The Poughkeepsie Tapes (2007) is a found footage film directed by John Erick Dowdle. This films tells the story of Edward Carver, a serial killer that terrorizes the East Coast and confounds law enforcement. The documentary style film covers the discovery of the serial killers massive tome of VHS tapes. The tapes document the killers in-depth activities. It has many of the docudrama qualities of Paranormal Activity and Lake Mungo. By this time, the found footage technique began to feel a bit cliché, but this film certainly earns it place in the sub-genre.
The Poughkeepsie Tapes – The Water Street Butcher
The killer is known in the media as The Water Street Butcher. He kills over 800 victims. In game of cat and mouse, the The Water Street Butcher leads police to his former home to find not only his archive of 100s of tapes, but also the brutalized shell of a woman named Cheryl Dempsey. The Butcher brutalized her beyond what anyone should survive. Upon opening his grimoire of sickening violence and suffering, the police slowly assemble the puzzle together.
A Bridge Too Far to Be Real
John Erick Dowdle tries his best to create a feeling of realism in this film. He starts by making sure that he only uses mostly unknown actors. This is common technique in these films. He even offers a eulogy to the victims just prior to rolling the end credits. Amazingly, some people believe the hype of this movie being a true story. It’s as if a serial killer of this magnitude could ever escape his own sensationalism. Director John Erick Dowdle claims that he modeled many of the murders off of real crimes. Ultimately, Dowdle betrays his films fictional roots. The interviews with police officers and other professionals remain unconvincing.
The Art of Pornography
Dowdle successfully portrays many extremely harrowing scenes. I found several of the the found footage scenes are extremely difficult to digest. Furthermore, these scenes are very difficult to process emotionally. The film begins with a video recording of an eight year old girl in her front the yard. The killer mercilessly assaults her with a blunt object before raping and killing the girl. Watching the parents break down for the camera is too much to handle. While I can understand the effect that Dowdle was reaching for, I feel empty while watching it. It hit far too close to home to be enjoyable. It felt like pornography of the most perverse order.
It really doesn’t stop there. Everything from prenatal infanticide, to rape and dismemberment are covered in great detail. Even worse than the heinous acts is the look of fear on the faces of the women bound, gagged and waiting helplessly for their fate. In one scene, the killer convinces a woman to jump in the back of his police car. As she slowly realizes the situation that she is in her will crumbled. I wondered how many terrified women have suffered a similar revelation in real life. I found the whole thing incredibly disturbing.
Continuing his assault on human emotions, he places his main victim, in front of the camera after her rescue. During the Cheryl Dempsey interview the audience witnesses a broken woman. She suffers everything from PTSD to Stockholm syndrome as she talks about the love that her captor proclaimed for her. She appears gaunt as her cheekbones sink deep into the confines of her skull. Cheryl Dempsey would ultimately take her own life just 2 weeks after being rescued. Again, Dowdle brings a punch to the gut of anyone with a shred of emotional fortitude.
Being fair to the director, The Poughkeepsie Tapes harnesses raw emotional power. It the goal was to create something to tear at the fabric of anyone that has ever loved or cared for someone, Dowdle succeeds. However, success is fleeting, and likely not worth the cost.
The Poughkeepsie Tapes – The Final Verdict
The truth of the matter is that The Poughkeepsie Tapes is a decently constructed movie. It makes extremely good use of the found footage medium. John Erick Dowdle assembles some extremely provocative scenes that abrade the senses and sully the soul. Unfortunately, despite its competence, the film isn’t really enjoyable to watch. That makes it a difficult film to rate. It deserves to be seen, but who would want to see it?
The Poughkeepsie Tapes (2007) - Savage Found Footage - Malevolent Dark
Director: John Erick Dowdle
Date Created: 2007-01-01 00:00