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The Short Version:This MIA faux documentary 'Found Footage' creepshow has unfortunately missed the theatrical boat after being relegated to a major studio shelf the last few years for reasons not of its own volition. Having now been eclipsed by such box office money bags as PARANORMAL ACTIVITY, POUGHKEEPSIE TAPES remains unjustly unseen since its festival showing back in 2007. It's an occasionally powerful, excessively sadistic little movie that pushes the boundary of misogyny into places films haven't dared to tread in years. At times uncompromising and oppressively brutal, this is one tape collection that the moviegoing public deserves to be made aware of. After a decade of committing savagely inhuman crimes, police in Reading, New York locate the home of the notorious psycho killer known as the Water Street Butcher. Discovering several hundred numerically cataloged videocassettes that contain assorted tortures and murders of his victims, law enforcement also find a young woman that had been missing and thought dead for the last eight years. Working with authorities, a documentary is produced in the hopes of catching the sadistic madman. Shot in 2006 and making its festival debut the following year, the Dowdle Brothers chilling movie about a beyond crazed man and his penchant for videotaping his atrocities was picked up by MGM in '07 for theatrical release in 2008. However, the release date was bounced around till MGMs financial troubles ultimately placed the studio with that majestic roaring lion on the auction block. Unfortunately, THE POUGHKEEPSIE TAPES was one of the films put back on the shelf indefinitely. Here we are over four years later and this infinitely disturbing little movie remains largely unseen; much like the cunning killer from the film. With the wild success of PARANORMAL ACTIVITY (2007), the Dowdle's film has become something of a missed opportunity. It definitely has that BLAIR WITCH touch about it, but also seems to have inspired the makers of the inferior THE FOURTH KIND from 2009. It's shot with a similar structure--a documentary sprinkled with interviews between family members of victims and civil authorities and also generously dotted with a number of video segments of the butcher stalking, torturing and or murdering various victims. Forced to watch this on youtube, I still found the proceedings to be profoundly disturbing at times. It's been years since any one horror film had made me feel almost filthy for watching such trash. Still, this is often well made trash that's haunting in its power to disgust and instill a sense of fear. Arguably the most intense moment occurs when this sick bastard lets two little girls enter his home on the pretense he will buy some girl scout cookies from them. By this point in the film we've both seen and heard the level of sickening violence the killer engages in, so one wonders just when he will pounce on these two little girls. Earlier in the movie, there's a scene where this sometimes soft-spoken savage forcibly gets a little girl into his car just moments after she utters that classic line about not taking candy from strangers. This is also one of the most extremely misogynistic movies I have seen in quite some time. I can't recall another movie in recent memory that featured as much seething hatred towards women as this film does. It's all to the success of the filmmakers and the mysterious actor who plays the Water Street Butcher. This also extends to the numerous actresses who make up the killers victims. Granted, some of the acting is a bit wonky, but on the whole, it succeeds in the areas that count the most. The bulk of the film deals with a series of tapes surrounding the disappearance of the young Cheryl Dempsey who goes missing for eight years. The killer keeps her as some sort of sex slave in his dungeon of death where he subjects her to all manner of psycho sadomasochistic tortures that includes forcing her to proclaim him her master and she the slave. He also forces her to murder some of his victims that he kidnaps. It's all rather despicable, particularly in the brutality we don't necessarily see. Sometimes we see but a glimpse, or even just a shadow of what's going on; although the screams of pain and those of pleasurable anger emanating from the killers mouth invoke the cruelties for us without having to actually see them.
The film ends strong on a few truly eerie notes. These include the fate of Cheryl after an unsettling interview with her, the discovery that 27 tapes are missing from 800 uncovered, and also in the notion that this madman is still out there evading the authorities wherever he may be. John Erick Dowdle was very successful here more often than not in delivering an intense, frightening example of the 'Found Footage' genre. Sadly, Dowdle would be less successful in a needlessly pointless remake of the Spanish horror spectacular REC (2007). The dust had barely settled on that films impressive Euro box office before Sony commissioned a QUARANTINE the following year.
TAPES closes on a great piece of dialog that both hammers home its "reality" status and also acts as a great marketing tool to wring one last goosebump out of paying customers. Here's hoping THE POUGHKEEPSIE TAPES doesn't remain a mystery for very much longer.
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I've been a huge movie buff since childhood catching old horror and monster flicks on Shock Theater and kung fu movies at the drive-in during the late 70's and early 80's. I've had a long time fascination with, and appreciate all genres of fantastic cinema, good and bad. One fans cheese is another fans juicy steak. I like both equally and seldom find a film I truly dislike as I will find something of interest in just about anything. The bulk of the films or tv series' seen here are mostly from my childhood, or films I own in what has become an Amazing Colossal DVD collection.