Peeping Tom – Criterion UHD Blu-ray Review

5 Stars Powell's "British Psycho" debuts on US UHD Blu-ray
Peeping Tom Screenshot

Let’s look at Peeping Tom. In the 1940’s and 1950’s, one of Great Britain’s most successful filmmaking teams were The Archers, the writing, producing and directing duo of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. Together, they made the classics The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943), A Matter of Life and Death (1946), Black Narcissus (1947), The Red Shoes (1948), Gone to Earth/The Wild Heart (1950), and The Tales of Hoffmann (1951). By 1960, the duo had gone their separate ways, and Powell would embark on filming a thriller that would forever change his career, Peeping Tom. Originally released on DVD by Criterion, the company has finally given the movie its debut on both Blu-ray and UHD Blu-ray here in the United States.

Peeping Tom (1960)
Released: 16 May 1960
Rated: Not Rated
Runtime: 101 min
Director: Michael Powell
Genre: Drama, Horror, Thriller
Cast: Karlheinz Böhm, Anna Massey, Moira Shearer
Writer(s): Leo Marks
Plot: A young man murders women, using a movie camera to film their dying expressions of terror.
IMDB rating: 7.6
MetaScore: N/A

Disc Information
Studio: Studio Canal
Distributed By: Criterion Collection
Video Resolution: 2160p HEVC w/HDR
Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1
Audio: English PCM 1.0 (Mono)
Subtitles: English SDH
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 1 Hr. 41 Min.
Package Includes: UHD, Blu-ray
Case Type: Clear keep case
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Region: A
Release Date: 05/14/2024
MSRP: $49.95

The Production: 5/5

“Do you know what the most frightening thing in the world is? It’s fear.”

Photographer and amateur filmmaker Mark Lewis (Karlheinz Böhm, credited here as Carl Boehm) has a very odd hobby when he’s not working at his day job as a focus puller at a British film studio: he kills unsuspecting women with a long blade attached to the tripod of his camera and films their reactions as they’re dying. However, his lonely day-to-day existence is shaken when he strikes up a relationship with Helen Stephens (Anna Massey), a tenant in the home that used to belong to Mark’s father, a renowned biologist interested in the study of fear. However, as Mark and Helen get closer, so too is the revelation of Mark’s dark secrets – Helen’s blind mother (Maxine Audley) is completely aware that something’s wrong with Mark – and why he is compelled to bring his camera wherever he goes, leading to a final act of shock.

One of the best films of his career – and one of the more significant films in British cinema in general – Peeping Tom nearly ended the career of Michael Powell (at least in Britain) with a disastrous and especially vicious reception from the critics upon first release. Working from an original script by Leo Marks, Powell creates a chilling story of the nature of violence, in which both the viewer and the main antagonist are equally held to account; right from the opening sequence, the tension and chills are very apparent. Also buried within the story are themes that contribute to the film’s overall complex psychological nature, such as child abuse, voyeurism, scopophilic fetishism and sadomasochism running beneath the surface with a Freudian touch to the proceedings; such a potent combination of themes likely struck a nerve with the anxieties of British culture that contributed to the vitriolic reception the movie and Powell received from the press and public upon first release – Derek Hill of the Tribune infamously mentioned in his review of the film upon initial release that the only way to deal with the movie was to flush it down the sewer! The film itself benefit from solid performances, exceptionally lurid Eastmancolor cinematography by Otto Heller and a chilling piano score by Brian Easdale to bring this chilling character study to vivid life. In the end, Peeping Tom is a film that’s deserving of its reappraisal as a masterpiece and a crucial film in the development of what would become the slasher film; several traits that would become synonymous with the genre are present here.

A friend of director Powell and cast after Laurence Harvey dropped out prior to the start of filming, Carl Boehm gives likely his best performance as the disturbed yet slightly sympathetic Mark Lewis; shortly after this movie, Boehm went to America to appear in The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm (1962), The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (also 1962) and as Ludwig van Beethoven in Disney’s The Magnificent Rebel (1961). The daughter of actor Raymond Massey (another friend of Powell’s) and goddaughter of the legendary John Ford (who cast her in his 1958 film Gideon’s Day, which was her film debut), Anna Massey has the first notable performance of her film career as Helen Stephens, the young lodger in Mark’s home who becomes smitten with the reclusive photographer; years later, Massey would work with Alfred Hitchcock in Frenzy (1972), this time with her character – barmaid Babs Milligan – being not as fortunate in her fate compared to this movie. In her third and final collaboration with Powell, Moira Shearer casts a luminous impression as the stand-in who becomes one of Mark’s unfortunate victims (she also shows off her dancing skills in one scene as well); theatre actress Maxine Audley has one of her best of her sporadic film appearances here as Helen’s blind mother, well aware of Mark’s darkness in a key scene where she confronts him in his darkroom. Rounding out the cast here are Brenda Bruce as Dora, Mark’s first victim, Miles Malleson as the elderly customer in the newsagent shop, Esmond Knight as the exasperated director Arthur Baden, Shirley Anne Field as actress Pauline Shields, Martin Miller as psychiatrist Dr. Rosan, Michael Goodliffe as studio boss Don Jarvis, Jack Watson as Chief Inspector Gregg, Nigel Davenport as Detective Sergeant Miller, Pamela Green as pinup model Milly, Susan Travers as fellow pinup model Lorraine, Bartlett Mullins as the newsagent shop owner, Keith Baxter as Detective Baxter and John Barrard as the small man who confronts Mark at the scene of Dora’s murder; the director also appears briefly as Mark’s father A.N. Lewis and the director’s son Columba Powell appears as a young Mark Lewis in the home movie that Mark shows to Helen.

