A DEMON IN MY VIEW: Anthony Perkins Leads Ruth Rendell Mystery

Ruth Rendell Meets Norman Bates.

By Alexandra Heller-Nicholas · @suspirialex · February 23, 2024, 7:30 PM EST
A Demon in My View Anthony Perkins
A DEMON IN MY VIEW aka Der Mann nebenan (1991)

Editor's Note: In each Wild Women with Steak Knives entry, author Alexandra Heller-Nicholas explores women directors in the horror genre, highlighting films that are largely overlooked or forgotten. Read them all here!

British writer Ruth Rendell was already well into her infamous Inspector Wexford series when she published the curious stand-alone serial killer yarn A Demon in My View in 1976. Just in the context of her career alone, it's kind of a big deal; it was the first of her novels to win her the acclaimed Golden Dagger award from the Crime Writers' Association, of which she would win four in total across her lifetime, a tally that even today remains unchallenged.

While Inspector Wexford made it big on the small screen in the popular, long-running television series The Ruth Rendell Mysteries, although feature film adaptations of her work were comparatively less successful, the '90s was something of a boom period on the auteur front with French New Wave darling Claude Chabrol's La Cérémonie and revered Spanish cine-maniac Pedro Almodóvar's Live Flesh both based on Rendell's work.

Petra Haffter's 1991 film adaptation of A Demon in My View is certainly not as well-known as these later Rendell adaptations, but while the Chabrol and Almodóvar films stick to familiar thriller generic territory, Haffter's film is notable if only for moving Rendell's original story in a more horror direction. This is most immediately visible through casting alone, and it remains a horror curio today if only for it being one of the last films of the late great Anthony Perkins.

A Demon in My View Anthony Perkins

The specter of Perkins's iconic Norman Bates looms large over A Demon in My View, the actor here once again playing a fucked-up homicidal mommy's boy with some serious sexual hang-ups. Perkins stars as Arthur Johnson, a prudish, uptight, middle-aged British bachelor who lives in a cramped, cheap apartment building with a colorful array of neighbors. As basic as his lodgings are, they are particularly suited to his peculiar pastime: having intense erotic encounters with the plastic mannequin he has hidden in the otherwise unused basement. But the arrival of a new young neighbor keen to help out the local kids with their Guy Fawkes celebrations sets off a series of events that will push Arthur over the edge, triggering a violent regression to his serial killing past.

Despite its overt Britishness, A Demon in My View is, in fact, a German production, and Haffter a German filmmaker. She made this film on the back of the success of her 1988 thriller The Kiss of the Tiger, but after her Rendell adaptation, she largely focused her career on television. Watching A Demon in My View, this perhaps comes as little surprise. Outside her affection for some wild splashes of color that brighten up the otherwise standard grey urban landscape in which her characters inhabit, the film, stylistically, at least, is fairly pedestrian.

Where it flourishes, however, is when it comes to Anthony Perkins and his extraordinary performance as the central, troubled character of Arthur. Perkins came to this project on the back of his performance in Mick Garris's fabulous 1990 sequel Psycho IV: The Beginning, and he clearly delights in bringing aspects of the more famous Norman to the table when it came to breathing life into his British counterpart.

While the film itself feels like a fairly standard crime movie, Perkins' presence alone makes it anything but, and the film's greatest moments are when he is alone in the basement or having one of his many flashbacks as his mental health increasingly spirals out of control.

The film's final twist might have had a bit more punch in the mid-1970s, but by the early '90s, it feels hopelessly antiquated; like so much of this film, it feels almost anachronistic. But Anthony Perkins - here in one of his final performances before he would pass away in 1992 - makes A Demon in My View well worth the effort to track down; it remains one of the last great performances of a true horror icon.

A Demon in My View Anthony Perkins poster