Michael Powell’s 1960 film Peeping Tom is widely regarded as the first slasher film and for good reason. It contains many of the tropes that subsequent slasher films drew on such as a human killer with troubling psychological problems, young and beautiful female victims, and a “final girl.” A “final girl” is a term used to describe a female character who defeats the slasher at the end of the film instead of becoming another victim. In the case of Peeping Tom however Helen, who serves as the film’s “final girl,” doesn’t enact revenge on Mark herself. Mark never even wanted her to become a victim in the first place and he ends his own life before police can arrest him.
The film also established an important element of slasher films in the POV shot. Many slasher films show scenes from the killer’s perspective and Peeping Tom does this as well. In Peeping Tom it makes sense from a narrative standpoint compared to later slasher films, as Mark is always recording things with his video camera and constantly looking through its lens. These POV shots implicate the audience in Mark’s murders however. The audience is meant to feel like just as much of a voyeur as Mark is through these shots and the audience’s satisfaction at seeing nubile, young women get murdered is questioned and judged. Later slasher films either dropped this audience criticism or based their entire message behind it, with the former type being more prevalent.
But back to the nubile, young women. The “male gaze” theory of the camera acting in a similar fashion to what a man would focus his attention on is utilized and played with in this film. While the female victims are sexualized as much as possible before Mark kills them, the film again criticizes the audience for enjoying what they are watching. Mark is a sick man and serial killer which is why he derives pleasure from watching and killing the women but, presumably, the audience isn’t like Mark. So if the audience derives pleasure from the same things Mark does, then the film is implicitly stating that audience is sick and twisted as well. This is also lost in most later slasher films, which is a shame because it is an interesting idea that is still relevant today.