Tag: sex

Peeping Tom (1960)

 Peeping Tom

Peeping Tom has undeservedly become a critics’ darling.

Peeping Tom follows Mark Lewis, an introverted voyeur living in his late father’s large London property. To help make ends meet, Mark lets part of the house out to several people. One of his tenants is Helen Stephens, a sweet young woman who befriends him out of pity. Throughout the film Mark struggles to conceal his voyeuristic habit from her.

However, Mark Lewis is not just a peeping tom, he’s a murderer who records his crimes for warped posterity. Despite this, the film is has dated badly – the passage of time has neutered a film that wasn’t particularly disturbing in the first place. Clearly, the film is going to date, it’s 52 years old, but so is Psycho, which covers similar ground but in a appropriately graphic manner.

In a screening of the Hitchcock classic at my local independent cinema, I was surprised by the genuine anxiety I felt during the half-hour or so before the shower scene. This is the film’s defining moment; it is a classic example of a director battering his audience with what they believe is explicit violence when in fact he has shown very little. Michael Powell makes no such illusions in this film – he shows very little, period. For example, in this scene, Mark approaches one of his victims with a blade attached to his camera, and just before the blade makes contact, the woman falls out of frame, shrilly screaming “Mark!”.

Most modern audiences will agree that this just doesn’t cut it anymore. This scene depicts the creation of a snuff film, but it doesn’t feel like it, does it? Mark shares common ground with people like Leonard Lake and Charles Ng, the sordid serial killer partnership whose recordings make for deeply, deeply disturbing viewing. Peeping Tom should feel like a descent into one man’s world of degeneracy, a twisted existence that’s punctuated by lapses into frenzied sexual violence and eroticised death. This can be done without tasteless exploitation, the most germane example I can think of is Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986). 

Powell should be commended for approaching these darkest of themes, but his work just doesn’t hold up today. To think this film was given an ’18’ certificate as recently as 2001 is nothing short of baffling. The BBFC have since given the film a 15 certificate, but I think a 12 rating would be appropriate.

The lack of visceral edge is exacerbated by poor acting from almost the entire cast. Performances both wooden and overacted drag you further out of the film; it becomes an even bigger problem than its dated violence. However, thanks to Carl Boehm’s generally competent performance, Mark Lewis is the only interesting and somewhat credible character, but even Boehm is guilty of being badly stilted in places.

The only thing that’s noteworthy about this film is its historical audacity. This film was addressing themes that didn’t begin to approach mainstream until the 1970s, the New Hollywood era of rapidly changing opinions on sex and violence. If it had been released 15 years later and not championed by Martin Scorsese and various critics, it may well have faded into obscurity.

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Cannibal Holocaust (1980)

CannibalHolocaust

I’ll never forget the first time I watched this film.

At the alarmingly young age of just 13 years old, I was exploring the more lurid areas of cinema. I had seen the hysteria and infamy surrounding this film: the list of countries that had banned it, the various warnings such as ‘If in doubt, do not watch this film’, which of course was an invitation rather than a deterrence.

Owing to my age, I would have been hard pressed to walk in to a shop and buy a film titled ‘Cannibal Holocaust’, and I didn’t want to waste my time watching a version that had been slaughtered by the BBFC, so I broke the law and found it on the now extinct LimeWire. I’d never downloaded anything before, I was sure it wouldn’t work somehow.

However, when the download finished, I opened the file and was presented with the opening scene, a shot of the vast, seemingly perpetual Amazon rainforest accompanied by Riz Ortolani’s beautiful score. The realisation that I was now able to watch this film of unprecedented horror was so terrifying that I instantly closed Windows Media Player in a wave of fright. Eventually, I mustered up the courage to watch it; it was a joyfully intense experience. I never knew what ghastliness was around the corner, only sheer masochistic curiosity kept me watching it, this curious thrill being the essence of exploitation cinema. In order to clear my name, I must add that I have since bought a fully uncut version on the Internet!

‘Cannibal Holocaust’ is the father of the ‘found footage’ genre. The film follows Harold Monroe, a professor of Anthropology at a New York university who endeavours to discover what has happened to a young group of documentary makers who ventured into an area known as ‘The Green Inferno’ in South America. Eventually, he finds their reels and takes them back to New York, witnessing their fate in a projection room. According to director Ruggero Deodato, the film serves as a diatribe against the sensational violent nature of the media, which is quite obviously dubious and hypocritical considering the exploitative nature of the film.

It is a very powerful piece of filmmaking; it leaves a lasting impression on you. The film batters you with its biting visceral force, which is both visual and aural. In many respects, this film has high production values for an exploitation film. For example, Riz Ortolani’s score features both beautiful acoustic tracks and relentless aural assaults; it works with the strong visuals to wear you down until you’re imploring for it to stop.

Its violence is jarringly realistic, and on several notorious occasions, completely real. I’m somewhat torn on the issue of animal slaughter; all animals killed in the film were reportedly eaten afterwards, and the animals were killed humanely, apart from the coatimundi, whose fate is the hardest to watch. I feel ‘Cannibal Holocaust’ is unfairly maligned; look at ‘Apocalypse Now’, the brutal slaying of the water buffalo is ignored because of the massively high esteem it’s held in. If it was a low-budget exploitation film it would have probably been steeped in criticism.

The acting is tolerable, if slightly toe-curling in places, however generally it’s good enough for it not to detract from how horribly effective the film is.

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