Sunday, March 27, 2011

Film Review: The Poughkeepsie Tapes (2007)



Ever wonder what it would be like to be a deranged serial killer? Yeah...me, neither...I was just checking...ya goddamn sicko. But, anyway....if you did, this film is the one for you.

The Poughkeepsie Tapes is a "found footage" film that has yet to be released on DVD...even though it was made back in 2006/7. The film had a "blink and you'll miss it" theatrical run in a few theaters around the country but, was never widely seen by the general public. I'm not sure how you would market a film like this. While it has the low budget appeal of something like Paranormal Activity it has the same unnerving quality of the first Saw and the gut-wrenching ability to creep you out like a hostage execution caught on tape. The best aspect of The Poughkeepsie Tapes is the mockumentary style it embraces. I would've felt like I was watching something on the Biography channel if it were not for the unfortunate acting in the film.


The premise is simple. Hundreds of video tapes are found in an abandoned home uncovering a decade of footage filmed by the serial killer himself. The film follows a sort of narrative direction as we are introduced to several "testimonials" in the form of police investigators, forensic specialists, psychiatrists, and victims. The centerpiece is a "class" on serial killers being conducted by a retired police officer name Mike Moakes (played by acting veteran Ron Harper) where he explains this apparent serial killer who has never been caught. Unfortunately, this reoccurring scene isn't as effective as it could be because of the terrible acting. In fact, none of the "realistic" testimonials are as effective as they should be because of this technical issue. However, you can't really fault a low-budget film like this for the bad acting....as I'm sure it's hard to get decent actors for your film about torture and bloodshed. Having said this, though...I've seen better acting in re-enactments on Forensic Files.

Personally, I think the film would've been more effective had they simply introduced the "found footage" in the beginning with one sort of narrator taking you through a journey of this sadistic world of "Ed" the serial killer. Kind of like what The Last Exorcism did with Cotton Marcus. We followed him along through his journey to uncover the truth behind exorcisms...and that part of the film proved effective. I think that would've been a cool element if used in The Poughkeepsie Tapes. It would've kept the bad acting to a minimum if we just followed one person instead of all these different people. Perhaps this one narrator becomes obsessed with "Ed".  Actually...this leads me to a theory I've seen pop up in many different discussions I've seen about this film. What if the serial killer was the one filming the whole mockumentary? That would make the film effective on a whole new level. I wonder if that was director John Erick Dowdle's intention at some point.


But, anyway...the film has a few effective scenes as we watch the actual "found footage" filmed by the serial killer dubbed "Ed" in the film. There's his very first kill in the beginning of the film where he drives up to a little girl playing by herself on the front lawn of her home. He gets out of the car and walks up to her where he proceeds to sweet talk her into revealing a few details about herself....then, suddenly, clubs her over the head with an unseen object (I think it was the actual camera), snatches her up, throws her into his vehicle and drives off. Pretty scary stuff if you think about how easy it is for a total stranger to take your innocent child. There's also a scene later on in the film where "Ed" invites two girl scouts into his evil lair. It's probably the best scene in the film and proves that Dowdle could be a director to watch in the genre. The tension in the scene is so excruciating and the outcome is something you don't see coming. There's also a nice twist to one of "Ed's" victims who ends up falling for him in a sort of Stendhal syndrome kind of way. It's an eerie element that impacts your sympathy as well as your rationale.


There are many good moments in The Poughkeepsie Tapes that really captivate your sense of horror, however, ultimately it's a series of really well conceived ideas stringed together in a rather incohesive manner. I just wish they could've found some way of connecting everything together in a much more digestible film.

Unfortunately, the film is unavailable anywhere at the time of this post...but, if you're resourceful enough, you'll be able to find it through teh interwebz. Is it worth it? If you can stomach the bad acting performances in which to get to the stomach-turning thrills of the film...then...yes.

7.5 out of 10

Recommendation: Watch this instead of Dowdle's other horror efforts (Quarantine and Devil).


Thanks for reading,

bryan.

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