The Poughkeepsie Tapes
Review by Isz, MaceVindaloo, BigNoaz
Producer: Drew Dowdle
Starring: Stacy Chbosky, Keisuke Hoashi, et al.
Rating: Squint (has shields, 181st likes 'em!)
There is a reason we cannot find the names of actors for this film. It's a "mockumentary" and the creators (the Brothers Dowdle) wanted the film to come across as a documentary about found videotapes, home movies of a serial killer. It's meant to be cinema verité with a dash of voyeur horror porn.
The basics: a serial killer kidnaps women (and kills any man who has the misfortune of being with his targets). He takes them away and tortures and finally kills them. the horror part is that he films his acquisition and torture of his victims, then continues to film himself dismembering and disposing of the remains. When the Feds catch up to him, they raid his home, but they are too late. They don't find the killer, but they do find many of his victims in various states of decomposition, and 4700 hours of meticulously catalogued home movies.
The movie is a History Channel-esque presentation from "experts," testimony from friends and family of victims, interspersed with clips from the greusome collection of the man nicknamed "The Water Street Butcher."
Before you pooh-pooh it as a rehash of The Blair Witch Project, which is about found film left in some "haunted" woods, it's rather different in that it's not the victims telling the tale. It's a relatively disconnected, cold, explanation of why the authorities have not been able to capture this butcher. Even with all the gory abuse and dismemberment scenes, the chilling part is that there is no explanation for why the Butcher commits his crimes. There are explanations which wrap around the fact that the Butcher is very clever and changes his modus operandi, disposal techniques, victim profile, etc. to confuse the authorities.
Interlaced with the talking head interviews are clips of a retired FBI profiler who teaches a class in gleaning clues toward building a profile of the criminal, using the Poughkeepsie Tapes as a case study of an extreme criminal mind. He warns his students that it's okay not to want to do this job after seeing these tapes, which underlines how horrific these home movies really are.
There was a couple in front of us who reacted in very different ways to this movie. The man was laughing at parts, because the presentation of the authority figures was often comical or wooden. The violent situations were rather unbelievable, if you knew that everything was staged. However, if you didn't know (as the woman didn't seem to), the clips shown of the women being tortured, killed, dismembered were truly horrifying. The "home movies" had the aged, poor-light texture and look, and were marked by an amateur's efforts as he swung the camera around or threw it into his car as he made his getaway. This part of the film was the most realistic and frightening and very well done. (The woman kept begging and eventually crying for her boyfriend to leave the theater with her.)
The editing was done very skillfully, so that you could even for a few seconds believe that the home movies were real. There wasn't really any blood shown, but when he killed someone, he had to drop or put the camera aside so he could take a really good swing ...
The "talking heads" did detract from the film not in the woodenness of some of the performances (for that is what you would expect 'real people' to act like if suddenly shoved in front of an interviewing camera), but that the production value of these sequences seemed too high and contrived.
If you allow yourself to see this as a cable television special, you could actually believe the "Water Street Butcher" is real, and he's never been caught, and these women and a few men and children died in ghastly, hideous ways. After seeing the torture clips of a particular young woman, you could believe that the one girl he called "Slave" had been thoroughly mentally broken and physically abused, and had stayed willingly with the monster for nearly a decade. The actors in the "home movie" sequences did a great job and it gave many people the willies.
Many people walked out of the theater scoffing at how 'awful' the film was, but wwe do wonder how many were protecting themselves from the terror they felt watching the Butcher's movies? True, it was kind of campy in spots, and one of us commented, "Was wondering when the bogeyman would jump out of the back of the theater and roar, but he would have probably gotten his ass kicked in this neighborhood."
But others have commented that this can become a cult classic. If you get a chance to see it, do. But be prepared to be creeped out and horrified, which is, after all, a hallmark of cinema verité.
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