Liz’s review: The Poughkeepsie Tapes (2007)

ATMOSfx! Woo!

★★★★ out of ★★★★★

Written and Directed by John Erick Dowdle

In 2007 The Poughkeepsie Tapes debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival. Written and directed by John Erick Dowdle (Quarantine, Devil), the film tells the story of an elusive serial killer known as The Waterstreet Butcher who left behind a collection of 800 VHS tapes chronicling over a decade of bizarre footage, kidnapping, rape, torture, and murder.

Told mockumentary style, The Poughkeepsie Tapes is one of the most successful of this genre of combining realistic “talking head” interviews with families of the victims, psychiatrists, and law enforcement and a famed FBI profiler’s course curriculum for new agents. It is through this classroom setting that the viewer sees much of the footage left by the killer. What we are shown is utterly horrific. But, by showing the agent’s reactions and cutting the footage at just the right time, it’s what’s implied and not shown, as many horror films are wont to do, that really sets The Poughkeepsie Tapes apart.

The tapes show many, many victims, but the film’s main focus is Cheryl Dempsey a young woman kidnapped and systematically broken down by the butcher resulting in a fate far worse than death. Reader beware, in case you hadn’t figured it out by now, The Poughkeepsie Tapes is legit torture porn and dips its toes in the river over “a bridge too far” for many.

While today “found footage” may be an overused gimmick of the horror genre, this film’s use of the style is so effective that it is rumored some people believed the footage to be real, which may have contributed to the film not getting its planned 2008 release. Between then and 2017 when Scream Factory finally released this film on DVD, horror fans like myself had to search the internet or find someone who knew someone who had a copy to see this gem. I first saw this film in 2009 and I have never forgotten it; it stays with you long after viewing, begs for conversation and holds up to today’s horror standards.

13 years after the film’s premiere, The Poughkeepsie Tapes is now available to stream on Amazon.

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