WHAT THE PEEPER SAW (1971) Blu-ray
Director: James Kelley
VCI Entertainment

A multi international production, the early 1970s psychological thriller WHAT THE PEEPER SAW — featuring the most "adult" film role for British child star Mark Lester alongside Swedish sex symbol Britt Ekland — gets a “newly restored” Blu-ray release from VCI Entertainment.

After his wife drowns in a bathtub “accident”, wealthy writer Paul (Hardy Kruger, BARRY LYNDON) buys a villa in Spain to try and start a new life with his son Marcus (Mark Lester, OLIVER), away at a private school in England. Several years after the wife’s death, Paul marries the glamorous and younger Elise (Britt Ekland, THE WICKER MAN) who arrives at the villa while Paul is visiting France. Out on leave early from school, Marcus also shows up to visit, and it’s Paul’s wish that his new wife and her stepson become quick friends, and that they be a happy family. What Elise is up against is a brainy, loner 12-year old who gropes her, leers at her and is caught in a series of lies, including the real reason he was sent home early from school. Elise flies to England to meet with the school’s headmaster (Harry Andrews, THEATRE OF BLOOD), who mentions all the rotten things the brilliant kid did to get expelled, with torturing and killing a cat being the last straw (he later kills the family German Shepherd). Elise warns Paul about her son’s over-mischievous behavior, but he’s pretty much in denial and thinks she’s being neurotic, even when a peep hole is discovered in the attic floorboard right above their bedroom. All this not only creates tension between the newlyweds, but also, sexually-tinged cat and mouse games between Elise and Marcus, who is now believed to have murdered his mother. Does he have the same fate in store for his stepmother, or is she just being paranoid and delusional about her stepson?

A production between the United Kingdom, Spain, Italy and West Germany, WHAT THE PEEPER SAW (it was released here in 1972 by Joseph Levine’s AVCO Embassy) is also known under its more respectable British title NIGHT HAIR CHILD. Beginning with a pre-credit sequence featuring a naked blonde writhing around and dying miserably in an electrified bathtub and the giallo-like harmonies of Stelvio Cipriani’s (A BAY OF BLOOD) score, the film is closer to its European roots than the British portion, despite the presence of UK movie staples Ekland and Lester, with it being shot in both Spain and England. Psychological thrillers featuring children (including THE BAD SEED and THE INNOCENTS) were nothing new at the time the film was made, but this film breaks numerous taboos and hence could never be made in this day and age. Drenched in sleaze, it’s a flawed film with some stilted dialog and not enough justifiable characterization to support the child’s premature psychosis, although there is a great bit where he stares into a swimming pool, mentally envisioning the floating body of a dead woman (possibly his late mother), which turns out to be a nothing more than a rubber ball. But there’s enough of interest here for fans of these types of films, and we're not just talking about a frequently nude Britt Ekland.

After finding great success as the star of OLIVER (1968), Lester could never quite follow up on it, though he did make some charming movies (MELODY, which reunited him with OLIVER co-star Jack Wild) and thrillers like John Hough’s EYEWITNESS and Curtis Harrington’s WHOEVER SLEW AUNTIE ROO? before retiring from acting in the late 1970s. This film comes somewhere in between those, with the juvenile actor playing a heartless, unemotional, voyeuristic psychotic sexual predator and his blank-staring, wooden expressions actually makes the character that much more disturbing. In probably what is the film’s most infamous scene, Elise is seen stripping for Marcus to extract vital information out of him concerning his mother’s demise (around the same time, a similar scene had Barbara Bouchet naked in front of a young boy in Lucio Fulci’s DON’T TORTURE A DUCKLING). Although she was usually cast as gorgeous eye candy during this part of her career, Ekland actually gives a surprisingly standout performance in a film with only three main characters, with German actor Hardy underplaying it as a sort of buffer between wife and son. Harry Andrews, who was subject to as many “guest appearances” in these types of films during the 1970s as Rupert Davies was during the late 1960s, has a one-scenario walk-on, and as expected, it's nothing special. On the other hand, Lilli Palmer (THE HOUSE THAT SCREAMED) has a better cameo as a psychiatrist and has some good exchanges with Ekland. British comedy writer James Kelley (who also directed Tigon’s THE BEAST IN THE CELLAR the previous year) is the credited director on English prints, but Italian prints credit Andrea Bianchi (BURIAL GROUND): if he is responsible for some of the direction, that would certainly explain the film's high factor of perversity.

Previously available on VHS through Interglobal Home Video in the 1980s, a more recent DVD from the company Televista was nothing more than a bootleg and not even worth mentioning. VCI’s newly restored Blu-ray reinstates the nudity missing from some prints, bringing the running time up to its fully uncut 95 minutes. Presented in 1080p HD in the film’s original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, it’s certainly the best it’s ever looked, even if it’s not perfect. Clarity is good for the most part, but sometimes background picture information is on the soft side. Colors can be on the warm side but are mostly stable especially in outdoor scenes, while having a slight bleed in darker, interior scenes. Blacks are not particularly deep and at times display hints of video noise. But the image is consistently clean and largely blemish free, and even with some of the flaws, it’s still pleasing to watch. The mono audio comes in a LPCM mix, and it’s a serviceable track with some age related background hiss and spurts of muffled dialogue. Extras on the disc include the original theatrical trailer and a TV spot (“WHAT THE PEEPER SAW will turn you on… to terror!”). This Blu-ray is available exclusively through VCI Entertainment’s website, and can be ordered HERE. (George R. Reis)