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I'm so incredibly tired of the sequel-slash-remake factory of Hollywood
horror. This film is a very welcome change.
I've heard some criticism of the performances, and I cannot concur. The lead actress who portrayed Cheryl Dempsey did a really wonderful job. The slight unevenness adds to the realistic feel of the film. Without giving anything away, I must say that the true horror is not to be found within the videotaped torture. As brutal and horrific as that is, the real frightening stuff lies in the aftermath.
The writer & director Brothers Dowdle were present at the Tribeca screening which I attended along with two of the actors. The brief Q & A after the film was thoroughly enjoyable. Envisioned as the first part of a trilogy, this is not to be missed by fans of the serial killer genre. I'm looking forward to the next installment.
I'm a big fan of the horror genre, but I've gotten used to "disposable"
horror flicks that stop being scary the moment the lights come up. So
I'm especially grateful to admit-- I CANNOT GET THIS MOVIE OUT OF MY
HEAD! I thought it was scary in the theater, but it's just become so
much scarier in the week since I saw it at the Tribeca Film Festival
(where the audience, BTW, went nuts for it. it was the big "buzz" film
I don't want to add any spoilers so I won't go into detail, but MAN, there were a handful of "video footage" scenes that were so scary, I haven't been able to wash my face without keeping one eye open while I splash with water, you know what I mean?
For me, the thing that makes it so scary is 1.) it's all so hyper realistic 2.) the characters (some of them) are so vulnerable and authentic and even kind of lovable that the scares have a lot more impact. If you're hoping to see just another popcorn movie where the gang of vapid teenagers gets butchered, this probably ain't the film for you. On the other hand, if you wish they were still making movies as meaningful and scary as Rosemary's Baby, Repulsion, The Shining, Texas Chainsaw, Henry Portrait Of... and even (to mention a newer flick) The Ring, then you absolutely have to check out this new cult classic.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I was patiently waiting for this film to be released for some time now,
and I had overall fairly high expectations. In the end I wasn't overly
impressed, but I cannot say it comes as a surprise to me. Basically the
movie is a mock documentary about the career of a serial killer, and I
would like to start off by saying to those of you who rate this as "bad
movie" simply because it's not violent, explicit or gory enough, you
should at least figure out what you're rating before making an ass out
of yourself. This cannot be rated as a standard horror movie, because
it's not. Basically what you're rating is fake snuff, packaged into a
fake crime documentary envelope the likes of which you don't get to see
on "american justice" with the supposed snuff footage attached. So
therefore, if you say it's a BAD movie because it's boring, then what
the hell are you watching a mock documentary for in the first place??
Simply, if you find shows like "American Justice" or "Cold Case Files"
boring or uninteresting, and enjoy pure gorefests and slasher flicks
rather than real life crime, you will NOT like this movie. However if
you are interested in crime profiling, and actually research criminal
cases, you will probably find this interesting and it would be
worthwhile to see.
The main problem I have however, is the whole profile of the killer. To me, "The Brothers Dowdle" made the mistake of trying to make the serial killer out to be an exceptional ultra meticulous serial killer, (unlike any the world has seen BEFORE!) rather than just an average serial killer. The biggest problem with this premise is that every time we see the killer on camera, he is usually doing extremely high risk things, which a clever killer wouldn't do, and in the end he seems extremely LUCKY half the time, rather than being aided by meticulous planning. Examples: The way he stalks Sheryl Dempsey for so long, putting himself in plain view before finally abducting her. Showing up and confronting Sheryl Dempsey's mother at her house while an ongoing crime investigation is taking place. And the worst is how he invites the 2 girls who live on his block into his house, while Sheryl Dempsey is hiding under the table. If they knew she was under there, or the neighbours had heard any screams coming from the house at any time, it would have meant instant death, much like when the neighbours of Jeoffrey Dahmer were concerned with the peculiar odours coming from his basement. Also the way he abducts young girls on their own property in broad daylight is very high risk, and he would have clearly had some failed attempts, thus having witnesses. I also really did not like how the crime investigators supposedly consulted Ted Bundy for advice on the case (He was in fact consulted for advice about The Green River Killer).
