Blu-ray Review: The Poughkeepsie Tapes
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The Poughkeepsie Tapes
Blu-ray Combo Pack
Director: John Erick Dowdle
Screenwriter: John Erick Dowdle, Drew Dowdle
Cast: Bobbi Sue Luther, Samantha Robson, Ivar Brogger
Distributor: Scream Factory
Rated R | 86 Minutes
Release Date: October 10, 2017

The Poughkeepsie Tapes, a found-footage horror film directed by John Erick Dowdle (Quarantine and As Above, So Below), made its premiere at the 2007 Tribeca Film Festival. The film was picked up by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and scheduled for a 2008 theatrical release – you may even remember seeing trailers for the movie before Frank Darabont’s The Mist. In spite of the promotional advertising, the docu-thriller was removed from the studio’s release schedule.

For years, the only way to watch Dowdle’s movie was a rough cut available on file-sharing sites. In 2014, however, the movie was given its first official release as a video on demand (VOD) title available through DirecTV. A month later, it was removed from the VOD platform for reasons unknown. As a result, the movie has gained an underground following as being something akin to a snuff film, so violent – so dark and disturbing – that it isn’t suitable for mainstream audiences. Enter Scream Factory, Shout Factory’s sub-division of forgotten horror and science-fiction films, who are giving the film its first proper home video release.

Making its Blu-ray and DVD debut October 10th, The Poughkeepsie Tapes tells the story of the Water Street Butcher, a serial killer who terrorized upstate New York throughout the 1990s. After a decade-long murder spree, the killer left behind the most disturbing collection of evidence homicide detectives had ever seen – hundreds of homemade videotapes that chronicle the stalking, abduction, murder, and disposal of his victims.

A faux-documentary in the style of The Blair Witch Project, The Poughkeepsie Tapes features “shocking footage” from these tapes, cut together with interviews from FBI profilers, crime scene investigators, and other talking heads. An exceedingly nasty piece of work, it’s easy to see why Dowdle’s film was never released in theaters – there isn’t a single moment in this movie that provides the viewer a reprieve from the horror. It’s suffocatingly dark, and what makes it feel so authentic is how unpolished and low-budget the film is – it looks like it could be the real home videos of a deranged killer.

Unlike similarly dark material like David Fincher’s Zodiac, Ryan White’s The Keepers, or Joel Anderson’s Lake Mungo, there isn’t anything remotely entertaining or illuminating or even admirable about The Poughkeepsie Tapes, it’s just brutality without any other redeeming qualities. For some, that will be a good thing. For others who like to enjoy the things they watch, it will be an instant turn-off. For me, it just isn’t that interesting.

It’s one of those found-footage movies where the gimmickry of the subgenre doesn’t add to the story so much as it reveals the story’s inefficiencies. As a traditional horror film, The Poughkeepsie Tapes could’ve made the Water Street Butcher into a bonafide slasher icon, but in its current state, it’s far too mean-spirited to warrant a second look. Still, for those who seek out extreme horror movies like A Serbian Film, Martyrs, and The Human Centipede trilogy, Scream Factory’s The Poughkeepsie Tapes will fill the empty void left by the film’s non-release.

As for the disc itself, Scream Factory’s two-disc DVD/Blu-ray combo pack features 1080p widescreen (1.85:1) presentation and DTS-HD Master Audio Mono and Dolby Digital Mono (DVD) tracks. For bonus features, the release includes new interviews with John Erick Dowdle, his brother, writer/producer Drew Dowdle, and actress Stacy Chbosky, as well as the original theatrical trailer.

Honestly, this is a movie where a high definition presentation adds little to the film and makes it look even more low-budget and amateurish than intended. Ideally, the best presentation for this movie would be a bootleg VHS tape played on an old cathode ray tube (CRT) television. Unfortunately, until VCRs and tube TVs come back into fashion like record players, we’ll have to experience Dowdle’s unsparing, altogether unsatisfying found-footage flick on our Blu-ray players and HDTVs.

The Poughkeepsie Tapes is now available on Blu-ray at Amazon.


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