Last Night I Watched "The Poughkeepsie Tapes”, A Movie That I've Been Too Scared To Watch For 15 Years


It was December 2007. I sat in the theater, ready to watch “I Am Legend.” I was all of 12 years old, finishing up another week at St. Gerard Elementary, when a trailer for a movie called “The Poughkeepsie Tapes” started playing. It scared the ever-living Jesus out of me. I was young at the time and probably would not have planned to see this movie in theaters, but I was intrigued by it. It seemed like it was going to get a big mainstream release. Why else would a trailer show for it before “I Am Legend,” which is one of the biggest movies of 2007? And yet “The Poughkeepsie Tapes” never came to Lansing. It never got a mainstream release at all. I think it got a limited release in some big markets, but it never picked up any steam, and I never watched it. I’m not a massive fan of horror movies, and serial killer shit gives me the heebie-jeebies. After all, serial killers are real people. They’re not animated. 

I love you Steven

But with a few hours to spare, I figured I could find this thing online and give it a watch. It wasn’t on any of the primary streaming services, but you can find it in its entirety in good quality with one Google search, and that’s what I did. “The Poughkeepsie Tapes” has some severe flaws, flaws that even the worst big-budget movies rarely ever have. The acting in this movie ranges from slightly adequate to completely awful. It’s not something that I blame the director for. With such a limited budget, they probably just got the lamest work-for-scale actors they could find, and boy does it show. Not everyone is bad, and during the sequences of gruesome torture, it works more than it doesn’t, but by in large, it’s obvious that you’re watching people play make-believe. For that reason, it’s hard to properly judge this the way that you would judge a regular, mainstream film. To call “The Poughkeepsie Tapes” a small-budget movie is an understatement. It is severely lacking in so many areas, especially in terms of production quality and the acting department. And because of the brutality of its subject matter, it’s impossible to say that it’s a film that anyone can truly “enjoy.”

But man, it’s ambitious 

As creepy as it might be, I love the premise for this movie. It’s like a twisted mix between “Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer” and “The Last Broadcast.” Despite its low-budget quality, this move has some legitimately frightening imagery. And best of all, it doesn’t have a single jump scare. I bumped my rating up multiple points because it avoided the lame-ass tropes that so many modern horror movies seem to have. While the limitations are apparent, this movie is well directed. It’s not surprising that this director, John Eric Dowdle, has gone on to direct more significant projects like “Quarantine,” “As Above, So Below” and the 2018 Netflix series “Waco.” He has a way of unsettling the viewer. I can’t put this any more bluntly; there is some fucked up shit in this movie. It’s the kind of fucked up shit that most people don’t respond to nowadays. I felt uneasy watching it. And that’s a compliment. A movie about a serial killer who murders his victims on video isn’t exactly supposed to be “It’s A Wonderful Life.”

“The Poughkeepsie Tapes” is a rare example of a movie that is so limited with its budget that’d I’d be in support of a remake. With one more draft of the script and a better cast of actors, you could make a found footage film that hits lightning in a bottle like “The Blair Witch Project” did in 1999. Keep in mind that I’m not a massive fan of that film either, but I acknowledge the impact it had on its genre. Sadly, I doubt that will ever be the case, and “The Poughkeepsie Tapes” will be a minor footnote in film history. And that’s too bad because I’ve stated before that most movies bore me, and even though this film has an abundance of issues, it’s interesting. I’d actually recommend it as a one-time watch, not much because of what it is, but more so because of what it could have been. It’s not a film you should wait 15 years to see like I did. It's surprisingly deeper than I expected it to be, and I'd go as far as to say the last 5-10 are genuinely haunting and even downright emotional. I’d give it a mild recommendation, but only if you’re in the right frame of mind.