Before directing the 2008 horror film QUARINTINE, the decent, shot-for-shot remake of the Spanish film REC (our review), the Dowdle brothers directed another “found footage” movie titled THE POUGHKEEPSIE TAPES. The film had an interesting premise regarding police finding boxes of VHS tapes left behind by a serial killer. These tapes contained hundreds of hours of footage recorded by a killer who’d been operating undetected for years, filming the abductions, torture and disposal of his victims.
I saw the trailer to this film when I watched THE MIST in the theaters, and even remember the movie poster hanging up in the lobby. It definitely got my hopes up for another film done in the spirit of cinéma vérité, but then, nothing. No more trailers, the movie posters disappeared and the film seemed to have been shelved.
While I am not sure what happened, there is a story about the 2007 Butt-Numb-A-Thon film festival put on by AICN.com. THE POUGHKEEPSIE TAPES was shown there with the Dowdle brothers in attendance and scheduled to take part in a Q&A after the movie. The story is people left the theater while the movie played, and that those who stayed were pretty vocal in their dislike of the film. After it was screened, it was announced that the brothers were unable to participate in the Q&A and had left the building.
After finally seeing THE POUGHKEEPSIE TAPES, I can say that I don’t blame them for leaving. The film is awful. Which is a shame as the story is a good one. I have no problem with the cinéma vérité style of film, or mockumentaries for that matter. In fact I am a big fan of a good handful of them. The idea of watching a film shot by a killer has already been done before in MAN BITES DOG and the AUGUST UNDERGROUND series, so I thought a fake documentary on fake found footage was a decent sounding combo.
Unfortunately, TAPES suffers from the one major flaw that ruins any movie that is attempting to trick the viewer into thinking what they are watching is real and that’s the fact that the acting is atrocious. The film is shot to mimic a 48 HOURS or DATELINE episode and in that regard they succeeded. The interviews, photograph zoom-ins and other post production techniques look very familiar to those types of shows. But the performances of the cast are so bad that at no time can you suspend disbelief for over a second.
The interviews with investigators, which include a the laughable “dismemberment expert,” were as terrible as the archive footage of court proceedings and press conferences. You’ll find better re-enactments in old episodes of REAL STORIES OF THE HIGHWAY PATROL. But the worst of the bunch was the actual tapes shot by the killer. The footage looks like shit. Track lines, a switching color palette and full of grain. All done to make the footage seem creepy. I’m sure, but for someone who wanted to show off all of his work, he sure didn’t seem to care about anyone actually being able to see anything.
When you are able to see any of the torture or killings, they are so badly acted and directed that the gore they may contain are neutered. This isn’t helped much by the beginning of the film that informs you of just how heinous the contents of the tapes are and how negatively they have effected all that have seen them. Yet when we finally see the footage, all you get is an idiot in a silly mask making women pop balloons in their underwear with scenes less shocking than ones found in any CSI episode.
The killer is another major blunder and I’m not quite sure why the Dowdle brothers took the route they did with him. He’s a caricature of a psychopath using all the tired staples that alert the viewer that someone is crazy with over-the-top giggling and yelling. He does all of this while wearing a mask, cape, gloves and some fruity ruffles around his neck. They should have just completed the effect by added swirling spirals where his eyes should be. From John Doe in SE7EN to Hannibal Lecter, movie audiences have been treated to way too many formidable psychopaths for the “mastermind” of THE POUGHKEEPSIE TAPES to be taken seriously.
This outfit, along with his performance, completely contradicts the controlled, genius-like nature that all of the “experts” in the film keep telling us he is. From what we see of him in his own tapes, he’s a moron that makes the police look like buffoons for not catching him. That really comes as no surprise seeing as the investigators in this film marvel at the killer’s decision to kill each victim differently and pat themselves on the back for being able to use Mapquest.
Sometimes there are horror films that, for one reason or another, languish on a distributors shelf for years and never see the inside of a theater — their best hope being a Direct-to video release. I doubt that THE POUGHKEEPSIE TAPES will ever see a wide release in the former, and barely qualifies for the latter.
Rating:Tags: Crime, Horror, movie, review, Serial Killer