helen, he’s almost happy to indulge them. He was experimented on by his father, who also hid behind a camera, as he studied the concepts of fear.

Helen (Anna Massey) is the only person who is able to reach Mark around his camera, and the two of them have a blossoming romance, but things go sideways, as they do in these films, when the last film he shot of murdering a young stand-in doesn’t come out properly. He wants just one last victim, feeling that if he can make it perfect, he may be able to put it all behind.

The cops finally catch on, and begin to stake him out, but Mark has planned for this, and his final victim is himself, as he watches the terror on his own face, filming it all the while.

Despite the dated feeling of the film, one almost sympathizes with Mark, he knows there’s something wrong with him, and in his own way, is trying to get better, not like our other serial killer this evening, Norman Bates.

Anthony Perkins performance as Bates makes the character incredibly likeable, with a hint of something disturbing underneath, as well as a lot of mother issues, but we slowly start to learn that he is completely off his rocker.

Psycho is an old school thriller that still works because it has a story and strong characters, brought to life under the skilled hand of master Alfred Hitchcock. It also of course has the oft-times disturbing strings-filled score by Bernard Herrmann.

The film is filled with so many well-known moments, that even if you are watching it for the first time (I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen it), you already know some of the them by heart. That doesn’t lessen the impact of the film though. The discussion over dinner between Marion (Janet Leigh) and Norman, the immortal shower scene, the stabbing and the tumble down the stairs, the discovery in the basement.

Hitchcock crafts the film so well that all you can do is watch and not look away. You watch, while Norman plays the voyeur, spying on Marion, you watch as shadows in the imposing Bates house windows move about, you watch anxiously as the car pauses in his sinking, you watch as characters go to their deaths even as the circle is closing around Bates.

The lanky Perkins is so perfectly cast in this film, one couldn’t imagine anyone else in the role EVER (if only Gus Van Sant knew that – what a waste that remake was!).

While there are a number of amazing films in 101 Horror Movies that I have watched so far, this one is by far my favorite so far, it’s a classic. It is one of those rare films that transcends the concept of movie and becomes cinema, one you can revisit over and over again. Even knowing the ending, and all the twists and turns doesn’t spoil repeated viewings, you just take more away from it.

So check into the Bates Motel, and remember, we all go a little mad sometimes…

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