The Poughkeepsie Tapes (2007)
When hundreds of videotapes showing torture, murder and dismemberment are found in an abandoned house, they reveal a serial killer's decade-long reign of terror and become the most disturbing collection of evidence homicide detectives have ever seen.
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Excellent but underrated film
I enjoyed watching this film and would recommend other to give it a try , (as I am) but this movie, although enjoyable to watch due to the better than average acting fails to add anything new to its storyline that is all too familiar to these types of movies.
The movie turns out to be a little better than the average. Starting from a romantic formula often seen in the cinema, it ends in the most predictable (and somewhat bland) way.
I decided to give this a viewing after reading how disturbing it's supposed to be and that it was never given its cinematic or home releases that were intended for it.Some imagery and themes are unsettling, particularly those involving the younger victims. If you are very bothered by the implication of children being harmed then you should probably watch something else but I find real life is much scarier than fiction.It's loosely based off of an actual serial killer in that city in the 90's though it's really a work of fiction as most if not all of the events in the film do not reflect reality. Found footage genre so some people will treat it like they are viewing real events anyway.The acting is so mediocre that the best I can do is a 5/10. Acting is not this challenging...and even worse it's not challenging for someone to notice poor acting so it's a mystery why it's allowed in so many indie films as if a director can't notice it, yet I can without a problem.In the case of found footage, it would seem acting should be relatively simple...but the "FBI agents" that are interviewed on camera just seem like loser actors hamming it up, right down to the hesitant breaths they take before speaking, and the dramatic facial expressions. Watch some true crime stuff on TV where they speak to real FBI agents...they are completely calm and collected, factual and to the point. These FBI agents in the film come off as actors who want to be noticed by exaggerating their parts and making their lines seem more poignant than that of how your typical dull federal agents would express themselves on camera, a place where they are not naturally comfortable being.All in all, if you want some torture porn, this movie may suffice. If you want convincing acting, you may feel insulted.
Usually I hate these found-footage styled movies. They're often shaky, full of bad lines and an excuse for producers to skimp out on expensive editing. I am a big fan of horror though, and of the VHS format. There's something strangely captivating and nostalgic about those bright contrasting colours and flickers of tape tracking across the screen. That being said, after seeing the brutal sadism within this story that goes beyond normal for most horror, it didn't scare me per-say but it came across like the producers were trying too hard for shock value.The Poughkeepsie Tapes throws together every serial killer trope from the media, borrowing from the disturbing and meticulous crimes of murderers and molesters like John Wayne Gacy and Ted Bundy (both of whom if I recall were actually mentioned in the film), and of course we get some elements from unsolved cold cases like the JonBenet Ramsey murder. There are even a few themes similar to fictional films such as The Lovely Bones (2009) and Sinister (2012). Sometimes though it felt like The Poughkeepsie Tapes didn't know which direction it was going in. We've got this serial killer without much of a purpose, who seems to be a sociopath, who uses a girl as his "slave", whose crimes have no motive or similarities (of course, this killer is also supposed to be some kind of genius doing different murder styles each time to throw of the cops, of course), oh and let's not forget, he's also a fetishist for scantily-clad women sitting on giant balloons and bouncing on them. O-kay, yeah. This comes across as neither frightening nor creepy, but rather just bizarre.We also have his VHS tapes, which are quite well-done for an indie film although it's obvious that the VHS footage was tampered with on purpose for a low-grade quality effect. Yet the events occurring on each tape all have more of an early Eighties vibe than a Nineties vibe. Watching them had me immediately thinking back to that period when the two polar opposites of the news, both the sensationalist and the fluff, began to emerge, which would be the Eighties. The popping bright colours also give a more Eighties atmosphere than a Nineties one. If the VHS tapes hadn't been such a central plot device to the story I probably wouldn't care as much, but it does seem like The Poughkeepsie Tapes is definitely set in the wrong era.I absolutely loved the eerie, ambient soundtrack. The acting was okay, nothing special but not terrible, either. Sometimes "Ed" the Poughkeepsie killer seemed quite over-the-top, to the point where his angry screaming of "POP IT!" to one of the balloon girls and his angry rant at Cheryl Dempsey seemed more comedic than scary. I've seen better performances frankly in my high school drama class. Ed's entire character was utterly ridiculous. I don't mean to sound all pretentious but nothing about him felt real. Even sociopaths and nihilists usually have some underlying motive in their crimes. The ones who kill simply because they love blood and guts are the ones who always get caught and arrested right away because they see it as a sick game. Ed just wasn't realistic enough to be scary. What was more disturbing in this film than Ed himself is the psychological grief and turmoil of the victims' families, especially Cheryl's mother, who finds herself going through the supposed "five stages of grief" blatantly on-screen before accepting Cheryl's death, only to discover that Ed has not killed Cheryl at all but instead turned her into a mentally-ill shell of her former self who later commits suicide.As a film working by acting as a fake documentary, The Poughkeepsie Tapes is not really a slasher picture and won't give any fans of that genre the frequent elaborate murders they are expecting. It does tend to drag on a lot while still having quite a powerful atmosphere. Evidently a lot of effort went into this film; we get aerial shots of Poughkeepsie itself in all its Autumn glory. We get numerous types of found footage from different years. We get references to significant historical events of the time, such as the tragedy of 9/11. I did enjoy it; with horror films I often find that less is more. Gratuitous violence, sex, profanity and blood can just make a film look cheesy. This one isn't one of my favourites and I think a lot could have been improved upon, but I did still like it. The Poughkeepsie Tapes was filmed in 2007 but mysteriously held back from its release date until 2014, which I wonder was possibly an attempt to create anticipation from a crowd of moviegoers, the suggestion of "this is that film they didn't want you to see".
