The Poughkeepsie Tapes (2007)

If You Let Me Rape You, Then it Won’t Really be Rape, Will it?

I received a bit of an odd request from Friendboss Josh to fit in my October Horrorthon. The movie he requested was one that could scarcely be found anywhere but YouTube. I admit that I was a little put off by the notion of reviewing a YouTube video. The last internet movie I reviewed was about the fans of the Insane Clown Posse, and I could not imagine any movie being more terrifying to me than that. But the Friendboss-y one assured me that it was worth watching, so I decided to check it out. This movie is called The Poughkeepsie Tapes, co-written by Drew Dowdle, co-written and directed by John Erick Dowdle, and starring Stacy Chbosky, Ben Messmer, Samantha Robson, Ivar Brogger, Lou George, Amy Lyndon, Michael Lawson, and Ron Harper.

There’s not a whole lot to be said in brief summation of this movies story. It’s made to look like one of those TV shows that profiles murderers and then mixes it with the found footage genre because the serial killer in this movie likes to film his tortures. As the audience, we view interviews with professionals and witnesses involved with the story while occasionally catching glimpses of the killers own handheld recordings. We see his humble beginnings when he bludgeons a little girl and dismembers her, then more murders and rapes, then he kidnaps a girl named Cheryl Dempsey and tortures her into madness, and even when he changes his modus operandi to confuse the cops. Sounds like a fun romp of a movie, right?!

This movie was not a pleasant watch but, in its defense, I don’t think it intended to be. Though I wouldn’t necessarily call this a great movie or even recommend that any of you watch it, I would fully give it credit for being very effective and accomplishing everything it seemed to set out to do. The story was mostly basic, but it had a couple of really clever ideas in it. For the most part in the movie, I felt like I was watching TV with my mom, who has fallen in love with the TV shows this movie is reminiscent of. They’ve also subsequently driven her insane and she now warns me about everything because she once saw a show where someone died. “You shouldn’t drink water because I saw an episode of ‘Scaring Old People’ that showed an angry housewife killing her husband with water and making it look like he drowned and she got away with it!” …But I digress. This movie is set up like those shows, going to interviews with experts and witnesses talking about the murders, and then periodically cutting to reenactments of the crimes. The difference being that these reenactments are supposed to be found footage of the actual murders. Those shows are effective in their goals because they actually happened, and this show is able to ride that effectiveness because the subject matter was so true to real life. When you watch a found footage movie about ghosts or three kids running around the woods scared of nothing, it doesn’t really get to you as much as watching something that actually has happened, whether or not those particular events actually did. But a lot of the stuff in the movie treaded familiar ground. Most of the killings seemed to just be inspired by real killers or other movie killers, like Ted Bundy or Buffalo Bill from Silence of the Lambs, with slightly less lotion. And there were a few things that the killer did that were more clever and innovative, like what he did by framing the cop. I did take issue with some of the dialogue in the movie though. Obviously, most of the people weren’t supposed to be actors so I could assume that their dialogue wasn’t supposed to come off as super rehearsed, but some of the dialogue was just bad. When the killer actually used the line, “Assumptions make asses out of you and me,” it completely took me out of the scene. Later, when they were interviewing the one victim of his that escaped, they went to the, “I don’t know what you want me to say,” thing way too many times. I got it! She doesn’t know how to think for herself anymore because of the torture she went through. Moving on! And the part when he told a soon-to-be-victim that he wouldn’t kill her if she let him rape her was a problem for me too. If she lets you rape her, it’s not really rape is it? That’s like a little ironic, don’t you think? Alanis Morissette made a song about it!

The look of the movie was probably its weakest point. I didn’t really expect much out of the look of the movie since I was watching it on YouTube, but blowing it up and making it full screen turned out to be a bad choice. There were pixels the size of quarters on my screen. But another point towards the effectiveness of the movie is that I could scarcely look away from its ugliness. And it also managed to be effective without being overly gruesome, which I always appreciate. I always resent movies that people claim are so scary when all they really do is rely on gore without having the ability to pull off any real scares. “Oh no! They’re wasting so much corn syrup in this movie! In THIS economy?!” It doesn’t work for me. It does have a few moments of well-done gore, like a few scenes of the killer hacking up the bodies of victims, but they avoided it for the most part. And it turns out that this was a good idea, since a few times they went for gore were really not all that convincing, like one scene where a throat gets cut. It doesn’t need to be spraying out like the play that Wednesday and Pugsley put on in the Addams Family movie, but it also should behave like there are things in the human neck that have blood in them.

I can’t really think of anything to say about the performances in the movie. Most of them were too hard to see because of how pixelated or dark the movie was, and I can’t say anyone blew my mind. Most of the terrified women acted scared well enough, so there’s a thing. The killer was never actually shown, but he seemed to go a little overboard in the performance. Of course, the killer was said to have a penchant for theatricality, so you can’t really knock that either.

I’ve been finding it hard to reach a conclusion about recommending this movie to you guys. The movie has lots of positives and lots of negatives. The story of the movie is a little simple because of how much it seems to be based on real life events, but this also helps it be effective in its goal of getting under your skin. It’s an ugly movie to behold, but it’s simultaneously riveting. They don’t rely too heavily on the crutch of gore, but sometimes the gore they have is less than convincing. Here’s the big problem with the movie: I would recommend it to you because it’s a pretty effective movie and it’s absolutely free to watch on YouTube. But, above all its failings, I think the biggest reason you might want to avoid it is that it might make you afraid to be alive. I could see this movie being a hard movie to wash out of the brain for some people. Me? I slept like a baby! Take this information and reach your own conclusions. I give The Poughkeepsie Tapes “I don’t know what you want me to say” out of “I don’t know what you want me to say.”

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