Another big problem is that when they find out exactly WHO the killer is and where he lived, they go into absolutely no detail as to what KIND of person he was in daily life, where he worked, how people around him regarded him, which again does not really give the viewer any chance to examine his character in any relation to the profile he's given. The almost comical fact of the matter is that when you closely examine serial killers on a personal level, they present themselves as plain and mundane, almost boring individuals most of the time, which in fact was what allowed a killer like Gary Ridgway to become THE most prolific American serial killer of all time, because though at many times he was a suspect, he was written off every single time because he seemed like such an average Joe, which by contrast the killer in THIS film was an extreme oddball. This fact is I suppose, a good excuse for the creators to keep him as mysterious and therefore menacing as possible, while at the same time making no real account for his apparent success at killing.
In the end after watching this movie, I came away with the impression of having watched an overall sloppy premise, and though it was an interesting attempt, these Brohers Dowdle clearly take themselves for something much more impressive than they actually are. Had they had consultation from real crime investigators when writing the script, which is what Martin Scorcese did, when directing his extremely impressive true crime based dramas, this film would have definitely been more impressive. In the end the ultimate point is, if you ARE interested in crime documentaries, why even bother with this fake contrived junk when you can watch the real thing in documentaries about real life killers? As mentioned before, you certainly won't be watching this movie for violence or gore.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"The Poughkeepsie Tapes" is a tough film to review. Much like any
recent horror film, there are going to be people who love it and people
who hate. Reading some of the recent reviews here and on other
prominent horror sites, one would think this film is as sloppy and as
terrible as "Ax 'Em" or "Dark Fields." In fact, though this film has a
plethora of problems, I believe it is an effective, creepy, and
thought-provoking little film.
It is presented as a documentary. Basically, a serial killer has been terrorizing the community of Poughkeepsie, New York for years. Cops are baffled by the cleverness of the killer. He is even able to frame a police officer, who is executed for the crimes. When they discover the home of the serial killer, police and FBI find hundreds of VHS tapes, each detailing the crimes of this vicious killer. We are shown footage of these tapes, interwoven with interviews of police officers, family members of victims, and even a victim herself to get a perspective of the killer and his crimes. Some of the footage is downright creepy and disturbing, including the murder of a young child and torture of several victims. The mask the killer wears is also quite creepy.
One of the main problems with the film is in presentation. We are suppose to be viewing "real" footage of the killer and his crimes, but can't help to notice the convenient "suspenseful" background music that plays during each clip. Did the killer go in and edit and add music to each of his tapes? The killer's identity remains a mystery throughout the whole film and it is a stretch to ask viewers to believe the he was able to get away with some of the stuff he did (framing a police officer). The acting by some is rather hokey, but I can't decide if it was meant to be that way because is is suppose to be "real" people being interviewed, or if these people are just bad actors.
Despite the flaws, "The Poughkeepsie Tapes" does some things extremely well, mainly making the viewer uncomfortable. The killer is pretty brazen, and it is horrifying to think that, yes, there ARE people out there like that. Like the film says, there are anywhere from 25-40 active serial killers working at any given time in the United States. The black and white footage of the "crimes" is pretty effective and provides some great tension. There is also one scene where the killer is walking on all fours toward a victim with his creepy mask on that gave me chills. Though the ending is unsatisfying, it almost couldn't have ended any other way.
Overall, I have seen MUCH worse. Those dismissing this as nothing but brainless torture porn obviously have short attention spans or just weren't paying all that close attention to it. The film is constructed and edited very well (despite the flaws I mentioned above) and the story is actually pretty solid. I can tell a lot of thought went into this film. It could have been better, but that can be said about any film. Go in with an open mind and watch this with the lights off at night. I am willing to be you will be looking behind you and checking to see if your doors are locked more than once.
FrightMeter Grade: B
This horror flick is unique in the way it leaves a lot to the imagination. Most of the acting is poor, but the story of Cheryl Dempsey makes the movie worthwhile. In fact, her story, could have stood on its own. The character is portrayed well, and it is very hard to forget what happens to her and how she is affected. Because of how devastating her story is, and because a lot is left to the imagination as to how her story progressed, the movie is actually worth watching for horror buffs. If they'd left her story out, most of the movie would be a waste of time. Her story also makes the serial killer in the story much more engrossing, since it gives a kind of unusual psychological depth to his character which is often missing in horror.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
After a massive collection of tapes containing video of the torture &
murder of hundreds of innocent men & women is found in an abandoned
house, an investigation forms to discover who is responsible for the
decade-long terror put upon the town of Poughkeepsie.
