The Poughkeepsie Tapes is one of those movies that has had a strange and troubled history finding its way to a public release. It was made in 2007, but its theatrical release got pulled, and it was not released on DVD. It got a brief video-on-demand release in 2014, but was pulled again. The rumor was that MGM pulled the movie because they wanted to give it a theatrical release later that year, but that never happened either. So, as of this writing, unless you bought it during its brief window, you cannot - legally - get your hands on this film.
The rarity of this film has spawned all kinds of stories and legends about it — some accurate, and some not. Having seen the movie twice, let me "fact check" some of the things people say about it.
This is not a true story.
It is a documentary-style horror film about a serial killer. It uses "found footage" of the killer recording the torture and murder of several women, but the 800 "Poughkeepsie Tapes" do not exist. Anybody on the internet that says somebody's friend's mom saw the real tapes is lying to you, or has been lied to.
Gullible people can easily believe this movie is non-fiction. But there are a lot of small details that make it obvious that the movie isn't real. The actors in the documentary aren't always the best. It kind of over-exaggerates itself by trying to turn the "Water Street Butcher" into a kind of super-killer boogeyman (I'm also not sure that putting Ted Bundy in the movie was a great idea). But even for all that, the documentary parts are done better than most in this genre.
It Contains Some of the Best 'Found Footage' Techniques
It's no secret that found footage horror films pretty much all suck. That's usually because they use too much of it, and the movie becomes ridiculous and unrealistic. Just about every "great" found footage film I've ever seen, from Blair Witch to V/H/S to Creep, either made me sleepy or made me laugh.
Until this movie came along.
There's not a whole lot of the killer's found footage in this movie (there are a lot of "interviews"), so when it's shown, it's effective and mostly believable. The distorted nature of the tape adds to its upsetting feel. Yes, the movie runs into the usual problem of "why is he carrying the camera around all the time?". But it at least tries to explain why and how the killer would be using his camera in ways that most people don't. I appreciate the effort.
There is not a lot of physical violence in the movie.
This will surprise a lot of people. Don't get me wrong, there are several violent and disturbing scenes in the movie, and those are the scenes that get talked about. But there honestly isn't that much of it. There are a lot of mainstream movies, such as the Saw series, that contain a lot more violence than this one. So if you want a gore-fest, this is not the movie you're looking for.
There is psychological and emotional violence in the movie.
It doesn't really matter that the physical violence in the movie is at a lower level than a lot of movies.
The killer in this film is shown doing more than just torturing and murdering. Some of the power of the film comes from the way the killer treats his female prisoners. He breaks them down mentally, making them say and do things they would never do under normal circumstances. The scene where he tells a girl that he killed her family and he makes her say she's glad is blood chilling. And the final interview with the girl at the end of the movie stayed with me for awhile.
The movie hints at a larger picture without showing it
The other main reason that the movie is so effective is that you get glimpses of other things that the killer is into, without explaining them. For example, we learn early in the movie that he has a balloon fetish. He loves to watch women sit on balloons until they pop. Now, balloon fetishes are pretty harmless, but in the context of this film, it's pretty fucking creepy.
In addition, the killer has a weird sense of theatricality. He not only wears a weird mask when he's on the prowl, he also wears one when he's alone in the dungeon with his victims. He moves weird and he makes his victims wear costumes too. But no explanation is ever given as to why he acts like that, which gives your imagination something to run with.
The Poughkeepsie Tapes is one of better films in the "snuff" genre. And it's a mystery as to why the movie was officially only available for about 30 days in the past nine years. It's not the best movie ever made, but it's better than most of the crap that passes for found footage horror. It's certainly not being hidden for being too violent — more extreme films than this one have graced theater screens.
The Poughkeepsie Tapes should be seen by more people; there's an audience for it. But until somebody actually releases it to the public, I'm afraid this is one of those films that is going to stay mostly a legend. And like most legends, not everything you hear is true.
Here is the creepy trailer: