[WARNING: THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS SPOILERS ABOUT SOME OF THE FILMS DISCUSSED.]
As the viewer sees what the camera sees, watching film inevitably engenders voyeurism and identification with the films’ protagonists, who remain, even today, predominantly male. The male gaze objectifies woman either as something to be looked at for pleasure (voyeuristic) or as something lacking (fetishistic -- based on psychoanalytic castration anxiety), according to feminist film theorist Laura Mulvey. The man dominates the passive woman, “an erotic object for both the characters within the film, as well as for the spectator … watching the film” (from Wikipedia).
“Horror films are commonly seen as one of the most sexist film genres; utilizing the voyeuristic male gaze, objectifying the female's body, and reveling in helpless women being victimized,” states Eli Lewy in a 2012 article. While some modern horror films subvert this standard (“The Descent,” final girl movies like “Scream”), others reinforce dominant/sadistic male and passive female. So who are the top horror voyeurs of classic and modern cinema? Read on to find out and enjoy the accompanying incredible original artwork.
TOP 10 HORROR VOYEURS:
10. Eric Rost in 'S&Man.'
Eric Rost (Erik Marcisak) in “S&Man” (2006). J.T. Petty ("Soft for Digging") directs this mock/documentary (pronounced Sandman) exploring similarities between voyeurism and filmmaking, particularly the horror genre, by interviewing real creators of and actors in seedy faux snuff films. The low budget films generally depict women being raped and murdered. Much of the film’s straightforward documentary sections point an uncomfortable finger back at horror fans. The “mock” section concerns fictional filmmaker Eric Rost, later revealed to have been portrayed by comedy writer Marcisak. Rost follows and spies on women for extended periods before approaching them about being in his films. Petty’s explorations with Rost are presented as factual and the footage suggests that possibly Rost’s films aren’t faux, but actual snuff, done so convincingly as to have duped most initial viewers of the film to believe Rost an actual filmmaker and not an actor playing one.
9. Herbert Stiles in 'Someone's Watching Me!'
Herbert Stiles (George Skaff) in “Someone’s Watching Me!” (1978). John Carpenter directed this made-for-TV flick just before beginning his classic “Halloween.” Lauren Hutton stars as Leigh Michaels, newly moved to L.A. She begins getting scary phone calls and receiving strange gifts. Since no overt threat has been made, the police won’t get involved. Eventually, she realizes the stalker has been watching her from the apartment tower opposite hers. Shots from the stalker’s point-of-view, mostly through his telescope, turn audience into voyeurs. Especially chilling in a scene lifted almost straight from Hitchcock’s “Rear Window” when Leigh, in Stiles’ penthouse, looks through Stiles’ telescope and sees him, in her apartment, as he kills her friend.
8. Billy in 'Black Christmas.'
Billy in “Black Christmas” (1974). This cult classic, among the first slashers, inspired films like “Halloween” and is also credited as first to use the killer calling from inside the house. As “Someone’s Watching Me!” did a few years later, shots from the killer’s point-of-view put the audience in his shoes, so to speak. Because of this, there was no actor playing Billy. The killer’s creepy telephone voices, recorded post-production, were director Bob Clark, a female actress and actor Nick Mancuso, who didn’t appear on set. Clark can’t remember whose eye was used peeking out menacingly from behind the door, but it may have been cameraman Albert J. Dunk, who did the POV shots and whose hands were seen performing some of the murders (according to IMDb).
7. Frank in 'Maniac.'
Frank (Elijah Wood) in “Maniac” (2012). Point-of-view shots run throughout this remake of the same-titled 1980 slasher and again position viewers in the place of the sadistic killer. His face often glimpsed only in mirrors and the like, Frank stalks, brutally murders and then scalps his victims. Usually. Except in the case of the older Rita, who, reminding him of his prostitute mother, incites him to such rage that he doesn’t even have the decency to kill her before he scalps her. He then places the bloody scalps on mannequins in his uber-disgusting lair. The film posits the question, could a guy like this find love? Well … no.
Original artwork "Maniac Elijah Wood 1" by Arina. Used with the artist's permission. See more work from this artist at Deviant Art.
6. Max Cady in 'Cape Fear.'
Max Cady (Robert Mitchum) in “Cape Fear” (1962). After release of convicted rapist Cady following time served, he finds attorney Bowden, who he blames for his incarceration. Cady begins tormenting Bowden and his family by watching them menacingly at a bowling alley, prowling around their house, and ogling Bowden’s 14-yr.-old daughter both outside her school and at a boat dock, prior to his full-fledged assault. Mitchum plays the role so masterfully that one needs only look at his face as he watches her to fathom his alarming intentions towards the young girl. Newsweek has ranked Mitchum’s Cady in the top ten best movie villains, while Cady charts at #28 on the American Film Institute’s list.
Original artwork "Robert Mitchum" by Mahyar Charejoo. Used with the artist's permission. See more work by this artist at Deviant Art.
