Saturday, May 7, 2011

DVD REVIEW: Cropsey (2009)

CROPSEY (2009)
Release Date: May 10th 2011

LABEL: Vicious Circle Films
RATING: Unrated
DURATION: 84mins
VIDEO: 16:9 Widescreen
AUDIO: English Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo
DIRECTORS: Barbara Brancaccio and Joshua Zeman
TAGLINE: What If Your Urban Legends Were Real?

SYNOPSIS: Growing up on Staten Island, filmmakers Barbara Brancaccio and Joshua Zeman had often heard the legend of Cropsey. For the kids in their neighborhood, Cropsey was the escaped mental patient who lived in the old, abandoned Willowbrook Mental Institution and would come out at night to snatch children off the streets. Later as teenagers, the filmmakers assumed Cropsey was just an urban legend: a cautionary tale used to keep them out of those abandoned buildings. That all changed in the summer of 1987 when 12-year-old Jennifer Schweiger disappeared from their community.

FILM: I grew up in the Finger Lakes region of Upstate New York, it's a wonderfully wooded region with numerous lakes nestled within it's rolling valleys, it's a picturesque place. My love for the outdoors is what lead me to join the Boy Scouts of America and it was through scouts that I came to know of the Cropsey legend at a weekend jamboree. We gathered round the campfire in the dark of night and were told the story of an escaped mental patient named Cropsey who had escaped from the nearby Willard Psychiatric Center located just 2 miles away. He was said to stalk the area for victims and wouldn't you just know it we were camping his prime killing grounds. Let me just say that having seen 'Friday the 13th' it didn't take much for me to imagine a deranged killer was stalking the campgrounds just outside the light of the campfire. That night while I attempted sleep every snapped twig in the dark of night was surely death creeping up on me. It's this memory and living next to a psychiatric center that most certainly captured my imagination and enhanced my viewing of  'Cropsey'.

I set about watching 'Cropsey' assuming  it to be a faux-documentary of sorts or a film exploiting the Cropsey legend like Madman (1982) or The Burning (1981) but instead was treated to one of the most hypnotic and eerie documentaries I've seen in quite sometime.

Young filmmakers Joshua Zeman and Barbara Branacaccio grew up in Staten Island, New York and they too had heard the legend of Cropsey in the early 1980's. For them he was an escaped mental patient from the Willowbrook Mental Institution that would snatch kids from the streets. Turns out their Cropsey had a real-life physical manifestation named Andre Rand, a true to life Freddy Kreuger of sorts whom was suspected and convicted in  death of a young 12-year-old girl named Jennifer Schweiger after her disappearance in 1987.

Andre Rand was a vagrant and indeed a strange man known to the locals as an outsider and a weirdo. A perp walk in the film features Rand looking quite unsane and drooling upon himself. He definitely fits the mold of the Cropsey, and had in fact worked at the Willowbrook Mental Institute prior to it's closure after Geraldo Rivera's scathing video document exposed the cruel and unsanitary living conditions in 1974. Furthermore Jennifer's body was discovered on the grounds of Willowbrook in a shallow grave near one of Andre Rands numerous makeshift campsites.

The film is an assembly of vintage news footage, press clippings, photographs and interviews with the victim's families as well as locals and retired law enforcement officers. There's also some found-footage type shots as the filmmakers explore the spooky Willowbrook grounds. During the interviews locals sensationally expound on the murder of the 12-year-old and several other children whom subsequently disappeared. There are thoughts on his innocence and of him being a scapegoat for the crime and this was the 1980's so there's the token mention of unsubstantiated satanic rituals. Was Rand was perhaps convicted in the public-eye rather than through a convincing criminal investigation? The guy was a local spectre for years and it's easy to see how a small community's hysteria over the disappearance of these young children might have railroaded a creepy though perhaps innocent man.

Something that struck with me after viewing the film was the long-lasting shadow that Willowbrook cast upon the small community, it was something that I could relate to some degree. The Willard Psychiatric Center figured largely into my young life and while truly nothing on the magnitude of what happened here occurred there was an incident that similarly haunted me. It was in August of 1985 when I was 12 years of age that a young woman named Kristin O'Connell visiting friends in our small community was found murdered. She had been stripped nude and her throat slashed. She was found in a cornfield in Ovid, NY not 1/4 mile from a small fishing pond that I regularly trekked to. It was the only murder in our town for over a century and to this day it remains unsolved. I often think back upon those days wondering if someone from our small community off 600 was a murderer and if so who?  There was rumor and speculation for years afterwards and much like the small community in 'Cropsey' our town's imagination was set afire by a brutal murder and the lingering questions still haunt the recesses of this viewer's mind.

DVD: The review copy of the films is a pre-release screener and I'll refrain from commenting as it is not an accurate representation of the final product. My screener contained some press clips for the film but only a minute of the advertised 30 minutes of deleted footage so I cannot comment on those either.

- 30 minutes of Never-Before-Seen Material
- Exclusive Press Clips

VERDICT: 'Cropsy' is a truly haunting documentary that it as chilling as any horror film, it will linger with you for sometime afterward. 'Nuff said.  
4.5 outta 5