After being pushed back more than a Detroit Lions offensive lineman, 'The Poughkeepsie Tapes' finally saw the light of day here in early 2009. Rumours and news swarmed around this film since its announcement. When trailers were released, arguments and debates (stupidly) broke out on the validity of the tapes. Let it be clear: None of it is real. It may be based on something real, but these are not real tapes (which is quite obvious while watching). But, that doesn't mean it can't still be good, right? Well, while that is true. . . there are more than a few other reasons why this wasn't good. At all. I think, of the technical aspects, one of the major flaws of the film is the acting. Just about every actor in this film is just plain painful to watch. I don't think I actually saw a single believable character in the film, especially the FBI agents. If I ever met an FBI agent that acted like some of these people, I would greatly fear for the security of our nation even more than I already do. In addition to that, what FBI agents would actually do a film like this? Not the film we're watching, clearly, but what the film represents: The documentary. For a fairly recent serial killer of this magnitude, the majority of this information would be kept locked away from the general public for a long while. Obviously that would ruin the 'effect' of the film, but the lack of realism was really damaging to a film trying to be as real as possible. Also, I had a major problem with both the cinematography and the film quality of the tapes. I mean, this killer is quite clearly invested in his 'work.' The profiler states that he thinks the killer did this as a way to enjoy the murders long after they ended, that he was very meticulous about the filming. . . yet, the majority of these tapes are grainy and choppy and low quality? Why? Why wouldn't he have good film/video? Even a basic $300 video camera will deliver reasonable quality (at least it would have a night vision function, which clearly his camera did not). I get that it was a way of differentiating between the tapes and the other parts of the documentary, but I think a viewer is smart enough to realize that when a woman is in her underwear bouncing on a balloon (seriously), it's not going to be one of the FBI agents. As far as the content of the tapes, I wasn't very impressed. They weren't overly shocking or gruesome, barring a couple examples. They weren't well done or convincing. They didn't scare me. The majority of them were just laughably bad, like a 'Scary Movie' spoof of the 'August Underground' movies (which, in themselves, are laughably bad enough as it is). But, I suppose that's what it kind of is. Not a spoof, really, just what seems like a more tame, more mainstream attempt at an 'August Underground'-type film. . . but, really, it's just bad.
Final Verdict: 3.5/10
I've been seeking a resource to watch The Poughkeepsie Tapes since I
saw the original trailer in 2008. After that, no word was ever spoken
about the film again. I heard of no release, no screenings, and no
mainstream DVD. What happened? As of today, at least to me, it's all
still a mystery. Finally, I have seen the film in its entirety, and I
hesitate not to label it one of the creepiest faux documentaries I have
yet to see.
Found footage films are a dime a dozen, with already several released this year alone. They are an easy way to make a buck; shoot a film for no more than roughly five million dollars, and wind up making an explosive profit. It's as easy as that. Very few bring such motivation, confidence, and shining capabilities to screen, but The Poughkeepsie Tapes pleasingly differentiates itself from just another fake piece of work in the sea. Many found footage pictures today occupy a certain cinematic quality about them. Some of them, like the extraordinarily underwhelming Paranormal Activity 3, feel a tad too polished, and because of the extreme popularity of the franchise, seem to have taken a much more Hollywood route. The Poughkeepsie Tapes doesn't do that, and always remains in the field of campiness and believability.
It centers around the humble town of Poughkeepsie, New York, where, after police raid a house in the city, a stash of over eight-hundred VHS tapes of grisly murders committed by a sadistic man behind the camera are found. They are greatly detailed, even with static in the background and color and audio distortion personifying such an effective state of realism that I am without words. I've raved about cinematography and atmosphere in films many, many times before, but here, it is beyond haunting. A work of photography and directorial skill of immense levels.