5. The killer in 'Opera.'
The killer in “Opera” (1987). The forced voyeurism of the victim represents the most unusual and stunning aspect of Dario Argento’s “Opera.” A man terrorizes Betty (Cristina Marsillach) by taping pins so that she cannot close her eyes and must watch as he commits brutal murders. Thus, he thrusts upon her a sort of complicity in the killings. Betty’s horrific dreams about her mother indicate there may be some forgotten incidents in her past that led the killer to target her.
Original pencil on paper artwork "Opera" by Laura EN. Used with the artist's permission. See more from this artist on Facebook at Laura En's Art.
4, Mick Taylor in 'Wolf Creek.'
Mick Taylor (John Jarratt) in “Wolf Creek” (2005). A menacing atmosphere pervades and builds through the film’s long opening as three young adults explore the Australian outback. Viewers know they are being watched, but by who? After a friendly stranger named Mick rescues them from car trouble and offers them rainwater to quench their parched throats, Liz (Cassandra Magrath) passes out and wakes bound in a shed. She struggles and frees herself only to find her friend hung like a side of beef in a barn amid a terrifying assortment of butchering instruments, while Mick rapes and tortures her. In a garage, Liz discovers videotape Mick obviously took of them the previous day, which clarifies that he deliberately tampered with their car. She then finds tapes of previous victims he filmed before capturing. One bone chillingly shows a family, including small children, the implications of which become one of the film’s most horrifying moments.
Original charcoal portrait "Mick Taylor - Outback Legend" by Marc David Lewis. Used with the artist's permission. The original currently resides in Australia in the hands of Aaron Sterns who co-wrote "Wolf Creek 2". For more from this artist, see his Facebook page Marc D Lewis Art.
3. Michael Myers in 'Halloween.'
Michael Myers (Tony Moran) in “Halloween” (1978). Michael escapes the mental institution where he’s been held since murdering his sister when he was a mere 6 years old. He returns to his home town Haddonfield and begins stalking Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis), staring at her through the window of her high school classroom. His station wagon slowly follows Laurie and her friends walking home, but her friends dismiss him and his weird mask. After all, it’s Halloween. Laurie becomes unnerved to see him later in her yard. And her instincts are right on, as later, he kills her friends and attempts to kill her as well.
Original artwork "Michael" by Patrick Harden. Used with the artist's permission. See more from this artist at his Facebook page Harden Art.
2. Mark Lewis in 'Peeping Tom.'
Mark Lewis (Carl Boehm) in “Peeping Tom” (1960). Released in the U.K. exactly one month to the day before the similarly-themed “Psycho” premiered in the U.S., Mark not only wants to watch his victim’s fear, but also re-live those moments. Subsequent films borrow the idea of a murderer filming a victim at the time of death, but even more disturbing, in “Peeping Tom,” Mark mounts a mirror on his camera so each victim also sees her own fear. The genesis of filming his victims sprouted from Mark's psychologist father, who used young Mark as a subject for his experiments in fear, filming him in his bed in the middle of the night while dropping lizards on him (and etc.). The real life story is even scarier -- director Michael Powell played Mark's father and filmed his own son in the role of young Mark.
Original artwork "PeepingTom" by David S. Potter. Used with the artist's permission. To see more from this artist, check out his page on Deviant Art.
The movies make us into voyeurs. We sit in the dark, watching other people's lives. It is the bargain the cinema strikes with us, although most films are too well-behaved to mention it ... 'Peeping Tom' ... broke the rules and crossed the line. It was so loathed on its first release that it was pulled from theaters ... Why did critics and the public hate it so? I think because it didn't allow the audience to lurk anonymously in the dark, but implicated us in the voyeurism of the title character. - Film critic Roger Ebert in his 1999 review.
1. Norman Bates in 'Psycho.'
Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) in “Psycho” (1960). Norman represents the quintessential voyeur. His collection of stuffed birds with their glass eyes seem to be always staring, always watching, as is Norman. He can't seem to look away from the attractive Marion (Janet Leigh) from the moment she arrives at his Bates Motel. His eyes never wander far from her as they converse while she eats a sandwich in his office. And then there’s the peephole hidden behind a picture in his room. He’s placed her in the room next so he can spy on her while she undresses and gets into the shower. After which his arousal causes guilt feelings enough to bring out his jealous “mother” to kill her.
Original acrylic on canvas artwork "Mamma's Boy" by Lee Howard. Used with the artist's permission. See more from this artist on his Facebook page Art by Lee Howard.
When the camera assumes the viewpoint of Norman the audience itself becomes an objectifying voyeur … [The shower] scene … objectifies the female protagonist by presenting her as naked and highly vulnerable … [T]he camera takes the position of the murderer as he drives the knife into defenseless Marion, blurring the line between audience and character. This scene, all rapid cuts and screams, goes so far as to visualize the violent scopophilic rape that Laura Mulvey discussed in her article "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema". It is an onscreen manifestation of the male's desire to "rape" the female, and Marion's murder (in which the audience is forced to, at times, assume the role of the murderer himself) is tantamount to that. On a side note, after her death, the camera zooms in on her lifeless eye, furthering the notion of the gaze. - Travis Carr, Voyeurism & the Male Gaze in Psycho (1960)