The Poughkeepsie Tapes (2007)
- Very dark and twisted… but in a good, “I like horror movies” kind of way.
- It's bold and original.
- It’s a noteworthy movie, worth seeing so you can be a part of the conversation.
- It’s low budget, over-the-top and the subject matter is quite grim. It is not for everyone.
- Some of the acting and production values will tip you off that it’s not a real documentary from time to time.
The Poughkeepsie Tapes (2007) starring Stacy Chbosky, Ben Messmer, and Samantha Robson. Directed by John Erick Dowdle.
When you talk about found-footage horror movies, titles like The Blair Witch Project, REC, Cannibal Holocaust, Cloverfield and Paranormal Activity usually come up. But then someone will mention The Poughkeepsie Tapes and a hush will come over the room.
Oh yeah, The Poughkeepsie Tapes. That’s the “not messing around” found-footage movie. You had to be a serious horror fan for this one. Not only does it have the reputation of being scarier and more brutal that your average found-footage flick, but for years it was also really hard to find. That only added to its mystique.
It’s presented as a documentary about a serial killer who recorded his crimes on hundreds of videotapes which were later discovered in a house by investigators, along with several bodies buried in the yard. Shot from the killers POV, the tapes document his murders as well as the stalking and torture of his victims. Interspersed between these clips are various news segments and interviews with people involved with the investigation.
The killer in this movie is so creepy. We see things mostly through his eyes and it’s a terrifying perspective. We watch and hear him interact with his prey. We know the danger they are in and there is nothing we can do to warn them. And the few times you do see the killer in front of the camera? Let’s just say it’s unsettling.
For a long time this movie was kind of a Holy Grail. The only way to see it was from a pirated copy or finding a grainy, low quality version online somewhere. It was as a bootleg that The Poughkeepsie Tapes legend was born.
The story goes something like this… it was originally scheduled for release around 2007-08, but instead it was pulled and thrown into cold storage. Eventually the film leaked out to the public and got passed around. It was briefly available on VOD in 2014 and finally released on Blu-ray and DVD in October of 2017. At long last, you can get a quality copy and see what all the hype was about. And you should check it out.
It’s innovative, audacious and contains some imagery that you won’t soon forget. (The basement, the mask. You’ll see.) Yes, some pretty sick and twisted things go down in this movie, but it’s a nice blend of graphic and psychological horror. The filmmakers took a big swing, with a tiny budget, and I think they crushed it. Not to mention the lead actor (Ben Messmer) and actress (Stacy Chbosky), who both give bold performances.
Since the video is mostly shot by the killer, or comes from documentary clips, the movie never suffers from the common found-footage problem of “Why would they keep filming?”
Opinions of The Poughkeepsie Tapes run the gamut. Some people love it and some don’t. Either way, it’s a fascinating film and with a distinct niche in horror history. It paved the way for other extreme movies like Megan is Missing.
I happen to like this movie a lot. It’s a damn good little horror flick, as well one of the best, and most interesting, found-footage moves out there. It takes risks and it’s not predictable. I’d say it’s a breath of fresh air, but “fresh air” is the last way you should describe this movie.
You may or may not agree with my assessment, but ultimately I think you’ll be glad you watched it at least once. Even if it’s not your cup of tea, at least you’ll finally see what all the fuss was about.
Bonus Content: The Blu-ray also contains an interview with Writer/Director John Erick Dowdle and Writer/Producer Drew Dowdle. (Who went on to make Quarantine and As Above, So Below.) It’s great to hear the story behind the movie, their thoughts as they made it and how it got shelved. It’s also cool to hear their thoughts, in retrospect, about some of the crazy things that happen in the film and the cult status that it has achieved. There is also an interview with actress Stacy Chbosky, which is nice if for no other reason than to see that she’s actually alright after all she went through in this movie.