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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.

The Poughkeepsie Tapes is filmed as a faux-documentary which recounts the story of the ‘Water Street Butcher’, a serial killer who terrorized a town called Poughkeepsie, NY for over ten years. Eventually he made a mistake and the FBI managed to track his whereabouts. By the time they arrived he was already long gone. They did however find a meticulously catalogued library of VHS tapes in which he had documented his entire serial killing career. The Poughkeepsie Tapes then progresses through the killer’s story by giving us interviews with the police, FBI agents and the friends and family members of the victims. It also includes extended clips from the actual video library, so we can see exactly what happened to the victims, rather than just leave it to our imagination.

I thought The Poughkeepsie Tapes was an above average horror film. We were shown a very methodical killer who very much enjoyed playing games with his victims. His face was always obscured, either because he was holding the camera and when he wasn’t he was wearing a mask such as a Comeddia dell’arte mask as shown below. Pretty creepy.

Minor spoilers lie within………………..

Whilst statistically most serial killers have a profile/M.O and tend to stick to one method, the killer in this film is all over the place and because of this makes it nearly impossible for the FBI to get any good leads on him. From weird fetishes such as making victims bounce on balloons until they burst to keeping a slave alive for an extended period of time to threatening victims with rape – this guy is all over the map crazy. He doesn’t seem to have a favourite style of victim either. We see him take a young girl from her front garden, hijack a couple who pick him up hitch-hiking after his car breaks down, and even hide in an apartment and take on a young couple.

Gore wise most events happen off camera, but by far the most unsettling parts of the movie happen in the killers basement or dungeon. Here we see him tie up his victims, either to pipes or in different positions to get his point across he is in charge. By far the creepiest and best scene in my opinion is when the camera is mounted and set up focused on the victims face at eye level, watching her scream and panic, and very slowly seeing the killer crawl across the floor behind her from the corner of the room on all fours with a mask covering his face and one of top of his head. Then when he finally gets behind her and she knows he is somewhere close, he disappears from shot and the wait for him to appear is agonising. You know where he will appear, right by her face naturally, but the wait is the best and worst part of the shot, as you see the fear and realisation in the victims eyes and then the  shot as the killer enters the victims and the viewers eye line at the same time. Loved this scene!

The film primarily focuses on one victim in particular, a girl called Cheryl. After abducting her and imprisoning her in his basement, the killer seems to develop a special interest in Cheryl and becomes determined to keep her alive as his personal slave. In the beginning this involves just a few words, making her call him master for example. Eventually he takes this further to the extreme of introducing Cheryl to another victim in the dungeon and then he orders Cheryl to kill the new victim. 

Major Spoilers to follow………………..

We even see the killer re-visit Cheryl’s home and meet her mother, which results in a traumatic revelation for her mother which I didn’t quite buy into 100%. How did she know it was him?? A feeling?? I guess the point of the scene is too show just how twisted this guy is, as he took great delight in meeting the mother.

I like the fact that Cheryl was found alive, albeit in a very bad way. Missing parts of her body and having suffered endless torture, seeing and listening to her interview at the end was so sad, it showed his methods had unfortunately worked and she could no longer live without him. Her suicide was the only way to end it really, it would have been no life for her to carry on as she was.

The negatives are mainly about some of the acting. It is a low budget film, and does look like it due to the nature of the VHS quality of the found footage. The look of the film doesn’t detract anything from it, but whilst some actors/actresses were great, Cheryl in particular, some of the cops for instance were a bit wooden. Also the use of a soundtrack in parts over the footage was strange, not sure the killer would have had time to add some mood music but again the good outweighed the bad. With a bigger budget and more studio support this really could have been a horror film that was widely seen and highly regarded in the genre, as it is it tends to divide opinion from the small minority that have seen it. A shame really as the idea and concept deserves much more.

To wrap things up, the scariest part of the film is that whilst it is portrayed as a true story but obviously isn’t, there are people in the world that do twisted things like the killer in this film. As the film itself states, there are anywhere from 25-40 active serial killers working at any given time in the United States. A frightening statistic.

