The Poughkeepsie Tapes
Dir. John Erick Dowdle (2007)
A mockumentary about a serial killer who abducts women, done in the style of an extended episode Dateline or similar show.
CAUTION: MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS
This is one of those movies that I wanted to watch forever, but it was largely circulated only on the underground market. There were a few theater showings, the director sold the videotapes directly, and few people had seen it until… Scream Factory decided to release a DVD and Blu-ray version of The Poughkeepsie Tapes a few years back, and I was so pumped that it was the first ever (but certainly not the last!) film that I preordered. I watched it the day it came in the mail and immediately understood what all the fuss was about. It’s creepy as hell, has some genuinely disturbing scenes, and is altogether an incredible take on the serial killer documentary.
Of course, of course, none of the events in this film really happened, and there are definitely some scenes where the acting was a little subpar and served to take you out of the “belief” mood. If you ignore those scenes, which are already few and far between, this is a chilling mockumentary that could absolutely be real. After all, the things that are uncovered throughout the runtime happen every day in America. There are rumored to be between 2,000 and 4,000 active serial killers in America at any given time, and the body counts range from three to upwards of a hundred. Is it beyond belief that something very much like The Poughkeepsie Tapes not only has happened, but is currently happening somewhere in America right now? Perhaps even in your state, and maybe even in your town? That’s what makes this film so scary. There have been countless cases that make the killer in The Poughkeepsie Tapes look amateur by comparison, we just don’t get to see them live and in color (or nightvision, depending on the scene you’re referring to.) This film humanizes this entire element and shows us what it is actually like to chase the worst people in humanity.
To be fair though, that's a fuckton of victims
The film ranges from the mundane to the bizarre, and perhaps the most chilling scene in the film is the killer’s barely-failed abduction of a little girl, who escapes his grasp due to the incredible timing of the mother. We delve into the killer’s sexual proclivities, his methods of torture, and his extensive filing system for his victims. Another chilling scene involves an interview with his last surviving victim, which is interspersed throughout the movie and is directly involved with the brutal conclusion of the film.
Whether the film scares you will depend entirely on what it is that makes you tick. If you’re a true crime fan, you most certainly have heard worse stories, but perhaps you haven’t seen them acted out in such a way. If you’re a standard horror fan, there are a scene or two which may get you, but you probably won’t be all that terrified. As a general movie fan, though, the movie packs a punch and is incredibly well done. It is very easy to forget that you’re watching a fake movie and not an episode of Dateline, though it would certainly be the scariest episode of all time.
Why are you running Keith Morrison?!
As I’ve discussed before, there is a fierce debate in the criminology community as to whether nature or nurture is more to blame for the terrible things that we do to each other. As with most debates, the answer most assuredly comes down to a mixture of both. However, this film deals with everything from the history of the possible killers, the ways in which they have honed their craft, and the propensity for victims to fall prey to Stockholm Syndrome. It’s an interesting discussion even outside of the context of the film, but within the film it takes on even more meaning as we are able to see the direct outcomes of these experiences. The film will leave you shocked and a bit appalled, and have you questioning exactly how much would have come out about an actual case like this had it really happened.
Who this movie is for: Dateline fans, Mockumentary and found footage fans, Plague doctors who are really pissed they aren’t allowed to wear the masks anymore
Bottom Line: Chilling, effective, and disturbing, The Poughkeepsie Tapes must be watched at least once by any real horror fan. Thankfully, it is much more available than it once was, and you won’t have to go to YouTube to get your fix. Although I must say, the film would be WAAAY better on grainy VHS, so maybe give it a YouTube, even if you own it. Great film that you will remember either way.