The Poughkeepsie Tapes – Much worse than you expect.

So i was recently browsing the internet and found an interesting site called http://horrornews.net/ which reminded me that I freaking love horror movies, and that the last one i saw wasn’t particularly horrifying.  So I got comfortable and started browsing. Horror news has a section for ‘extreme horror’, listing the sorts of the film that the BBFC doesn’t really like, with some blurb about them. Now I’ve seen ‘The Human Centipede (First Sequence)’ and I thought that actually, far from being the country destroying cesspool that the media though it was, it was actually a reasonably well made and particularly dark comedy. (Can you really watch the scenes with ‘meine liebe dreihund’ without bursting out laughing? I can’t) So I got stuck into the list, looking for the films that HMV might not have had on their top 50 front of house displays.

I ended up finding out about the whole subset of ultra realistic horror films, and the controversy surrounding them. These range from the deeply convincing pseudo snuff films like the august underground trilogy, to faux documentaries that jump onto the moral outrage bandwagon and then stab it in the face a bit, like s&man. Now, from a filmmaking standpoint, these films interested me as they are able to achieve some deeply unsettling content that, put simply, does not look like a filmmaker made it.

Now. Recall the last horror film you saw. I watched antichrist recently (don’t do this, antichrist sucks) and while it sucked watching William Defoe getting his ankle bolted to a stone and his pecker exploded, it was, at all times, clearly a film. There is a safety net for the viewer. The film is heavily stylised, with shots that obviously took a long time to construct. there is music. there is lighting. there are blurry shots and long shots, and close-ups and cuts, and it always looks like a film. This is because, most of the time, the audience is looking to be entertained, not disturbed. However, the extreme horror films do away with these niceties, opting instead for a visceral, painful cinematic equivalent of being kicked in the face. ‘Sold!’ I thought. ‘I’ll make a list and watch some of these bad boys.’ Top of the list was The Poughkeepsie Tapes.

I picked The Poughkeepsie Tapes (TPT) because it formed a nice bridge from standard to extreme horror. TPT is a faux documentary about the events leading up to and following on from the discovery of a box of tapes in a property that the police have searched following a lead in an ongoing murder investigation. The tapes are all dated, go back at least a decade, and follow the actions of one unnamed man. We follow a documentary team as they investigate the case after the fact, interviewing key players in the investigation along the way.

The film provides us that safety net of fiction, however it also subverts the genre of serial killer documentaries particularly well. Occasionally, you will forget that you are watching a movie. This is, of course, both excellent and difficult to achieve.

It transpires that the boxes of tapes contain thousands of hours of stalking, abduction, murder, physical and mental torture, and balloon popping (seriously). We see interviews with the profilers who went over the tapes, officers involved in the investigation, families of victims, and finally with a victim herself. We are also slowly exposed to the content of the tapes, and this is where the film continuously, viscerally, kicks you in the face. To give you an idea of the extent of this, I initially found the interview sections to be occasionally poorly acted – a sign of the lower budget indie release. Not every aspiring actor is Al fucking Pacino. However, as the film progressed, I appreciated these moments as they allowed me to think the phrase ‘Oh thank god, this is a film’ to myself while trying to mentally scrub myself clean again.

It starts with a child abduction. The footage is distressed and degraded, out of focus, handheld, distressing. You hear the killer but you never see him. You do not witness the actual abduction, you hear it. The car door slams and he is gone. Moments like these remind you of the truly horrific notion that societal boundaries are the things that keep us safe, but transgression of these boundaries is easy for someone determined and disturbed enough to want to transgress them. And our protagonist really, really wants to.

The worst moments of the film are not the physical torture scenes in which the killer beats or kills his victims, but the psychological torture he inflicts. As the killer progresses we learn that he changes his modus operandi to evade capture, starting to abduct people while disguised as a police officer. He starts to invade homes and successfully kidnaps a girl, who he then holds captive. These scenes are, without question, pushing at the very boundaries of decency. The torture inflicted is horrific by all standards, and far outweigh the lasting impact of the purely violent imagery contained within the film. In fact, much of the actual violence is committed off-screen, but this does not matter. This is still a violent film that will stay with you.

So should you watch it? Well, that depends. If you don’t like horror movies, and you’ve actually made it to the end of this review without deciding that you don’t want to watch it, then no. Dont watch it. But, if you are a horror fan who finds that ‘Insidious’ and ‘Cabin In The Woods’ really don’t cut it for you, or that ‘Hostel’ could have done with being a whole lot more fucked up, then yes. You should watch it.

Just bear in mind that while the film has one last-moment get out of jail free card that finally reminds you to say ‘Oh thank god, this is a film’ towards the end, which made me smile to myself and reflect on a fine bit of film making, I still checked behind every door and in every corner of every room in my flat before I went to bed.

Twice.

An actually horrific horror film. 4 screaming victims out of 5

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