UnSubs Central

Your stop for killer book and film reviews about the world's most notorious serial murderers


Peeping Tom
Director: Michael Powell
Screenplay: Leo Marks


Voyeur: a person who enjoys seeing the pain or distress of others

It is the beginning scene of Peeping Tom that sets the feel for the rest of the film. A man approaches a sex worker who stands in front of a store window. It is night on the deserted street, and it feels like we are in an Edward Hopper painting. The light is strategic, bold against the shadows. It illuminates our soon-to-be victim, but strategically plunges much of the rest into stillness, as the silhouettes obscure the danger lurking close by. The man hides a camera in his coat as he films his approach, and we see his point of view. It is we who are now the voyeurs, but at a safe distance, away from harm. From unassuming to vivid and shocking terror, the beginning captures the audience and it is here where we see signs of future horror films like Suspiria, Jaws, and Carrie, and future horror masters like Wes Craven, who made it a trademark of their work.



Serial killer, Mark Lewis, played by Carl Boehm, is the type of serial killer we would become too well acquainted with. He is Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer, and Ed Edwards. He is clean cut, the boy next door who harbors a deep, sinister, and morbid secret. Throughout and to great affect, screenwriter Leo Marks and director Michael Powell explore the seedy side of humanity. They expose Mark’s childhood and the abuse he endured from his sadistic father. They leave subtle clues that Mark might not be the gentle, awkward introvert those around him think he is, such as his tendency to avoid eye contact, the way he embraces deformity because he connects to it, his darkroom and what he hides in it.

Peeping Tom is an exploration into the mind, its obsessions, and the formation of a serial killer. Mark’s father viewed him as a subject and his continuous filming is evidence of that detachment. Sadly, for as much as father studied son, it appears he never really knew him or cared to know him. Mark feels forever alone and has taken on his father’s voyeuristic tendencies. Mark knows he is ill, and his feelings of alienation spur his continued quest to destroy that part of himself he sees as disfigured. He is desperate for others to feel his pain.

Powell uses vibrant and saturated color juxtaposed against black and white and shadows, to convey his cinematic approach to the theme. Shadows hide the evil that lurks all around while the colors illuminate it. Throughout, the music is dynamic and the often dizzy furor of piano increases the tension as it strikes our senses.

Not to be outdone by its cinematic elements, is the screenplay. Marks shines when he portrays Helen’s distrusting mother as she suspects a dark side of Mark’s character:

Helen: “Don’t you like Mark?”
Mother: “Haven’t met him.”
Helen: “You don’t like him. Why not?”
Mother: “I don’t trust a man who walks quietly.”
Helen: “But he’s shy.”
Mother: “His footsteps aren’t. They’re stealthy.”

Called the British Psycho, the parallels are well-founded, but in subject matter only. Released two months after Peeping Tom, Psycho was based on Robert Bloch’s 1959 novel of the same name. Bloch said that his novel was influenced by the idea of murder in a small town committed by an unsuspecting member of the community, much like the crimes of Ed Gein who lived near Bloch in Wisconsin.⁠1 The well-deserved critical praise heaped on Psycho, though, should not diminish the achievements of Peeping Tom. Powell’s vision was more intellectually curious and visually artistic against Hitchcock’s stark realism, unique cinematography, and shocking moments. Unfortunately, the reception Peeping Tom received could not have been more different, as the controversial film effectively destroyed the until then notable career of director Michael Powell. It would not be until a cult following gave new life to the film and then Martin Scorsese’s restoration and rerelease of the film in 1979, that Powell’s reputation would be partially restored. In 1996, “Entertainment Weekly” would rank Powell 22nd in a poll of the Greatest Directors of all time.⁠2



1 “The Backstory to Robert Bloch’s Psycho.” https://galaxypress.com/backstory-to-psycho/

2 “The 50 Greatest Directors and Their 100 Best Movies.” Entertainment Weekly, April 19, 1996. https://ew.com/article/1996/04/19/50-greatest-directors-and-their-100-best-movies/



Gritten, David. “Michael Powell’s ‘Peeping Tom’: the film that killed a career.” The Telegraph. August 27, 2010. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/film/7967407/Michael-Powells-Peeping-Tom-the-film-that-killed-a-career.html

Martin Scorsese: ‘The movie that plays in my heart’. The Independent. May 15, 2009. https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/films/features/martin-scorsese-the-movie-that-plays-in-my-heart-1685003.html


