The year is 2007. The brothers Dowdle (John and Drew) just finished shooting a controversial mockumentary on a faux serial killer out of Poughkeepsie, NY. The film is originally picked up and shelved by MGM. Bootleg copies of the notorious film begin making their way across the convention scene and throughout the internet. John and Drew move on with their lives; making various films in and out of the genre including the American remake for the incredible “REC”, “Quarantine”. Almost out of nowhere, in 2014 the film officially hits on demand services, however, a proper home media release is still long out of reach. Aside from rumors among the horror community, no announcement was made. Flash forward to the summer of 2017. Scream Factory, the horror media giant, announces that they will finally be giving the controversial film a proper bluray release. The hype has been built. I’ve heard so many things from people who have watched it in a variety of ways. Some state the film is disturbing in all ways possible. Some state the film was well made but ultimately fell flat. Honestly, it’s been a long time coming and I’m truly looking forward to how it all plays out.
Shot mockumentary style, think the ID channel, “The Poughkeepsie Tapes” revolves around a set of 800 videotapes found by the police. Throughout the film we are shown the various shocking clips, grotesque even. Each more sickening than the last. The tapes are interspersed throughout what could be mistaken for an episode of “Snapped”. If it wasn’t for the tapes being so horrific, you couldn’t be blamed for thinking this was a Sunday evening show your mom stumbled upon. We meet various towns folk, police officers, and others who worked on the case; each affected by the “The Water Street Butcher” in their own way. Was the psychopath eventually caught and put away, or is he still roaming the streets right this moment?
Alright so let’s start with the good. The video tapes shown throughout the documentary are nothing short of disturbing. No doubt, even the most devout horror fan will most likely leave this film feeling unsettled. The performance by Ben Messmer who plays Ed, our killer, is truly sickening. There’s a moment early in the film where he approaches a little girl playing in her yard. Even as he simply speaks to her you are screaming at the television for this child to run. It’s moments like that that make the “The Poughkeepsie Tapes” worth a watch. It’s going to affect each viewer in a different way. I also need to bring up the performance of Stacy Chbosky. Chbosky plays one of the primary victims, Cheryl Dempsey. Without giving too much away, Cheryl is kidnapped by Ed and forced to perform multiple devious acts. The way Stacy Chbosky plays this role is masterful. One second I’m fearing for her life and another I want to run from her. You’ll better understand what I mean by that statement when you watch the movie.
Now since we started with the good…there is definitely some bad. Besides the two mentioned, and even them at points, the characters throughout the 86 minute mockumentary are, for lack of a better term, dumb. Like, the parents from “Pet Sematary” dumb (GET THAT KID OUT OF THE ROAD!). About halfway through the film, a victim is handed a large knife by our killer. He then instructs his victim to kill another person who is tied up. Why not just stab the killer?! He’s standing right next to you! Another moment takes place between two 12 year old girl scouts and Ed. The scouts are going door to door selling cookies. Ed asks them to come inside for one reason or another. Of course, they do! This was set during the early 90’s. Wasn’t this the height of Stranger Danger? I understand, they are children, but they are 12 years old. They should understand the right and wrong of the situation.
All of that being said, I believe the “The Poughkeepsie Tapes” was worth the wait. It’s an unsettling movie that is definitely better watched alone rather than at parties. Along with the main feature, the bluray includes recent interviews with the Dowdle brothers and one of the main stars, as previously mentioned, Stacy Chbosky. If you were interested in seeing the “Poughkeepsie Tapes” I believe you will not be disappointed. However, I also believe it was impossible for the film to live up to the hype it built. It’s not perfect, but it is disturbing. Turn off your brain for an hour and twenty, and you’ll be able to enjoy, “The Poughkeepsie Tapes”.