The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


The Poughkeepsie Tapes

The Poughkeepsie Tapes is being released in a DVD/Blu-ray combo pack on October 10 from Scream Factory. For horror fans, this is something of a big deal. The movie, which is a fake documentary about a serial killer who tape-recorded his crimes, was all set for a nationwide debut from MGM back in 2008. Then came a disastrous advance screening for a congregation of hardcore genre buffs at an event in Texas. They vociferously expressed their dislike of the picture, and the studio, sensing trouble, abruptly pulled it from the release schedule at the last minute. Aside from a very brief VOD release in 2014, The Poughkeepsie Tapes has remained on the proverbial shelf ever since. During that time, its legend has grown. Now the world will finally be able to lay eyes upon it.

The premise is that the FBI found hundreds of videotapes made by a serial killer who recorded his heinous acts, which became more elaborate as he gained comfort. The Poughkeepsie Tapes tries (unsuccessfully) to pass itself off as a non-fiction film, with actors portraying the various interview subjects. Interspersed with them is the “footage” contained on the tapes. The killer's favorite subject is Cheryl Dempsey (Stacy Chbosky), whom he keeps hog-tied in his house for various violent and psychosexual rituals.

Any serious horror fan will likely want to experience The Poughkeepsie Tapes, simply because of the mystery that's surrounded it all these years. That it's now available for everyone to watch is terrific. Having said that, though, the movie is pretty terrible. For starters, the tapes don't look authentic. They look staged, which takes away their ability to frighten. For this kind of thing to work, the audience has to buy into the illusion, even though they know it's not real. That's hard to do, given how fakey the killer's footage is. The interview scenes are no better, with stiff performances failing to sell the ruse that these are real people recounting a real incident.

Adding to the problem is that the tapes were supposedly made in the early '90s, yet they're grainy and warped, with color that fades in and out. Even back then, video cameras provided far better picture quality than The Poughkeepsie Tapes would have us believe. The footage is so ugly and deformed that it's a virtual assault on your eyeballs. So much of the film is comprised of the killer's recordings that it becomes irritating to look at after a while.

Thankfully, the low quality of the feature itself is balanced out a little bit by the bonus features. “Sorting Through the Tapes” is a half-hour interview with director John Erick Dowdle and producer Drew Dowdle. They talk not only about making the low-budget movie, but also about the trauma of having the studio lose confidence right before the scheduled release. Fortunately, they seem to have a sense of humor about it now. “The Willing Victim” runs twenty minutes and has Stacy Chbosky discussing how she got the part, how she conceived the character, and why she thinks it may ultimately be for the best that The Poughkeepsie Tapes is more of an underground event. The theatrical trailer is also included.

Regardless of one's take on the feature, watching it and then absorbing the supplementary materials makes for a fascinating case study of a movie with a long and twisted path to release.

For more information on this and other titles, please visit the Scream Factory website.

The Poughkeepsie Tapes is rated R for sadistic violence and torture, including terror and graphic descriptions. The running time is 1 hour and 26 minutes.

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