“Take me to your cinema.” They don’t seem like scary words in the cold light of day but, when uttered in the lurid, claustrophobic world of Michael Powell’s notorious killer thriller, they drip with an icy dread.
That’s because, by the time they’re spoken by the blind mother of a nice girl who’s met the wrong man, we’re in no doubt as to what she’s asking.
The cinema in question is a private viewing room, belonging to Mark Lewis, a shy camera buff who spends his days working as a focus puller on insipid British movies, his nights taking cheesecake soft-porn photos for a smut-peddling newsagent, and whatever spare time is left murdering women with his sharpened tripod, filming their faces as they see their final moments reflected in its mirror. The boy, as they say, has issues.
It’s the film that destroyed Powell’s career, the British press and public being too prudish to digest the squirming nastiness of a film that dared to implicate the audience in its voyeuristic squalor.
While the bloodless kills now seem rather tame, Peeping Tom is still a deeply troubling and uncomfortable experience, due largely to the creepily magnetic central performance from German actor Carl Boehm, and to Powell’s bold use of handheld first-person shooting.
The move to HD certainly shows the master’s work in its best light, particularly his carefully considered use of gaudy Eastmancolor, which smears the screen with a queasy red and green glow, the depravity of ’60s Soho writ large.
Eager cineastes may be disappointed to learn the bonus material is the same that graced the 2007 Special Edition DVD and remains standard-def.
The highlights are the contributions from Martin Scorsese, a tireless evangelist for the film’s genius, and his longtime editor Thelma Schoonmaker – who also happens to be Powell’s widow.
Their blend of passion and insight, not to mention their own creative credentials, lend weight to an otherwise truncated Making Of. ‘The Strange Gaze Of Mark Lewis’ also impresses, offering French director Bertrand Tavernier’s arthouse perspective on this British classic.
Professor Ian Christie’s commentary is informative but dustily academic when there’s so much more to say about this misunderstood movie.
Such double-dipping isn’t normally tolerated but, for a classic of British cinema, the sumptuous HD transfer is reason to upgrade.
Powell’s genius oozes from every saturated HD frame but existing fans will sadly find nothing new in the extras department.