Tuesday, 14 June 2022

What the Peeper Saw (1972)

What the Peeper Saw (also released with the ludicrous title Night Hair Child and as La tua presenza nuda! and with several other titles) is a 1972 British-Italian-German-Spanish production. It fits into the Evil Child Movie category but it’s much more disturbing that most such films. It’s a movie that certainly could not get made today, but this was the 70s and film-makers back then figured that audiences could deal with movies exploring the darker recesses of sexuality.

Britt Ekland is Elise and she’s just married a much older man, successful writer Paul (Hardy Krüger). They live in Spain.

It’s his second marriage. His first wife died in circumstances that seemed quite innocent at the time. Elise is keen to establish a good relationship with her new twelve-year-old stepson Marcus (Mark Lester). Marcus goes to an expensive school in Berkshire but he’s home for the holidays. She has the first inkling that getting along with Marcus might not be easy when he starts fondling her breasts.

There are a couple of other slightly unsettling incidents that suggest that Marcus is manipulative and a liar. Elise figures that it will all work out until she has a chat with the boy’s headmaster. She is deeply shocked by what he has to say. Marcus has been expelled after a series of unpleasant incidents. Most of the incidents are vaguely sexual in nature. Marcus’s sexuality is clearly developing, and not in a healthy manner.

While Elise is talking to the headmaster Marcus amuses himself by trying to look up girls’ dresses.

Elise’s problem is that Paul does not want to admit that there’s anything wrong with Marcus. He simply won’t believe the things that Elise tells him, even though she has damning evidence.

Elise also gets to get meet some of Paul’s friends. She thinks they’re shallow, weird and sick.

Things get increasingly uncomfortable for Elise and the plot starts to get even darker and more twisted. Elise’s suspicions keep growing and she’s increasingly scared.

Some of the plot twists seem obvious and you’re likely to get over-confident that you’ve got this story figured out. Then it throws a major curve ball at you. And just as you’re pulling yourself together after that experience it throws another one at you. And another.

While film-makers in the 70s thought audiences were ready for honest looks at sexual situations the moral watchdogs did not agree and the film was hacked to pieces. The US release had much of the sexual material removed. Unfortunately if you remove the sexual material from this movie it’s not going to make a lick of sense. Perverse sexuality is a major driver of the plot. There are other elements as well but it’s a movie that has to be viewed with the sexual material intact. It’s supposed to be a movie that will make you squirm a little.

The scene in which Elise wants Marcus to tell her something important and he agrees to do so, for a price, is particularly confronting but it's crucial to the plot. His price is that she should strip naked for him and she does so.

This movie benefits from terrific performances by the three principals. Hardy Krüger (who’d been a major hearth-throb in his younger days) makes Paul a somewhat unsympathetic character but not too unsympathetic. His reluctance to believe that his twelve-year-old son might be a psycho is perfectly understandable. Paul simply cannot deal with the idea at all.

Britt Ekland (a very underrated actress) is excellent as Elise, a woman put in an incredibly difficult and potentially explosive situation. She really tries her hardest to be a supportive wife and stepmother. It’s a very good multi-layered and subtle performance.

Mark Lester is fantastically weird and creepy as Marcus. He certainly scared me.

Earlier DVD releases of this movie were apparently of very poor quality and brutally cut. VCI have realised the movie uncut and with a vastly better transfer on both DVD and Blu-Ray.

This is a well-crafted delightfully perverse and twisted movie. Voyeurism is a major theme but that’s just one of the sexual fetishes on display.

What the Peeper Saw was most likely influenced to some degree by giallos. It’s not a giallo but it has some affinity with that genre and with some of the more outré European erotic films of the era, such as Check to the Queen (Scacco alla regina). It has a slightly European sensibility combined with a slightly British sensibility (and may also have been influence by British films such as Baby Love). This is a very fine movie. Very highly recommended.

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