The Poughkeepsie Tapes

"Excellent"

The Poughkeepsie Tapes Review


Why do we watch serial killer documentaries? Because they delve into the depths of a psychopath; we're shocked by the brutality, but captured by disbelief. The Poughkeepsie Tapes takes its faux-doc structure one step further by showing footage of the killings recorded by the killer. While the brutality from cruddy VHS tapes attacks our visceral fear, the documentary-like interviews taunt our psyche, brewing the uneasy feeling that unspeakable horror is more real than we'd like to think.

Poughkeepsie's Water Street Butcher is an all-star in the world of serial murderers. Before we see any of his greatest hits, experts -- including FBI agents and psychiatrists -- put the man behind the camera into perspective. He's intelligent, charismatic and dangerous. This is not the hand-held horror of [REC] or The Blair Witch Project. Instead, The Poughkeepsie Tapes exploits the structure of a documentary to plants seeds of fear in our minds. The FBI agents spout serial killer statistics, while psychiatrists compare the Poughkeepsie killer to the likes of Jeffrey Dhamer and Ted Bundy -- building the tension for the hand-held footage we're about to see. When we get our first glimpse of the killer's POV camera watching a little girl playing in her front yard, we already know what he's capable of, and it's not good.

However, there are times when the talking heads make the killer out to be too good at his work -- the police finding his captives and the tapes wasn't a slip up (how perfect). Unfortunately this happens too often to ignore and threatens to push The Poughkeepsie Tapes into Spinal Tap-parody territory. Yet, the glorification of a murderer with reverent tones from FBI agents are more chilling than any POV footage. When the killer with a camera gets into a car with a kind couple who don't mind giving the stranger a lift, we know they aren't going to make it. As if seeing our presumptions come true wasn't scary enough, we get post-killing commentary from an FBI agent. He describes how the killer must have practiced the killing motion because he's able to kill the woman in the passenger seat from the backseat, while simultaneously positioning the camera. He sounds almost bizarrely excited by his own voyeurism -- a thought we might try to dismiss as we continue watching.

That's not to say that The Poughkeepsie Tapes doesn't serve up hand-held thrills. There are plenty of bizarre basement tortures to go around. And while the killer's quiet moments of victim stalking -- be it a child or a couple relaxing at home -- build the tension, director John Erick Dowdle knows that it's the killer's bizarre motivations that truly terrify. That's why he gives us scenes of the killer taunting his victims, and enjoying it. We're more terrified by a quick shot of the killer filming a young woman in her underwear bouncing on a balloon, as the killer begins to violently yell "pop it!," than we are of any cheap scare or gore tactics.



The Poughkeepsie Tapes

Facts and Figures

Run time: 86 mins

In Theaters: Friday 30th January 2009

Distributed by: MGM

Production compaines: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM)

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5

IMDB: 6.1 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director: John Erick Dowdle

Producer: Drew Dowdle

Starring: Stacy Chbosky as Cheryl Dempsey, Ben Messmer as Ed, Ivar Brogger as Leonard Schway, Samantha Robson as Samantha

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