Tuesday, October 3, 2017

THE POUGHKEEPSIE TAPES (2007) (Scream Factory Blu-ray Review)

Blu-ray/DVD Combo 
Label: Scream Factory
Region Code: A/1
Rating: R
Duration: 86 Minutes
Audio: English DTS-HD MA 2.0 Mono with Optional English Subtitles

Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.85:1) 
Director: John Erick Dowdle
Cast: Ben Messmer, Samantha Robson, Stacy Chbosky

The Poughkeepsie Tapes (2007) is a found-footage film framed in a true-crime TV show type wrapping, a documentary about the "Water Street Butcher," (Ben Messmer, Quarantine), with shocking footage from the killer's personal collection of nightmarish home movies mixed into the program as New York State Police, FBI Profilers, coroners and crime scene forensics teams discuss the horrific case of the Butcher, crimes which were not discovered in full until a police raid on a home uncovered eight-hundred numbered and cataloged VHS tapes, chronicling a visual record of the serial killers reign of terror.  He videotaped his exploits through the years, beginning with the abduction, rape (off camera) and murder of an adolescent girl he snatched from front yard. His crimes escalate to an abduction of a couple who pick him up from the side of the road, believing him to be stranded - only to be murdered and cut apart for there kind gesture. 

The framing device allows for both clinical and grotesque testimony to the serial killer's exploits, both from crime investigators and family members and friends, including the mother of a young woman named Cheryl (Stacy Chbosky, The Perks of Being a Wallflower), who was stalked by killer and abducted, he having hid out in her bedroom while she showers, video-ing the entire thing, later gruesomely killing her boyfriend and making her his slave, kept tied up in his basement and forced to submit to him over the course of years. Her mother gives testimony of how she was approached by Carver, somehow knowing he was involved in the abduction of her daughter, but unable to do anything about it, a scene captured by the killer himself on one of the tapes, laughing at her shock and horror. Most of the interview stuff is well done and comes across as natural and realistic, it feels like a standard-issue FBI interview on one of those true-crime shows,  but not all the cast are convincing, others are not-that-great, and it does make for an uneven watch. 

Some spotty acting aside I found the movie to be a potent mix, one that keeps building a steady wave of dread and unease, though I didn't find the violence all that awful, maybe I'm desensitized, but the story of a brutal serial killer always two-steps ahead of law enforcement kept me glued. Throughout the program we watch interviews with FBI profilers and law enforcement officials continue to frustratedly describe how what a crafty and intelligent adversary the Butcher. There's a part of this film that I feel go too far, not in regard to violence, but story, stretching the reality of the movie beyond believability, the story of how the Butcher successfully framed a member of law enforcement for his crimes, destroying the man and his family. Even when his posthumous innocence is revealed a national tragedy seems to obscure the mans innocence from the public. There's something about this part that seemed to go too far for me, it didn't ruin it, but I found it problematic. 

One aspect that I feel works very well is the story of Cheryl Dempsey, forced to become a slave to the madman, there's a scene of her tied up and helpless as the masked carver comes into the room very theatrically, walking on all fours, it seems ghostly, unnatural, then he reveals yet another mask - there's a theatricality about the killer's work, you never see his face in any of the videos, but he has a series of costumes and theatrical wardrobe that should be silly, but it never makes you laugh. There's a tragic follow-up to her story that is a heart breaker, too. 

Audio/Video: After nearly a decade sitting on the shelves at MGM with only a brief 2014 video-on-demand release The Poughkeepsie Tapes (2007) finally arrives on Blu-ray/DVD combo from Scream Factory. The AVC encoded 1080p image looks good, the documentary stuff looks professional and well shot, in fact when my wife walked into the room she started watching it thinking it was one of those I.D. Network true-crime shows she loves to watch! The found-footage stuff looks degraded and rough, colors are off by design, it doesn't look like an authentic VHS tape image, but it worked for me. Audio includes an English DTS-HD MA Mono track, the docu-footage sounds great, the found-footage stuff has some dropouts and lo-fi audio quirks, again it suits the film well. 

We have a few extras, beginning with a commentary from brothers Writer/Director John Erick Dowdle and Writer/Producer Drew Dowdle who speak about the genesis of the project, where some of the ideas came from and how they achieved some of the visual trickery. It's great to see these guys speak about the film, as it's such a gut-punch of a watch it's nice to see the guys behind it are normal guys, funny, and down to earth. While this film sat on the shelf they went onto write/direct Quarantine (2008), Devil (2010), and As Above So Below (2014), glad to see that their careers went on despite their debit film falling off the radar. The Brothers Dowdle also speak a bit about the disastrous Butt-Numb-A-Thon screening where the crowd turned on them, hinting that the screening may have been partially behind why MGM shelved the project. 

Actress Stacy Chbosky who played Cheryl in the film shows up for a 22-min interview, she's married to the director, and speaks of how they met and her career, and this role in particular. There's also a trailer for the film, and a DVD copy of the film with the same extras.
The film comes housed in a standard Blu-ray keepcase, the artwork is not reversible but there is an image on the reverse side. There are 2-discs, a Blu-ray and a DVD, each with separate artwork.  

Special Features: 
- NEW Sorting Through the Tapes - Interviews With Writer/Director John Erick Dowdle and Writer/Producer Drew Dowdle (34 min) HD 
- NEW The willing Victim - Interviews With Actress Stacy Chbosky (23 min) HD 
- Theatrical Trailer (2 min) HD 

The wait is over and it was worth it, The Poughkeepise Tapes (2008) lives up to the hype, long only available through underground copies and a too brief VOD release. The serial killer found-footage/true-crime TV show framed film is a real serious gut-punch, an uncomfortable, well-executed and long overdue home video release.