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Film Review: The Poughkeepsie Tapes (2007)

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In 2001, police in Poughkeepsie New York made a shocking discovery—six bodies buried in the backyard of a residential house. Astonishingly, that was only the beginning.

Inside the home, police uncovered over 800 neatly organized video tapes detailing the exploits of one man’s decade-long crime spree. The most disturbing part of the find, was that the killer had filmed all of the footage himself– from his first moments stalking his victims to their last seconds alive.

Compiled and edited by the Documentary Film Partners, THE POUGHKEEPSIE TAPES examines the homicides–incorporating interviews from criminal experts, testimony from the only victim ever rescued alive, and chilling footage shot from the killer’s own camera. All of which document the twisted path of a serial killer as never before


I’ve been hearing about this film for so long I was starting to wonder if its release was hoax as well. It looks like it will finally make its way onto shelves soon. The name of the film “The Poughkeepsie Tapes (2007)“. Now since the details, the film and its history enactments were new to me I came to my viewing not really knowing what all entailed. First off, we need to separate fact from fiction. As this will be the most asked question after viewing this film. Was this a true story of another Blair Witch style of hi jinx? Who is the film based on and is the footage real?

I will say coming to this a blank slate, my first impression is …this could be the real thing. This could be just a documentary featuring found footage. This could be real reports and real victims. Much to my relief the footage is not real and the film is composed of actors. Why? Because in this age of violence on screen you never know what your watching anymore unless its being played on A&E. The acts committed are painful to watch and are very much atrocious crimes. The victims suffer on screen and are played with like toys in a monkey cage. The killer actually somewhat narcissistic seems to enjoy his cleverness and documents as much as he can. This includes his attacks, his kidnaps and even some of his body dismembering.

The film starts with warming you up to the fact that these tapes found really are the most horrendous thing you’ll ever see. Reports are given , locations are filmed, graves are shown and investigations are documented.

We are introduced to the one they call James Foley, aka The water street butcher. In background checking “The movie has some similarities to Poughkeepsie serial killer Kendall Francois, who murdered women and prostitutes, but did not film their deaths.” It seems most is a work of fiction although there was a real serial killer who committed crimes in Poughkeepsie, NY. The filmmakers though I’m guessing would rather you buy into the fiction and take it at face value, as we all know reality is scarier and sometimes sells more films. However fiction or not, they pulled it off enough to question the reality of itself. Which by movie standards means they were successful in there goals.

In the film, a box of video tapes are found, or left for that matter that document all the killers deviate acts and victims on screen. This includes sawing body parts, combining corpses, torture, mind games, rape, kidnapping, subjecting victims to kill for him and a list that goes on. As all these events take place the killer is never without a video camera. Even placed in advance to victims he would await and murder on screen. The footage itself is carefully distressed to reassemble that of a vhs tape that was filmed improperly with low light levels and shaky details. Its done so well that it is somewhat believable rather than a simple digital distress filter applied to shot footage.

The lack of details at times also brings a creepiness to the pov presented. In one scene, which is a nightmare in itself, the killer crawls along the floor with his mask displaced like a animal and approaches his victim only to stab her in the neck several times. Many times his crimes involve renaissance masks in which he makes the victims wear at times. His on screen pet lies in the actor Stacy Chbosky who plays Cheryl Dempsey a kidnap victim who he tortures and mind alters for over 8 years. Her last moments of discovery and documentation are so real that you buy into the myth. Other victims are documented but are usually disposed of very quickly. Mind games are odd and disturbing with one scene forcing a young girl to bounce violently on a balloon.

This film is in no way for minors or for those who are easily disturbed. Some of the instances are shown on screen, while others are left stronger in showing only enough to induce your imagination to the visceral degree. I do call this a strong film that’s intelligent and numbing for all the wrong reasons. Is it for everyone? certainly not. Though it deserves a place as one of the most disturbing films this year.

Special Features:

  • NEW interviews with writer/director John Erick Dowdle, writer/producer Drew Dowdle and actress Stacy Chbosky
  • Theatrical Trailer

The Poughkeepsie Tapes, the long awaited horror-fest can now be purchased on bluray per Shout Factory

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