The Poughkeepsie Tapes

Year:  2007
Director:  John Erick Dowdle
Cast:  Ben Messmer, Stacy Chbosky, Samantha Robson, Lou George

A serial killer has been terrorizing the community of Poughkeepsie, New York for several years.  Cops are baffled by the cleverness and dedication of the killer, as he is even able to frame a police officer, who is sadly executed for the crimes.  However, when police discover and raid the home of a suspect, they discover hundreds of VHS tapes, each detailing the crimes of this vicious killer which make up most of the running time of this film, padded with interviews and comments from supposed victims of the killer and others close to the case.

What will be obvious to many is that the primary problem with this film is in its presentation.  It is presented as a documentary and the viewer is suppose to be viewing the "real" footage of the killer and his crimes, however it is hard to ignore the convenient suspenseful background music that plays during each clip featuring the killer stalking his quarry.  Did the killer go in and edit and add music to each of his tapes to make them that much more creepy when they were finally found?  Moreover, the killer's identity remains a mystery throughout the whole film and it is a stretch to ask viewers to believe the he was able to elude capture for so long and frame a revered police officer, despite the plethora of crimes and murders he committed and the downright audacious nature to many of them.  Nobody is spared from this maniac, as he targets couples, small children playing in their front yard, and cops, all while gleefully filming all of his endeavors for all to see.  The clips of individuals involved with the case providing their commentary do sometimes fall flat and disrupt the progression of the film and the acting by these individuals is all over the place.  These scenes should have been kept at a minimum or presented differently, such as though news broadcasts to maintain the desired aspect of realism.  

Despite the flaws, The Poughkeepsie Tapes does a few things extremely well, mainly making the viewer feel extremely uncomfortable and tense. The killer is pretty brazen, and it is horrifying to think that, yes, there ARE people out there that are this sadistic and who take joy in terrorizing others. A statistic given in the film states that there are anywhere from twenty five to forty active serial killers working at any given time in the United States.  It is an alarming statistic to hear and watching the crimes committed in this film will definitely cause some serious chills realizing that someone capable of such acts could be closer than we think.  Additionally, the black and white footage of the "crimes" is pretty effective and provides some great atmosphere and scares.   One scene stands out as one of the creepiest movie scenes of the decade where the killer, disguised in a frightening mask, is walking on all fours toward a victim who is screaming for her life while chained in a dark basement.  It is utterly disturbing and will get the heart racing.   And though the ending is unsatisfying, it almost could not have ended any other way based on what was presented in the rest of the film.

Overall, it would be fairly easy to dismiss The Poughkeepsie Tapes as nothing but brainless torture porn, but with careful observation, it is easy to realize that this film is much, much more.  It is constructed and edited very well (despite the flaws mentioned above) and the story is actually pretty solid and it is very obvious that much thought went into the total construction of this film.  Go in with an open mind and watch this with the lights off at night;  you will be looking behind you and checking to see if your doors are locked more than once.

Fright Meter Grade: 

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