Video: 5/5

3D Rating: NA

The film is presented in its original 1:66:1 aspect ratio, taken from a brand new HD transfer created from a 6K scan of the original 35mm Eastmancolor negative and resulting 4K restoration done by The Film Foundation and BFI National Archive in association with Studiocanal; the film is presented in HDR on the UHD Blu-ray disc while the Blu-ray disc presents the film in SDR. Film grain, fine details and color palette are all presented faithfully with minimal case of scratches, tear and dirt present. This release is by far the best the film will ever look on home video and easily surpasses the previous Criterion DVD.

Audio: 5/5

The film’s original monaural soundtrack is presented on a PCM track for this release, remastered from the 35 mm optical track negative and a 35 mm track positive print provided by the BFI National Archive. Dialogue, sound mix and Brian Easdale’s moody piano score are all presented with strength and clarity with minor cases of distortion like crackling, popping and hissing present. Overall, this release is by far the best the movie will ever sound on home video, surpassing the previous Criterion DVD release.

Special Features: 4.5/5

2007 Commentary by film historian Ian Christie – Originally recorded for the 2007 Studiocanal Special Edition DVD release, Christie goes into the many complex layers in the themes depicted in the movie.

1994 Commentary by film scholar Laura Mulvey – Originally recorded for the 1994 Criterion Laserdisc release, Mulvey breaks down the many themes embedded within the movie; some of the information here overlaps with Christie’s later commentary.

Introduction from 2007 by Martin Scorsese (2:10)

Interview from 2007 with film editor Thelma Schoonmaker (10:24) – The widow of Michael Powell (and frequent collaborator of Scorsese’s) shares her memories of Powell and reflects on the film’s lasting legacy.

The Eye of the Beholder (18:48) – Carried over from Studiocanal’s 2007 Special Edition DVD release, a brief look at the making of the movie and its reception and reappraisal; featuring interviews with Scorsese, Schoonmaker, Christie, actor Carl Boehm and Columba Powell (the director’s son who portrayed the young Mark Lewis in the movie).

A Very British Psycho (50:40) – Carried over from the original Criterion DVD, the 1997 Channel 4 documentary focusing on the life and career of the film’s screenwriter Leo Marks as well as the film’s making and reception; featuring interviews with Marks himself, actors Carl Boehm, Anna Massey, Pamela Green, critics Derek Hill, Alexander Walker, David Robinson, Geoff Andrew, Charlotte O’Sullivan and an archival interview with Michael Powell.

Restoring Peeping Tom (14:55) – A new featurette from 2023 featuring the restoration team discussing how they brought the movie back to approximate its original Eastmancolor glory.

Theatrical Trailer (2:27)

Foldout feat. an essay by author Megan Abbott

Missing from this release here is a still gallery of behind-the-scenes photos from the Criterion DVD release and an additional featurette from the Studiocanal Special Edition DVD release, “The Strange Gaze of Mark Lewis”.

Overall: 5/5

Despite the disastrous reception upon first release – it was pulled from cinemas in Britain after just a week and barely registered with American audiences two years later in its initial run – Peeping Tom is one of Michael Powell’s greatest films and a landmark in both British cinema and the horror genre. Criterion has delivered likely one of the best home video editions the movie will ever have, with a stellar HDR transfer and a great slate of special features (though not all could be carried over). Very highly recommended and absolutely worth upgrading from the previous Criterion DVD release.

Mychal has been on the Home Theater Forum’s reviewing staff since 2018, with reviews numbering close to 300. During this time, he has also been working as an assistant manager at The Cotton Patch – his family’s fabric and quilting supplies business in Keizer, Oregon. When not working at reviewing movies or working at the family business, he enjoys exploring the Oregon Coast, playing video games and watching baseball in addition to his expansive collection of movies on DVD, Blu-ray and UHD, totalling over 3,000 movies.

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roxy1927

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vincent parisi
An excellent film and I hate slasher films. But what do you expect when I consider Astaire and Rogers performing Never Gonna Dance in Swing Time the apex of film making. I watched Peepng Tom on youtube and a friend who had seen it at FF was appalled. I couldn't sit through it again despite this being the way I should have seen it in the first place. Some things I can't bear due to subject matter but I remain extremely curious about the original cut of The Devils and Salo.
 
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