The film was originally released in 2007. When I say released I mean shown off at a few festivals where it received a good reception and great word of mouth and then was strangely pulled from all release schedules. Here we are in 2012 and there has still never been a cinema or dvd/blu ray release of the film. They even put a trailer out before a few other major releases but again it just slipped into oblivion. When I see the state of a lot of horror films in particular that get a big worldwide release and suck big time, it shocks me when a low budget but above average film is just left to rot on a shelf. People need to see this film. On the IMDB forums people still talk about this film regularly. 5 years on from its non-existent release and people have somehow managed to see it and still talk about it. Such a shame that this may never get the wider audience it deserves. At the very least it should be made available on dvd or on-demand video services. If you do get chance to see this, which whilst it may be tough is not impossible (some websites were offering it as a free to watch film if you sign up – that’s how I found it) or through some miracle it gets a disk release I think you will be pleasantly surprised if you are into your horror films. I know for sure I have seen much worse and whilst it may not be the gore-fest that some people lust after, it has enough in my opinion to satisfy all horror fan needs.

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21 Comments

  1. Great review! I loooove this movie! 🙂

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    • Thanks! Yeah it is a great film, really deserves to be seen by more people. Personally I think this would of done well at the box office rather than just be left to rot on a shelf somewhere.

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  2. gregory moss

     /  September 14, 2012

    Nice one man! Not sure it’s my kinda’ film – but thanks for re-posting it. It’s an interesting exercise looking back at early stuff. I guess there’s always the temptation of going back and revising our first attempts. I know with me, I sometimes have the urge to go back and do a polish on my first ever review (in which I give Prometheus a blast – it’s in my July archives) – but then I think, you know what, it’s perhaps best to leave things as the are – so at least we can tell whether we’ve improved or not.

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    • Thanks buddy. I see other people re-release and re-edit posts, and thats cool, but I really thought I should keep them as they are, and try post it again now more people are reading my stuff. It worked for Snowtown, that film is the most viewed review every day for nearly 2 weeks now!

      I will head over and check out your post now, I just watched that film last night, interested on your take on it 🙂

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  3. Victor De Leon

     /  September 15, 2012

    Man, now my curiousity is piqued, bro. I’ve never seen this one. Slipped by me (seems like that’s been happening more and more with so many movies coming out) so I will give it a go. Thanks!

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    • Cheers Vic!!

      I think it slipped by most people, thats why Im doing my bit and trying to get just a couple of people to maybe check it out. Creepy little movie that I enjoyed anyway 🙂

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  4. kloipy

     /  September 15, 2012

    I just recently watched this movie. Hoping to write up a review soon, however if I don’t, here are my thoughts on this film. I admit that it is a good horror film but I don’t think I would recommend it unless someone said they wanted a scary ‘found footage film’. This movie really disturbed me, to the point where a few times I contemplated turning it off. As much as I love horror, I don’t like the torture thing and some of that stuff was a bit too much. With that said, that is where the movie works best, because it actually is disturbing and scary. It would have taken balls for a studio to put this out, and I honestly think they were too afraid of putting this movie out and that is why it won’t ever see a wide release.

    I would definitely say it is a good movie in that it accomplishes what it sets out to do, but I would only recommend it to those who can handle movies of this ilk. Good review of it man

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  5. Great review 🙂

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  6. This certainly sounds like an intriguing watch…gonna have to try and track it down…

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  7. jmount43

     /  September 24, 2012

    I’ve been super curious about this one for a long time. Nice one, Tyson!

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  8. Rey Ian Bonggo

     /  September 9, 2013

    Just watched the movie last night, alone in bed, in total darkness. As much as I love horror movies, I love pretending to be a cop or an FBI agent as well.
    But I thought those footages were real. Or, is the story real in the first place?

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    • Not often I hear someone say they love pretending to be a cop whilst watching a movie! 🙂

      As far as Im aware, all the footage is fake. There are a lot of tales of true crimes and murders in Poughkeepsie, but all just coincidental. Fake for the movie, but a damn creepy one!!

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      • Rey Ian Bonggo

         /  September 9, 2013

        Oh, well, I’m weird. And it disappoints me to hear the confirmation of its fake origin. Awww, but it spooked me real bad. Good movie…

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        • It’s odd because there are people who swear the waterside butcher is a real legend, yet others who say its all made up. Either way, its a movie that deserves a proper release as its more inventive and chilling than most.

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