Friday, November 11, 2016

Alternate Universe Movie: Sequel to Peeping Tom (1960)

As you may know, especially if you have read the text at the top of this blog, I hail from a universe that is much like yours, but with some significant differences. For example, I was shocked to learn that in your universe there was never a sequel to Michael Powell's Peeping Tom (1960)! In my universe, the sequel is rarely screened and difficult to obtain. Fortunately, I have viewed this legendary film, so I am able to describe it to those in your universe who are unaware of its place in cinematic history.


Background


Bride of Peeping Tom (1961) was written, produced, and directed by the noted auteur Edward D. Wood, Jr.


The story behind the production is shrouded in mystery, but I shall relate as much as I understand from my readings on the subject. The story begins in 1960, when Mr. Wood was completing production of The Sinister Urge, a film about, among other things, a formerly successful filmmaker reduced to providing pornography for a "smut ring" tied to organized crime. Some have interpreted this story as autobiographical, paralleling what might be perceived as the diminishment of Mr. Wood’s cinematic dreams. Some have also interpreted The Sinister Urge as a precursor of Mr. Wood’s own eventual fall into disrespect as a pornographic filmmaker.

It is not clear from viewing Mr. Wood’s sequel that the writer/director ever saw Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom. It is probable that one of Mr. Wood’s friends—likely actor Conrad Brooks—saw the film when a cut version played in one theater in New York City in 1960 or 1961. The friend then related the gist of the plot to Mr. Wood.

It is almost definite that Peeping Tom’s British reviews were available during the filming of The Sinister Urge. These reviews excoriated the film and its creators in terms that might have been appealing in some way to Ed Wood. "The sickest and filthiest film I remember seeing,” said Isabel Quigley’s review in The Spectator. Leonard Mosley, in the Daily Express, wrote that the film promoted ”sadism, sex and the exploitation of human degradation.” In the Daily Worker, Nina Hibbing wrote, "from its slumbering, mildly salacious beginning to its appallingly masochistic and depraved climax, it is wholly evil.”

In addition to the potential for controversy (and financial return), many aspects of Mr. Powell’s film probably appealed to Mr. Wood. The protagonist, Mark Lewis, is given a motion picture camera by his father at a young age; when Mr. Wood was 11 years old, his own father gave him a movie camera. Mark Lewis works as a focus puller in the British film industry and moonlights as a photographer shooting sleazy pin-up pictures of women; Mr. Wood worked for a time at Universal Studios, and the subject matter of his films would gravitate toward prurient themes.

Applying Mr. Wood's logic, the subject matter of Peeping Tom, combining titillation and murder, in addition to the breathlessly scathing reviews, ensured that Peeping Tom would be a massive international hit, and that a sequel or spin-off would be highly profitable.

Mr. Wood began working on the script, recycling some elements of The Sinister Urge and his earlier films but structuring them around the story of the voyeuristic Mark Lewis. Meanwhile, producer Roy Reid attempted to secure sequel rights (or arrange some other, less overtly legal way to use the Peeping Tom title). Production began in early 1961 under the original title The Return of the Peeping Tom, with Mr. Wood directing a cast of his regular actors: Conrad Brooks, Duke Moore, Harvey B. Dunn, Jeannie Stevens, and a handful of others.

Plot


The story follows a young man calling himself Louis Marks (Conrad Brooks), who works in Hollywood as assistant cameraman for a movie studio. We are informed the studio is the biggest in Hollywood, though the studio lot appears to consist of one alley bordered by two-story white buildings. Louis is a model employee; the director of the movie he is currently working on--Judgement at Yucca Canyon--tells him that he wants to use Louis as cinematographer on his next movie. Louis has even met a nice girl, Doris (Jeannie Stevens), an actress playing a saloon dancing girl in the film.


Trouble begins to brew when a group of extras asks Louis to use his photographic skills to take "special movies" of their girlfriends. Louis declines, but when Doris is threatened with eviction, he agrees to work with the men to get the money to help her pay her rent. Of course, this photographic work leads to Louis's urges resurfacing when he sees his models undressing; later he is unable to stop himself from killing one model with a knife by the side of a lake.