Firstly, I must point out that this film had me second guessing the backstory research (that I had done previously) throughout! Some of the clips from this series found footage 'tapes'-that we are exposed to- are reminiscent of scenes from snuff films and appear so vividly realistic; that it became hard to distinguish when the narrative was being genuinely scary rather than real ( I will say this film is NOT a true story, but speculation is that it has some moments that resemble actual cases). It is through these raw realistic portrayals and crime show documentary style techniques, that we are drawn into the film with both awe and repulsion. We recoil at some hideous moments, terrified of the fate of the person we are viewing. We gasp as people are bound,gagged, tortured and then slain in front of our eyes. This is a film on par with Cannibal Holocaust or even the original release of The Blair Witch project, for it's believable portrayals and twisted take on the horrifying insight into a criminal's psyche. Like a studious serial killer who is etched forever in our memory (like the evolution of Hannibal Lector in the films The Silence of the Lambs, Red Dragon and Hannibal), we learn how intelligent The Water Street Butcher (as he is dubbed by investigators) is and how creatively he has developed his techniques, his executions and ultimately his power over his victims.Our killer uses his crimes to set up a series of red herrings for the police, which ultimately help him to evade capture. One particular victim develops a love so fascinating for her captor that it makes us shudder at her unnerving desire to continue to please her "Master". We learn of how she has slowly been tortured, dominated and submerged within his world, to the point of developing symptoms of Stockholm Syndrome and thus furthering her twisted attraction to her captor (more so due to his perpetual dominance over her for several years and an inability to break free from it once her ordeal is over). Through the interviews with the victims families, forensic specialists and differing levels within law enforcement and their equally involved legal guides, we learn more about the details for these crimes and the hellish nightmare like levels of depravity our killer delves into. The use of the documentary style, the camera/video techniques, the dialogue (which is wonderfully realistic) and the casting -all unknown and believable in their roles from each angle of the film have all created this very pragmatic and factually realistic film that is a superb, if not unnerving watch in parts. My only fault is the limited release of The Poughkeepsie Tapes. It did appear at some festivals with the Dowdle brothers in 2007 upon release, but since has been pulled from the actual release (despite cinematic advertising) and not been released either cinematically or on home media to this date! It's been 9 years and further developments on why are torn between issues with distributor MGM and the possibility the films likeness was too realistic and possibly touched on some actual real life crimes of a similar nature. The truth.....we may never know.
I was quite impressed with this film and definitely think it's worth a watch.It is low budget and in some instances the acting isn't stellar and occasionally some of the really dark sequences make it a bit too dark to see what is going on - normally this works fine as it makes your imagination do a lot of the work, but in one or two cases I really would have liked it a little brighter just so I could follow what was happening (mainly involving the killer moving and I didn't fully catch exactly what he was doing.) This is however a fairly minor gripe and I enjoyed the film and found it pretty engrossing.As many people have noted, the standout parts of the film involve the gradual breakdown and degradation of the Cheryl Dempsey character and the Master/Slave relationship that develops between herself and the killer. It was a surprisingly effective story and I don't think the film would be anywhere near as good without it.For the most part I like that the vast majority of the killers motives and so on go completely unexplained (though it does lead me on to one of my gripes later on). One of the FBI profilers offers some conjecture as to what might have driven the killer to do these ghastly murders but that is about it. The film also does a pretty good job of making you dislike the killer (some of the stuff he does is pretty awful and sadistic) and wanting background that is never provided - in most cases this works well as it makes the viewer feel the same level of exasperation as the authorities.That said....there were a few things that didn't work for me -almost all of them mechanical/technical details.1.) There is too much emphasis on how awesomely great the killer is. By this I mean things like not a single finger print being found at the house, etc didn't work for me. I began to wonder at one point if they were building toward a superhuman/supernatural angle and it did spoil some of my suspension of disbelief.2.) Partially tying in with the above point - the whole James Foley storyline. i seriously think this entire thing could be cut form the film and it would make the film a lot better. For starters, it only serves to make the killers skills laughably good rather than intimidating (the whole taking his sperm donations from a fertility clinic......I guess it's not impossible but I found the level of planning/resources and time involved in the frame job so ludicrously unlikely that I think the film suffers for it).Secondly, given that the killer actually approaches Cheryl Dempsey's mother and she becomes aware that he is the killer before he leaves just makes the whole Foley angle even more ridiculous. If Mrs Dempsey has met the killer then unless he was masked/heavily disguised (which would be rather odd at a crime scene) then she must have known enough to know that Foley was not the killer (I don't think she comments on the Foley angle at all in the film). I certainly think she would know enough to help narrow down some of the profiling issues the authorities have been having, unless the killer actually looks like Foley, but even then, that's a pretty good lead. No, for me the Foley angle weakens the film considerably.3.) While I realise that a lot of stuff goes unexplained in this (and as I mentioned above this is mostly actually a positive thing) I think at least some hint of a reason as to why the killer chooses Cheryl to be his "Slave" rather than a victim would have been good.Beyond that though it is a good film and I would recommend watching it.