Poughkeepsie Tapes, The | Varied Celluloid

Poughkeepsie Tapes, The

Posted by JoshSamford On April - 19 - 2009

The Plot: The Poughkeepsie Tapes is a faux-documentary re-telling the story of an infamous New York serial killer in the town of Poughkeepsie. Also called The Waterstreet Butcher, this serial killer is far out of the ordinary. His knowledge of other serial killers makes him a dangerous animal who is nearly impossible to catch. He kidnaps and inflicts substantial abuse and torture on women before ultimately killing then mutilating them, while documenting everything on videotape. During his escapades, he is also sending false clues to the police and establishing false profiles by disguising his every killing in different organized or disorganized manners. The killer knows the psychology of his crimes, and by hiding his traits with others, he alludes the police. After a raid on his house by the police, several boxes of videotapes were found and this film is compiled alongside this footage. Will this criminal be caught and rightfully put away, or will he remain anonymous and continue his path of destruction and horror?


The Review: There are a lot of really simple ways to get me hyped up about seeing your film. The first and easiest way, tell me there’s gore or that it’s excessively nasty. The second way, tell me it’ll get me chicks… because unfortunately I can use all the help I can get. The third and more pertinent to the actual posting of this review: tell me it has something to do with the topic of snuff movies (or cinema as a form of power). No, I’m not some kind of sicko who wants to see real people tortured or killed, believe me, I can’t even watch MTV’s show Scarred. Real human carnage turns me into a big sissy, as I’m sure it does many of you reading this. However, films that deal with the topic of Snuff films, whether they exist or not, peaks my interest always. Surely if you’re a horror fan who hangs out on the net enough, you’re bound to have at least heard about The Poughkeepsie Tapes. Taking a very Blair Witch Project approach to the material, it has developed a good deal of wordofmouth advertising. However, the lead up to the film never really told me a whole lot about just what it is. Before going into the film I was under the impression that it was a film made up of “lost footage”, akin to Cannibal Holocaust, however it takes a much more intriguing approach and plays out like a documentary dealing with all of the surrounding evidence dealing with the case. Using a very convincing assortment of actors playing the role of FBI agents and professors who give their takes on just what makes this killer tick, the film plays out in a very slick and interesting way.

The one thing that is bound to come up when watching The Poughkeepsie Tapes is obviously the plausibility of such a documentary being made or the plausibility of such a killer ever existing. A lot of critics I’m sure will watch the film and guffaw at how impossible and exaggerated such a story would be, but regardless of how real the filmmakers play it off as – you have to realize this is just a movie, no more than any other. So big deal, it might be an attempt to create something very realistic, but we all know it’s just a film. So yes, we all know that you would likely never get active FBI agents on camera disclosing nearly every facet of information there is to give about a case that is obviously still open. You’re also not going to get access to these hundreds of videotapes that show the torture and eventual murders of countless innocent victims. This isn’t Budd Dwyer committing suicide for a dozen cameras, these are evidence in an open case in regards to a serial killer. I only bring these things up because the audience needs to realize that although the film is astonishingly well made, you have to give it some leniency too in order for it to work. After all, it’s only a movie.

With those things out of the way, I have to admit, The Poughkeepsie Tapes is a rough ride. The faux-documentary angle is rarely ever done better and aside from a performance here and there, the actors are all highly believable in their roles. The FBI agents in particular all come off as speaking off-the-cuff and in a very realistic fashion. There are others however, where the acting is apparent such as a profiling professor who takes things a little bit over the top – but isn’t really a detriment to the film. After all, what professor isn’t at least a little bit cocky? Overall the film handles the interview footage really well and the only sections I found obviously ‘faked’ were the TV News clips shown throughout the film; as you can tell they weren’t shot on videotape and with most local news affiliates you have some kind of stamp with the network logo or something similar, which the film does not. In the movie they’re presented with just the anchor’s name at the bottom of the screen with maybe a tiny graphic of some sort. I think the best way to have handled that would have been to record the nightly news and try to duplicate everything onscreen, but with your own graphics. Although not exactly a top priority of the filmmakers most assuredly, along with the look of the “videotapes” themselves (the FX work done to make them look warbly and color degraded might have been a little over the top) it’s one of the only parts of the film that you can really tell this is a movie.

To tell the truth, I really liked this film. It has it’s rough patches and some people are going to give it grief because of the previously mentioned moments where the movie-magic becomes apparent – but what were you expecting, something real? It is a thoroughly disturbing look at the world of serial killers and our infatuation with them. Like The Last Horror Movie, it takes something that has been done before but creates something entirely different and interesting. Creating a faceless serial killer who does such awful things, but isn’t just the screaming madmen of the August Underground series. The film is harsh in its delivery, almost to the point of making ME feel uncomfortable, which is an enormous feat these days. I have to give it a four out of five, I was very impressed with the film and am glad that the enormous amount of internet hype and viral videos actually paid off with something unique and worth watching. For fans of fictional serial killers and non-fiction documentaries, it’s worth checking out because it gets your mind wandering. However, as stated previously, give the film some room to work – we all know it isn’t real.

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Varied Celluloid is a film website intent on delivering views on movies from all genres. Started in 2003, the website has been steadfast in its goal and features a database of over 500 lengthy reviews. If you would like to contact us about writing for the website or sending screeners, please visit the about page located here.

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