We are presented with interviews of FBI officials, psychologists, police offers, victims' parents, and more. Every so often, the clips are punctuated by a videotape itself, showing one of the killers' acts of torment or assault. I was hauntingly reminded of August Underground, a dirty, degrading picture that showed two nameless characters running around going on a sick and unjustifiable murdering spree. The Poughkeepsie Tapes occupies more than just mindless snuff, but depth, efficient backstory, and impeccable detail in its photography, execution, and realism.
Some of his first tapes show him praying on the innocuous and the vulnerable. One of those is Jennifer Gorman, an eight year old girl playing in her front yard with her dolls, who is beaten over the head and abducted by the killer. As time goes on, his killings expand to acts that had to have required planning, strategy, along with a touch of crazy. One of the victims we closely identify with goes by the name of Cheryl Dempsey, a teenage girl whom he kidnaps one night while she is alone with her boyfriend. She is abused sexually and physically, being kept in his basement, as well as being referred to as "slave," which he continuously hammers into her head as her new name.
As the film progresses, things become deeper, more intriguing, and inevitably, more and more consuming. Images and sequences increasingly become exceptionally haunting, some of them for some people could be scaring, and many are some of the finest work in the genre from the last decade. John Erik Dowdle has effectively created a brilliant horror gem, one of keen timing and direction, and one of style and detail that doesn't rely solely on loud, abrupt musical chords and cheap exploitative jump scares. It sets itself up to be an involving piece for those seeking one, and allows itself to be discussed long after the credits finish rolling. Stay after if you're interested in seeing one more terrifying shot.
NOTE: For those interested in seeing the film in its entirety, the full film has been posted on Youtube in one convenient part, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NsuTTMiSScc Starring: Bobbi Sue Luther, Samantha Robson, Ivar Brogger, and Iris Bahr. Directed by: John Erik Dowdle.
Although this in essence is a truly scary horror movie which will
undoubtedly scare happy teens for years to come, the characters in it
are sadly - despite very good acting skills on some parts - largely
unrealistic in the way they are portrayed. It became a bit annoying in
the end, because they were all acting in that particular way,
indicating that this perhaps was just a directing mistake - or I
speculate it could also be that it was done intentionally to "take the
edge off" and make the movie a bit "less" frightening actually (though
My issue is that there is a bit "too much" acting; people who have been involved in cases like these, be it up close or just a reporter, tend to speak about them in a detached, matter-of-fact way. This is both natural and helpful, and is probably a kind of defense-measure on part of the human psyche. The officers, forensic investigators, family and so on are often here showing the "theatre" syndrome, exaggerating both voices and body language.
Maybe I'm just boring, analytical and interested in details, but don't forget - every good police officer or forensic detective probably are as well :-P
If you don't care or saw the movie and didn't notice anything unnatural, then good for you - you got your moneys worth :)
For a comparison in what I mean, take a look at *any* episode of *any* true crime investigation, e.g. Crime Investigation Australia.
I found this film to be thoroughly Horrific. There are times when viewing this film where you are compelled to avert your eyes. I mean, Guttural, sections where you make a decision of vision morality. I love this about the Poughkeepsie Tapes. I love the Killer. I love his victims. I believe that there are so many formats, switchbacks, characters, and moods contained in this documentary-styled omage to a truly "true-crime stylized film that one must take away a few beautiful essentials. I truly nod a congratulatory appreciation for what the Dowdle Brothers have created. Thank You. I hope all who dare to see this film, appreciate it for the Intricate Experience it Possesses.
Rather than a cheesy rip off or mindless moronic gorefest this film
takes a terrifying concept and gives it a body. The effects are
slightly low budget and but very powerful when combined with the
psychological effects of the story. Without going into detail,
somethings are slightly off and open small holes or just seem pointless
altogether. But they are few and far between. "Ed" the Killer is
portrayed very well as a psychopath with sociopathic tendencies.
The torture videos themselves are not nearly as disturbing as the underlying theme that someone could actually do this. A real breath of fresh air in a genre that seems to be nothing more than retreads of the same garbage. The blood is minimal and the film relies on the tone to frighten and disturb the viewers. It really is a shame that this film didn't make mainstream.
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