What the Peeper Saw (aka Diabólica malicia, Night Hair Child, 1971)
Directed by James Kelly and Andrew White (Andrea Bianchi)
Review By Greg Goodsell
Freshly wed to successful author Paul (Hardy Kruger), Elise (Britt Ekland, Asylum, 1972) touches down in Spain to stay at her new husband’s isolated villa. She is introduced to her stepson, 12-year-old Marcus (Mark Lester), a precocious lad sent home from boarding school due to a “chickenpox outbreak.” We find just how dysfunctional the situation is when Elise receives a call from Paul, she marches into the bathroom while the nude Marcus takes a bath, the boy takes the call, and then casually reaches around his stepmom in order to fondle her breasts! It only gets worse …
Conferring with her stepson’s headmaster (Harry Andrews, I Want What I Want, 1972), Elise learns that there was no outbreak. Marcus was sent home for various infractions, such as cruelty to animals and spying on amorous couples. Marcus is the “peeper” of the title, and Elise, poking about in her new home, finds a hole in the attic floor that facilitates Marcus spying on Paul and her while they make love. Paul disavows his son’s psychopathology as hearsay, and the screw tightens. Elise plays a game of “Strip poker” with Marcus in order to find out about his mother’s death, and the boy admits to killing her.
In the film’s only effective scene, psychologist Dr. Viorne (Lilli Palmer, The House That Screamed, 1969) confronts Elise with what the audience has been in on since the very start: She has been sexually abusing the boy, and it is she, and not the boy that is in dire need of an extended stay in a room with cushioned walls. Elise is eventually sprung from the madhouse. There is a brief reconciliation between her and Marcus, and an abrupt shock conclusion.
What the Peeper Saw is a deservedly obscure horror thriller that never gets off to a steady boil. There is lots of blame to go around. The sunny Spanish hillsides generate little suspense -- although director Pete Walker was able to wring tension in Die Screaming Marianne using a similar, bright Portugal backdrop in 1971 – and the daring subject matter is shot down by some inept performances. While gorgeous, no one would ever mistake Ekland for a terrific actress. In spite of his intimidating presence, Kruger does little but march around and barks out his lines. Mark Lester just isn’t into his role as a “Bad Seed”-style tyke, a shame as arrogant, British schoolchildren always make for reliable movie villains.
(Poor Lester had gone from the title role of the crowd-pleasing musical Oliver! in 1968 to this negligible shocker in four short years. He left acting altogether to tend bar in the late Seventies, although he returns to the big screen in the yet-to-be released 1066 this very year.)
A major culprit in this most tepid enterprise is the film score of the usually reliable Stelvio Cipriani (Baron Blood, 1972, Femina Raiders, 1969 and Nightmare City, 1980- being my favorites -ed). Cipriani plows through all the scenes with a bland, mellow jazz score. An otherwise terrifying vision of Marcus seeing his dead mother emerging from the family’s swimming pool is undercut by a light instrumental that is also reprised in the film’s shock ending.
VCI has released What the Peeper Saw to Blu-Ray, but viewers won’t be able to tell the difference between the current presentation and a battered video rental. The visuals are grainy and under-lit, and the soundtrack is similarly muffled and murky.
The disc has 12 chapter stops and includes both the film’s theatrical trailer and a 30-second radio spot. Essentially yet another “killer kid” movie, What the Peeper Saw really isn’t worth seeing.