In an abandoned house in Poughkeepsie, New York murder investigators uncover hundreds of tapes showing decades of a serial killer's work.


John Erick Dowdle


Drew Dowdle (story), John Erick Dowdle
3,428 ( 795)





Credited cast:
Stacy Chbosky ... Cheryl Dempsey
Ben Messmer ... Edward Carver
Samantha Robson ... Samantha
Ivar Brogger ... Leonard Schway
Lou George ... Felton Lewis
Amy Lyndon ... Alice Endrisart
Michael Lawson Michael Lawson ... Simon Alray
Ron Harper ... Mike Moakes
Kim Kenny Kim Kenny ... Pam Frears
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Iris Bahr ... Aretha Creely
Scott Beehner ... Jason Ribling
Kelli Bielema Kelli Bielema ... Jane Gerber
Linda Bisesti ... Sandra Willets
Lisa Black Lisa Black ... Victoria Dempsey
Marissa Blanchard Marissa Blanchard ... Girl Scout 1


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. Written by Tribeca Film Festival

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


The Terror is Real See more »

Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated R for sadistic violence and torture, including terror and graphic descriptions | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »

Did You Know?


The news anchors and reporters were from Minneapolis/St Paul, the director's home town. See more »


The news article describing the police raid on the house with the tapes describes the house as having three stories, but it appeared to be only one story. See more »


Victoria Dempsey: ...I guess I realized that I didn't have as much hope as I thought.
See more »

Crazy Credits

There is an additional scene after the credits See more »


References Psycho (1960) See more »

User Reviews

uneven tone and uneven quality
28 February 2021 | by phenomynoussSee all my reviews

For some reason I was fully expecting this to be brutal and particularly violent and traumatic and as such just instinctively avoided it for a while. But boredom got the better of me and I went and watched it. Thankfully it is not as overly gorey or gruesome as I expected, instead relying a lot on extreme discomfort and the implications of torture without actually seeing much of the actual torture.

The story is one of cops in Poughkeepsie New York finding a huge stash of VCR tapes during a raid on a serial killer's house, and there's literally thousands of tapes chronicling the killer kidnapping and killing people. It all unfolds in a documentary style which serves very well as a framing device.

But right away the film starts to quake a bit. Some of the actors portraying FBI agents or specialists look badly out of place or way too young, some of the actors add in unrealistic comments that are supposedly meant to show just how extreme this killer is/was.

The uneven quality of the acting starts to cause some of these scenes to be literally laughable, as an FBI specialist, in his most overly dramatic "barely holding it together voice" tells us that his wife accidentally watched 30 minutes of a tape and wouldn't let him touch her for over a year. Even remembering it now just made me laugh out loud not because of how it sounds, but just the absurdly serious way it was delivered.

Other events that are supposed to be serious, including even clips from the tapes themselves, filmed by the killer, sometimes struggle to maintain a balance between the theatrical/macabre and the absurd, in particular whenever the killer is shown dressed in his Plague Doctor costume. No matter how brutal or disturbing the content on screen is, the ridiculous theatricality just makes me laugh.

Some of the content matter actually fares better as a result of this unintentional comedy; without the absurd image of the killer walking on all fours with a mask on the back of his head, it would be much more difficult to take in the more brutal and sadistic things he does.

But at the same time, some of these "unintentional comedy" moments aren't a naturally flowing element to leaven a horrible moment. A lot of the police and witness interviews just try too hard to come across as "Serious true crime Netflix presents AmazonPrime documentary" and it comes across as almost wacky as a result.

The way the killer is repeatedly described as being an almost Mary Sue-ish caliber of serial killer, able to always outsmart the cops at every turn, always have everything pre-planned to perfection, described in such a way like if the killer was a Sith Lord, he would be "more powerful than Darth Vader and the Emperor and Darth Maul put together on steroids baaaa"

Some of the unexpected best parts of the film are when it touches upon Cheryl Dempsey, the longest-running victim of the killer, that it could almost become the story of her alone, her experiences and how it permanently damaged her as a person. But most of the film is spent fixating on the serial killer like he was a living Terminator, an absolute unstoppable genius that would make Hannibal Lecter look like a buffoon.

In fact it spends so much time hyping up the killer that I ended up spending more time laughing at the film than being disturbed or grossed out by it.

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Frequently Asked Questions

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Release Date:

2 January 2009 (Canada) See more »

Also Known As:

The Poughkeepsie Tapes See more »

Filming Locations:

Los Angeles, California, USA See more »

Company Credits

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs




Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
See full technical specs »

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