The Poughkeepsie Tapes (2007)
The Terror is Real
This should be subtitled "The movie that gave me a headache." At first, I was a bit excited for this one - since Poughkeepsie isn't a made up place and the documentary style fit's something that I normally enjoy - documentaries and learning about things, even if those things are macabre. It's New York baby, and if there's one thing that would be real interesting to me it'd be learning about the things that make the apple bump in the night - be it art that imitated real life or the other way around, such dark things that you may be familiar with if you've ever heard of Cropsy. After the DvD arrived, i saw it said "Mockumentary" in the description, and my enthusiasm dimmed slightly, but I've seen a good many of those that at the least remained highly entertaining. The only way to figure out if this cranial illness I'm now plagued with is from good or bad is going to be to stick around though, so let's get to the point.
First off, some real events are sort of inspirational to this movie during it's runtime, and a viewer will find numerous true tidbits - regardless of how sensationalized or tweaked - during the run. What a viewer won't really see is much anything to do with any actual murderer that existed in Poughkeepsie - at least not as far as I can tell. Coming at this from the perspective of knowing such a thing existed to some regard in reality, this did in fact let me down a little with it's overblown Found Footage stylized build. That same build also makes sure you know that what your watching isn't real with various choices it makes, displaying the same typical "movie logic" that we'd see elsewhere. Honestly, I could live with all of that - none of those elements make it a particularly bad movie, although they can damper the tension with how cliched or awkward some moments can come off. No, my largest complaint about this movie is that of all the types of movies out there, this one had to decide to be more like a found footage movie that wanted to pad it out with not found footage elements.
Look, I love the concept of found footage - and really, there's so many ways it can be used so well, even if it hardly is - but here it's just a spike in the head. I mean that in a couple of ways, but lets talk about the less physical one first. It's not uncommon for a documentary to splice in footage from security cams or events or anything of that sort, but part of the charm of a documentary is playing itself in a manner serious to it's setting. This might seem a bit goofy considering that I can enjoy the crap out of some What We Do In The Shadows, but despite it's crazy premise of vampires totally being a thing it all feels as though it's something that could be believable within it's premise of vampires actually floating about. Here, we are going for a realistic approach - we want to bring this prodigy-grade serial killer to light and show that nobody is safe and throw in some social commentary about people and law figures, but that realism is undermined when we have a documentary with the FBI giving all sorts of footage (including allowing one man to take these evidence tapes home with him) on what's implied is a still open case of "nobody has caught this guy yet." It also leads to some more exasperated moments of "Killer leaves a VHS recorder sitting on a shelf directly in line of sight of at least one character and nobody notices and the ilk.
The more problematic part of this for me however, was that it physically made me ill. All of the "footage" from these tapes had a visual snow pass, some color grading, and for whatever god forsaken reason a pass of "we exist underwater and everything is wavy" that has left my skull throbbing. I'm almost certain that it's probably not something everyone will experience - but it does worry me that if it bugs me it'll bug others considering my normally "iron gut" otherwise. That said, if you cut out all of the other effects layered on it, it would be a pretty accurate representation of how I see on a normal basis with visual snow, but as far as VHS tapes go it's a little bit extreme as an attempt to make it feel like a retro media. I bit of static, a bit of tracking sure, but they really went a bit overboard in my opinion.
The audio department was a mix of well heard and understandable, to downright trying to hurt my ears to increase tension. The sad part of it is that since it's more of a "crime documentary" themed film, the only real horror to take away from it is that somewhere in reality sick people who get their jollies off torturing and killing exist. There are a few scenes where our killer can be genuinely creepy as he stalks a person, but the aforementioned "found footage" issues kneecap the scenes before they can really get too far. The actors themselves are just as much of a mixed bag, with a few coming off as solid and believable performances, with a few others seeming so far off that they might as well be a cartoon character with how giddy they are to talk about how a serial killer should much prefer a circular saw over a handsaw.
The effects department doesn't have an extensive amount to do here, but what violence is depicted on the screen is usually grotesque enough that it feels respectful of the horror going on, if at times perhaps a little overboard as well. Some shots it's quite underplayed and not as well done, but by far the worst effect in the movie is the found footage segment. Our killer comes off at first quite the ferocious man - violent, intelligent, and thoroughly sick in the head. Then he starts to wear a Plague Doctor mask, and things start getting a bit theatrical - still not too crazy from the realm of a twisted individual and the disgusting things they might do. Then we get to the killer doing a pointless "i'm a scary animal" walk that nobody but his camera can see from behind his already tied up victim in a manner that really makes you go "what the crap?"
Beyond all of that, the general premise behind "serial killers are real, and it's not good" does chime with the choir. Many a time we as people find ourselves scared of things we can't see or prove exist - like werewolves and zombies and bigfoot - when in an unassuming house there could be some sick person chopping other people up in their basement. The fact that the justice system isn't some infallible system that's always correct, or the lasting damage and grief these sorts of events can have is something that's real. From that, plenty of people may find plenty of things about this movie that they like and suddenly find things to think or talk about because of it.
For me though, this movie is largely a pass. It's been a while since I've checked out a movie that largely felt like it wasn't worth having in my queue - although I don't necessarily regret watching most of it, only the headache-induing parts - but I'd say this one breaks the streak. It's not terribly put together - although it certainly isn't put together great - but there's other things along this route that handle things in a much more desirable manner, be it more horror or real. If you do decide to check this one out though, make sure you've got some Asprin handy just in case.