So, as we saw in part 1 of this brief series of trailers inspired by this week’s box office rivalry between “Paranormal Activity” and “Saw VI,” in England in 1960 director Michael Powell made an artful but, at least by today’s standards, gently disturbing film — without a speck of blood or gore — about a sympathetic serial killer. The film scandalized the press and essentially ended his British filmmaking career, despite his status, apparently forgotten, as arguably the greatest English director. Around the same time, in part 2, we saw that France’s Georges Franju made an ultra-creepy tragedy with a notorious surgery scene that took decades to develop its international reputation as a horror classic.
In the U.S., Michael Powell’s old contemporary, Alfred Hitchcock, took on a film with a very similar killer to “Peeping Tom.” However, his approach was sneakier. First, we became sympathetic, then we learned who was actually doing it. The angle of voyeurism was present, but downplayed. But as for blood — well, in just under three minutes Hitch broke one small taboo by showing a toilet and by the end, he made it acceptable to show a naked women being hacked to death on screen in a mainstream Hollywood film. He was already probably the most famous director in the world but, as a result, he became even richer and more famous and as identified with horror as he had already been with suspense. The sad part is, I’d argue that “Psycho” isn’t nearly as good a movie as “Peeping Tom,” though I know that’s a controversial statement and I say it as a huge fan of Mr. Hitchcock.
On the other hand, the promotion of Hitch’s film was a million times better and more canny than “Peeping Tom.” That, my friends is how movie history usually works. And now, my vote for the greatest, smartest movie trailer of all time. Don Draper himself must have been impressed.