A Serial Killer’s Daughter: My Story of Faith, Love, and Overcoming
By Kerri Rawson
Nelson Books


The first time I found that writing could be therapeutic, was the death of my mother’s husband. He was 52 years old. He was a sweet, kind, and gentle man. I worked in a hospital and had seen people who had passed on, but never had I seen one laying on my mother’s living room floor and never had I cleaned the carpet afterward. Time progressed, but those flashing images continued to be stuck in my mind in a constant barrage that I couldn’t break free from. It was only after an emotional writing session where I documented every painful moment, that I was able to dislodge those images and move forward.

For Kerri Rawson, daughter of Dennis Rader, otherwise known as the serial killer BTK, writing became not only therapeutic, but a necessary way to manage both her grief and her Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

For Rawson, it was February 25, 2005 when her world forever changed. It was the day that marked everything before and everything after. Her before world consisted of growing up in Kansas, in a normal middle-class family, her after world seemed to singularly identify her as the daughter of a serial killer.

Rawson relies heavily on the work of forensic psychologist Katherine Ramsland, known for her in-depth correspondence and discussions with Dennis Rader, as summarized in what she calls a “guided autobiography,” Confessions of a Serial Killer: The Untold Story of Dennis Rader, the BTK Killer, as well as from the Pulitzer Prize winning reporter, Roy Wenzl, who wrote one of the definitive books about Rader, Blind, Torture, Kill: Inside the Story of BTK, the Serial Killer Next Door.⁠1 Rawson’s need to research her own life, is a nightmarish scenario. Imagine having to read books and articles to learn about your life. In doing so, though, she wins over the immense pain she experienced during the predictable media onslaught after her father’s arrest. The pressures of a 24 hour news cycle, the desire to get the story, the desire to respond to a thirsty public desperate for information, made her and her family prisoners at the time.

Even more painful, were questions about whether the family knew about her father’s crimes. Anti-social traits are easily obvious in hindsight, but instances of irritability, impulsivity, and narcissistic behavior are not always an indicator of an antisocial personality disorder. What is clear from the book, is the fact that Dennis Rader became adept at compartmentalizing his life. His disregard for moral values and his lack of conscience were carefully hidden behind a facade of church activities and the appearance of being a normal husband, father, brother, and son.

For Rawson, the slow process of unfolding the massive ball of confusing emotions would not be easy, and in fact would be excruciatingly painful, made most difficult by the reality that she was suffering from post traumatic stress. With grief that didn’t fall neatly into stages, her PTSD would manifest itself in night terrors that plagued her for years.⁠2 And while mourning is a part of life, it is also true that mourning is not always for the dead. On that February day, Kerri Rawson began her long journey of mourning the loss of a life she once knew as well as grieving the loss of the father she once knew; she says, “I loved the dad I knew.”⁠3 The process of mourning, though, would also become the source of  “guilt and shame” as Rawson questioned whether she should be afforded the right to such grief.⁠4 In light of the overwhelming pain her father had caused his victims and their families, whom she also grieved for, was it right for her to feel anything but hatred? Was there room for anything else?

For Rawson, healing came through her faith. Her mantra, “Love Never Fails,” has been a guiding force. That, and leaning on her ultra supportive husband Darian, all rounded out by music soundtracks that allow her to shelter herself, if only for brief, but necessary, times of needed respite.

Rawson doesn’t understand her father, doesn’t excuse his actions, but forgives him and when she does so, she is clear that she does it for herself.⁠5 “There were no excuses for what my father had done. He was responsible for all of it. He chose this for himself—chose to harm others.”⁠6 By finally taking control of the one thing she can take control of, she frees herself and allows for the opportunity to begin the healing process and to begin to move forward in the only way she knows how. Maybe most importantly, though, is it’s in the way that works for her.


1 Ramsland, Katherine. Confessions of a Serial Killer: The Untold Story of Dennis Radar, the BTK Killer. (Lebanon, NH: ForeEdge, 2016).
2 Rawson, Kerri. A Serial Killer’s Daughter: My Story of Faith, Love, and Overcoming. (Nashville, Tennessee: Nashville, Tennessee, 2019), 272.
3 Rawson, 181.
4 Rawson, 198.
5 Rawson, 317.
6 Rawson, 173.