(Submitted by Mr. Andrew Peters…Thanks you, Ho-rror Ho-mie! 🙂 xoxo)
Found footage films, when done right, work well. Really well, as a matter of fact. Think of some of the better examples of the genre, like the granddaddy of found footage, Cannibal Holocaust. It’s a hard film to watch (and I mean this in an absolute good way). It’s vividly violent, shocking, perhaps appalling and will make feel uneasy. I think that’s something all good found footage films have in common. Take a look at others, like The Blair Witch Project, Paranormal Activity or Lake Mungo, which is more of a mockumentary and shares a common style with the film we’ll be talking about. All are darkly toned and mood, chilling to watch and lead up to one punch of a moment.
The 2007 mockumentary style The Poughkeepsie Tapes has the honor of joining those films. It everything I described. It’s vivid with its violence, but sparing you on the gore, only showing you just enough to quickly turn your stomach before cutting away to the next scene, especially since the quality of the footage warps and degrades, fizzes and blurs at random. During the found footage scenes, you’re only the passenger to what you will see and I have to admit, it made me kinda uncomfortable, but that means the film is doing its job right. Only living about three and a half hours Northwest from Poughkeepsie, I naturally became interested when a friend brought over a bootleg VHS (please note that I do not condone bootlegging) and described it to me and popped it in. Surely I, especially with my grisly interests, would have heard about this infamous serial killer only a mere few hours from me. But now, it had me doubting my own reality, messing with my head before it even began and that is the sign of a damn good movie.
However, The Poughkeepsie Tapes isn’t a straight out, 100% found footage movie, it’s also a hard boiled, tabloid television inspired movie, like Hard Copy or 20/20. It’s actually pretty genius and it fills in those gaps that other found footage films fail to answer the glaring question that every single one of them is plagued with, “why are you filming?” Well, the person doing the filming is a sociopathic serial killer, so that’s why. That’s all the explanation and driving force you need behind it, no need to do any backstory or write yourself into a corner. We’re just seated along with this lunatic for the ride and off we go. We see what he wants us to see and it’s never pretty. The film will use these moments when the tension is riding high to cut to interview segments with various members of law enforcement, like FBI profilers or police officers and regular joes, like the victim’s families.
It all starts with a short walkthrough of the normal, suburban home the killer rented that reveals the closet where hundreds of tapes were discovered, upon which revealing we learn that several are missing and even the FBI agent in charge of watching them all wonders what is on them (I think this would be a cool sequel… The Missing Tapes!). He also remarks how for years those tapes kept him awake and that even his wife, who accidentally saw a tape, wouldn’t let him touch her for a year. Right away, the impression of this killer still remains years after he’s active. Things only get more gritty and chilling when we are introduced to his victim (at least on tape), a little girl, who was bludgeoned to death off camera and the clever use of audio. This sets the tone that anything within this film is possible. Even you haven’t shut it off yet from shock or disgust, things only get more absurd.
Possibly becoming bored, the FBI learns that the killer who calls himself ‘Ed’ in one of the tapes has been mapping routes to kill people, even going as far as toying with them by using sign language captured at a gas station surveillance camera, telling future authorities of where he will be dumping the bodies. But perhaps the most really upsetting part of the film is the abduction of a young woman named Cheryl, who he watches for an unknown period of time until he finally sneaks inside her house and tapes himself hiding in her closet. This scene is sure to make those of you afraid of the dark to check under your bed as well as in your closet. He eventually kidnaps her, ties up and tortures, even forcing her to kill other victims for him until she eventually gets Stockholm Syndrome. This is when we see the really theatrical side of Ed, using 1600’s Italian plague doctor mask and shouting at her that he’s her master and she’s his slave and will do his bidding. I know I’m not doing it great justice by describing it, but these scenes are incredibly hard to watch (again, in a very good way) and are shown in explicit detail to the point where you can see how someone would be driven so mad because of a tormentor. We even can see how Ed used the justice system against those who enforce it and a police officer is executed in his place. The film doesn’t go into great details about the court case or anything (probably a good idea avoiding over explaining anything), but you can see how a truly clever psychopath and gain the system.
I could go on and on with prime examples of scenes from this movie, but I would only be spoiling your enjoyment and I’ve already said far too much. This film is most effective with the less said about it. It’s full of surprises and I didn’t want to spoil a single one of them. Within The Poughkeepsie Tapes, you really get to know Ed and I can’t say that it’s a pleasure. He reminded me of both Henry and Otis from Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, using multiple MO’s just as Henry would, but being outlandish and insane like Otis. Hell, this is the type of footage that Henry and Otis would have been watching. The fact that we never know what was driving him reminded me of Michael Myers or Leatherface and that’s the thing that made those guys scary; they just did these things because. It’s those kind of things that make you believe evil is real.
In this day and age where anything is possible, it’s mind blowing that this movie hasn’t seen a wide release until now thanks to Scream Factory, especially consider one of the producers was Patrick Lussier, who directed My Bloody Valentine and Drive Angry. Well, considering those films didn’t do so well, maybe that explains why it was never picked up for wide release. I touched on this was popular in the bootleg circuit, but still managed to stay out of the mainstream’s attention. It did do a few rounds at film circuits when it was released and I’ve heard it ran a very, very limited in theaters, although a few years ago in 2014 it was given a VOD release. But hey, it’s here now for mass consumption and viewing and I cannot stress it enough that you need to watch this movie immediately.
The Poughkeepsie Tapes is a rough and raw flick, capable of fooling some filmgoers. It’s hard to sit through and like Henry, it’s nothing something you could watch repeatedly, because it leaves you with a true taste of dark horror in your mouth. Director John Erick Dowdle made one of the greatest found footage movies ever, being genuinely creepy and unnerving and is sure to give you nightmares. I’m sure his next films will be even better! Wait… Quarantine? Uh, no, I’ll stick with Rec, thank you very much. Devil? Oh, God, no! As Above, So Below? More like, As Above, So Blows or As Above, So Below Average, amirite? Okay, so he hasn’t been able to follow it up with anything good. Well, he’s writing and directing the TV mini-series Waco and that looks pretty promising.