Louis's relationship with Doris advances, and he also meets an older gentleman on set, Professor Peterson, played by Harvey B. Dunn. Professor Peterson is an expert movie camera technician as well as an amateur scientist. Louis strikes up a friendship with Professor Peterson, who shares with Louis a new invention he is working on, a special camera that is able to not only register its subject's emotions but also to amplify them. "My boy," the professor says, "we are standing on the edge of a new and glorious era in scientific achievement. The next step is control over human emotions themselves. Imagine such a world, a world in which inflamed passions cannot produce the damage they are capable of doing to us now."


In Woodian fashion, the main story is intercut with scenes of a detective, played by Duke Moore, tracking the murderer of the models into the glamorous world of the movie studios. The detective is a no-nonsense fellow, unaffected by the glitz of the movie world: "Don't try to sell me on your glamour and dreams. It's all made up. There's been a murder here and somebody's responsible. Let that sink into your skulls if you can."


Louis begins to suppress his murderous urges as his dates with Doris become more serious. He walks the streets at night and continues his murders of attractive young women, now stealing Professor Peterson's special camera and using it to intensify his victims' fear as he stalks them. The professor becomes a father figure to Louis, which is problematic given the young man's history with his own father.

The movie reaches its climax when Louis attempts to use the camera on Doris, but at the last minute he runs away from her, driving to the professor's house. Blaming the older man for intensifying Louis's own natural urges, he murders Professor Peterson. Seconds later, the detective and uniformed policemen arrive and take Louis into custody.

The final scene shows a jailhouse wedding between Louis and Doris, who now, somewhat implausibly, understands Louis better and accepts who he is. She promises to wait for him until they can face their blissful future together. "I don't know how long we have to wait," she says, "but I know someday justice will bring us together." The camera pulls back from the jail cell as Louis embraces his bride.

Reception


Like many of Ed Wood's films, this one was not commercially successful, though considering its almost certain infringement of international copyright law, a small loss of investment money should not be considered the worst possible outcome of the whole misadventure.

No contemporary reviews of the film are available; again, considering the reviews that met Peeping Tom, the lack of published attacks on this film and its creators is a more positive outcome than might have been expected.

There are many confusing aspects of Bride of Peeping Tom as a sequel to Mr. Powell's film, a few of which I shall enumerate here.

  1. The film refuses to address the fact that Mark Lewis clearly died in spectacular fashion at the end of Peeping Tom. If Louis Marks is indeed really Mark Lewis, which he admits directly in the film, then traditional filmgoing logic would dictate that an explanation is owed to the audience. That explanation is never provided.
  2. Further confusion is generated by the occasional references to Louis/Mark being British, and his use at one point of what might be considered a British accent, ignoring the original character's Austrian origin.
  3. It is unclear how the professor's special camera records and intensifies emotions. One shot shows the point of view of the camera, which looks like poor day-for-night photography, but how this corresponds to different emotions is left unspecified.
  4. In Peeping Tom, Mark's father is presented as cruelly causing his son's voyeuristic and murderous tendencies but in this film the father figure of the professor is wholly innocent and sympathetic. Although Louis is also viewed sympathetically in most scenes, and especially at the end, there appears to be no sensible reason for the commission of his crimes, unless the viewer connects the dots backward to the original film.
In summary, Bride of Peeping Tom is both forgettable and unforgettable, a love letter to one of the most cinematic horror movies of all time by a filmmaker blissfully unaware of most of the details of that very movie. Like many Ed Wood films, it distills the wonder of filmmaking down to its very essence, to the point of splendid, awe-inspiring meaninglessness.


[Please note that I am not an experienced Wood scholar; anything recognizably Woodian in this post comes from reading Ed Wood Wednesdays by Joe Blevins and Greg Dziawer on Dead 2 Rights.]

3 comments:

  1. I have to give major credit to someone who comes up with the idea of Ed Wood doing a sequel to a Michael Powell film!

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  2. Thanks. I loved your post on At the Mountains of Madness as a Universal horror movie. I would definitely love to see that movie, even if the Lovecraftian qualities were minimized due to budget constraints.

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  3. Thanks a lot for giving an avowed Ed Wood fan a movie he can't watch because it doesn't exist (in this universe...) How the hell do I get to your universe so I can see it...?

    Very good piece.

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