Sunday, January 25, 2009

Is it real?

The Poughkeepsie Tapes (2008) D. John Eric Dowdle MGM 1.85

When I first saw a poster for this larger budgeted serial killer/true snuff film horror, the first thing that jumped into my head was that it was going to be an August Underground rip off. That some enterprising up and coming Hollywood upstarts had seen those movies and figuring that no one in the mainstream knew what they were that they could just take the idea and redo it. The posters and ad art seemed to be just that. that a bunch of video tapes are found containing the home movies of a psychopath torturing and killing his victims. Take an underground, hardcore horror and water it down for the masses and claim originality.

Well the final film of The Poughkeepsie Tapes isn't quite that, though it wouldn't surprise me if that was still involved in the inspiration somewhere. The film is actually more of a recreation/put on of the standard court TV true crime documentary. You know the type, where various talking heads are interviewed about the case, giving insight into the killer's mind and life, while inter cut are the tapes this killer supposedly made himself. Not really a bad idea for a movie and sometimes it works here. But most of the time it doesn't.

The film tells the tale of a killer whose has yet to be caught, but the authorities have gotten close enough to him to have found a closet full of video tapes that show him butchering, torturing and assaulting his victims. The film goes through various experts, police officers, psychiatrists, specialists and family survivors to try and figure out how this happened and why. The acting ranges from convincing to pretty bad. And so does the writing and directing. A couple of really horrible scenes stand out in my memory such as a moment when the killer is watching a victim through her window on the video camera and apparently has her phone bugged too because he can hear her conversation. Her conversation consists of dialogue about how great her life is, how perfect everything is, except she feels like there is something really bad about to happen. that it will all come crashing down any moment. It's supposed to be ironic because we are watching it from the killer's point of view. Its not ironic, its stupid. It's bad writing. Another moment has the killer, videotaping all the while, approach the grieving mother of one of his victims as the mobilize a search party. He starts questioning her and she figures out it is him, but no one hears her cries. In theory this should work as a scene. I'm sure this kind of thing has happened in real life. But the handling of it is so lame, with the killer laughing like a fiend, and the Mom over acting that it is suddenly like a Snidley Whiplash cartoon. If the killer turned the camera on himself he would be twirling his mustache wildly. The interview scenes are handled alright for the most part except one expert who looks a lot like Herschel Gordon Lewis, that for some reason they kept slowly twirling the camera. I guess for effect, but it just looked amateurish. There is another expert on post mortem butchery who is so over the top and silly that they really should have just cut him out of the movie altogether. His performance is embarrassing.

But the meat of the movie is the snuff film scenes. If they work the movie works right? I mean the whole premise rest on if those scenes are believable. Well to the average moviegoer who hasn't seen much underground cinema they are probably pretty effective. They are grim and ugly and seemingly don't flinch. They are more violent that most people will be used to. But if you don't look away you will notice that they are more manipulative than actually violent. Whenever there is any real nasty sadism the victim ends up just off screen, so we hear them being pummelled but really don't see it. Plus the scenes are highly stylized with professional lighting, and the video quality itself is so distorted and processed to look like home movies that it becomes distracting. No one's home movies ever looked like this. But the biggest problem is that they have music and sound design, and very manipulative at that. The music and sound reach this unbearable crescendo when something bad is about to happen, often you don't see the actual act, but the sound fills it in for you. If these were real home movies none of this would apply. It is too Hollywood to even remotely be real.

There are some good things about the movie though such as a subplot about a woman the killer keeps as a sex slave for a number of years. We see the progression of her as she is broken into becoming a complete submissive until she is finally rescued and cannot reintegrate back into her normal life. In fact her story is, in a lot of ways, more interesting than the main story the film focuses on. There is also a scene where one of the FBI profilers visits Ted Bundy that is well done and the guy playing Bundy is pretty effective.

Weird thing is that though I started seeing posters for this movie at least a year ago, and spots for it appeared on you tube around the same time, it is still unreleased. Granted it is a hard sell to a public who flock to see cheesy fun time horror movies. This would not go down well with the teenybopper fans. But it makes so little sense to advertise a movie widely then just shelve it. But someone in Hollywood liked it enough to give the brothers team who made it another job as they went on to direct the remake of the excellent Spanish film [REC] called Quarantine.

Andy Copp

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