The Poughkeepsie Tapes 2007
In an abandoned house in Poughkeepsie, New York murder investigators uncover hundreds of tapes showing decades of a serial killer's work.
October 10, 2017 (US Blu-Ray/DVD)
Drew Dowdle and John Erick Dowdle
John Erick Dowdle
Stacy Chbosky, Ben Messmer, and Samantha Robson
The Poughkeepsie Tapes was released overseas in 2007, but Americans will get their first (legal) look at the movie by the sibling filmmaking duo of Drew and John Erick Dowdle (who would go on to helm As Above, So Below) when it hits Blu-ray/DVD on October 10th. Understanding the complex distribution history of the film is an integral component of analyzing The Poughkeepsie Tapes, as the impact it had 10 years ago won’t pack the same punch in 2017. Most will probably see the film as a throwback to a bygone era, a time when found footage and mockumentaries were a relatively new phenomenon in horror.
The Poughkeepsie Tapes were made available via DirecTV back in 2013, but the film was pulled from the streaming service after just 1 week. Many fans hypothesized that excitement over the film’s VOD release had MGM reconsidering a theatrical release. Obviously, that never happened. Still, the fact that The Poughkeepsie Tapes became part of the international horror zeitgeist meant many fans weren’t willing to wait patiently; bootlegged copies of the film become hot under-the-table commodities at comic and horror cons across America. And while I’m staunchly against film piracy, one could hardly blame aficionados for making an exception in this case, as the film was essentially being held hostage from American audiences.
Official Synopsis: In an abandoned house in Poughkeepsie, New York murder investigators uncover hundreds of tapes showing decades of a serial killer’s work.
The Poughkeepsie Tapes stars Stacy Chbosky, Ben Messmer, and Samantha Robson.
On the upside, The Poughkeepsie Tapes’ unfortunate lack of timely distribution has instilled the film with near mystical qualities normally associated with urban legends. The film developed an enigmatic infamy with many believing it’s a documentary; many got the idea that the film was being withheld from American audiences because it was too extreme or controversial—perhaps even crossing lines into illegality. Like The Blair Witch Project, the line between truth and fiction was purposely blurred, but The Poughkeepsie Tapes also includes a twist certain to have viewers looking over their shoulders for days/months/years to come. So, even if the film shows its age in terms of production and context, one will appreciate how important this film could have been had it been released in the era it speaks to (and is a product of).
The V/H/S franchise of horror anthologies clearly has roots in The Poughkeepsie Tapes, as those films feature a trove of tapes, each containing disturbing content. This aspect of found footage motifs is still popular in horror today; genre victims often find themselves pursued by terrifying forces after finding abandoned artifacts and documentation of past atrocities: From the antique polaroid to the secret diary documenting shameful crimes, we are often transformed by things we come across randomly. This idea is compounded in The Poughkeepsie Tapes by connecting a series of seemingly disparate crimes to a single perpetrator—one who most likely remains at large.
The Poughkeepsie Tapes presents itself as a genuine search for truth, a procedural horror along the lines of Se7en and Kiss the Girls. This mystery and a sense of sincerity conveyed by the film’s narrator makes it easy to overlook most of the film’s shortcomings; it will become apparent that, despite the film’s nearly legendary status, it’s a no-budget production; a labor of love for a pair of up-and-comers who learned from the experience as it progressed. Again, viewers may be struck by how effective The Poughkeepsie Tapes could have been, had it hit theaters the same year as Cloverfield.
Still, The Poughkeepsie Tapes will still hold sway over fans of retro slashers and indie horror. The masked villain is a uniquely disturbing antagonist; we know almost nothing about him beyond the depravity exhibited in his torture tapes. But this is part of what makes him so unnerving; beneath the plague-doctor mask, he could be anyone; a stereotypical lurker or the last man you’d ever suspect.
Since it’s only being made available to American audiences for the first time, The Poughkeepsie Tapes’ groundbreaking aspects have become old news, with credit being given to filmmakers who were obviously influenced by the Dowdles. At best, modern audiences are likely to regard The Poughkeepsie Tapes as a cool “blast from the past”, a throwback to an era when found-footage still held intriguing promises before the horror landscape became inundated. To be clear, The Poughkeepsie Tapes is scary, innovative, and historically significant; it’s just 10 years too late to be the hit it could have (should have?) been.
Bottom Line: Americans who have been unable to experience The Poughkeepsie Tapes (legally) will want to take full advantage of the opportunity when the film hits Blu-ray/DVD on October 10th. It won’t blow your mind, but it will fill in a crucial missing piece of found footage/mockumentary cinematic history that’s been absent from the conversation for far too long. I have no doubt the film would have been huge had it gotten a timely release, but (very) late is better than never.