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Review: ‘The Poughkeepsie Tapes’ is Very Much a Horror Movie and is Not a Depiction of Real Life

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Review: 'The Poughkeepsie Tapes' is Very Much a Horror Movie and is Not a Depiction of Real Life

One of the most unique experiences in the exploitation horror genre is hands down The Poughkeepsie Tapes. Written and directed by John Erick Dowdle, this film is actually a true crime mockumentary covering a specific serial killer and his recordings. It’s told with a mixture of interviews, news stories, and found footage. The film is often mistaken for being a real documentary with people frequently claiming that the killer is still at large.

The film opens at a funeral for a young woman named Cheryl. It’s safe to say that besides the killer, Cheryl is our “main character” here. I won’t go into too much plot but we have a couple of characters. We have FBI agents who worked on the case, a gentleman who is tasked with watching all of the found footage, family and friends of victims, and the footage itself. The killer seems to get a thrill out of filming his crimes and usually has a readily available excuse for why he carries a camera when approaching victims.

Although this was set to be released in 2007, it did not get a release until 2014. Even then, it was strictly a “video on demand” release and was not officially released for home media until 2017. Considered by some to be the most gruesome movie in film history, this fact coupled with the anticipated and long awaited release, is likely why the film has gained so much traction over the years. Before the 2014 video on demand release, the only way the film could be viewed was through torrents. I believe this gained it some type of reputation as being too disturbing for typical audience. The film is not particularly gruesome. Most of the violence is implied. However, if you go into it believing you are seeing a real documentary, you will come out highly disturbed.

The Poughkeepsie Tapes Still 1

If you go into this film expecting it to be a good dupe for your usual true crime documentary, you will be disappointed. As a documentary, it falls flat and comes off as very unrealistic. Don’t set yourself up for that. Go into it knowing that it is very much a horror movie and is not a depiction of real life. The Poughkeepsie Tapes has a heavy atmosphere and delivers on suspense. You really have no clue what will happen next. When the film cuts from an interview to the found footage bits, it has this film cut that gives a jump scare almost every time. It isn’t too intense but it gears you up and leaves you on edge for the upcoming scene. You really aren’t sure what’s going to happen next. The acting is actually really good, even without having big names on the production. You believe that you’re seeing victims and professionals.

With that being said, the film can sometimes be too cinematic and that takes away the realism of the style. If you are someone who spends time watching a lot of true crime documentaries, you will find yourself yelling at the screen often. It is personally surprising to me that anyone would mistake this film for being real or accurate. There are inconsistencies that need you to extend your imagination greatly. For example, one plot point is that the killers successfully frames a police officer with the murders. The officer receives the death penalty and is executed and then the killer taunts the police department, letting them know they got the wrong guy. In reality, some death row inmates await execution for so long that they end up dying of natural causes before the states get to them. A few murders take place out in public in broad daylight but we are expected to believe there were no witnesses. I could nitpick this film to death, but that’s not the point of it. Dowdly knows that he wasn’t trying to dupe the audience. He was simply trying to make a movie that left the audience members feeling uncomfortable and scared of the possibilities of real horrors. I would say that he succeeded.

MGM seemed to intially plan for this to be a similar release to The Blair Witch Project. Plenty of mystery still surrounds why it was inevitably pulled and had a soft release instead of the theatrical one it deserved. Watching this in a dark theater with a crowded audience would have been ideal to get the full gravity of the atmosphere. For whatever reason, this didn’t pan out and now the movie has been launched into having a type of cult following. It is not the most gruesome or disturbing film that I’ve ever seen. I would not even put it in my personal top twenty. it is, however, not a terrible experience and I would recommend this one as an introduction into the genre. The Poughkeepsie Tapes is an endurance test due to the mystery. You are afraid of what might take place next. Will you pass the test and get through the entire movie?

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