Released in Britain around the same time Hitchcock's Psycho, Peeping Tom (Cohen, 1960) turned theaters of curious onlookers into voyeurs spying on a mild-mannered young man, Mark Lewis (Karlheinz Bohm), who is determined to create the ultimate documentary on human fear. Seducing women into quiet, secluded rooms, he turns a video camera on them as they are impaled by the cold impersonal blade at the end of his tripod. On film, he captures their contorted and terrified faces as he snuffs out their lives.
Though Peeping Tom is arguably one of the earliest 'slashers', it is more complex than many films in this category, and has inspired film makers both within the horror genre and otherwise since its release. The motivation for Mr. Lewis's macabre film project comes from his own experiences as a child. The subject of his father's indecent and unethical experimentation on the effects of early fear on the nervous system, Lewis matures into a man obsessed with the concept. Indeed, Mr Lewis reveals that his father filmed his reactions to all sorts of psychologically traumatic stimuli, including forcing him to share a bed with an unwanted lizard. Mark's father was unquestionably more concerned with his career as a psychologist than with his duties as a father.
Interestingly, experiments of conditioned fear in humans were not unheard of in early studies by behaviourists. The most famous case, that of 'Little Albert', claimed to demonstrate that you could train a child to fear an animal (and animal-like things) by pairing presentations of the animal with startling, frightening noises (see Watson & Rayner, 1920). Further, it is often suggested that Little Albert's fear lasted into his adulthood. Whether this is true or not, we are pretty certain Albert did not venture into the world of snuff documentary film-making as an adult, though (as the video below might suggest) he probably was never quite comfortable around video cameras, men in suits, or white rats.
Check out Peeping Tom (1960) here:
Learn more about the 'Little Albert' Experiment here:
Cohen, N. (Producer), Powell, M. (Director). (1960). Peeping Tom [Motion picture]. United Kingdom: Anglo-Amalgamated Film Distributers.
Watson, J.B. and Rayner, R. (1920). Conditioned emotional reactions. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 3, 1, pp. 1–14