Savage, harrowing and actually very difficult to watch, The Poughkeepsie Tapes is a faux documentary detailing the Water Street Killer and his early Nineties to early Naughties, audio-visual killing spree. This movie is told in the same manner as low brow TV shows such as America’s Most Wanted or Deadly Women, resulting in a visceral and relatable format that is grounded in popular culture. Vox pop interviews with supposed victims, families, doctors, police officers and members of the public tie the scenes of murder together, and the analog visuals enhance the grittiness of what is playing on screen.
In The Poughkeepsie Tapes, the Water Street Killer is a serial murderer that documented his killings on a personal video recorder. The police discover over 2000 tapes, many of which contain graphic imagery of murder, torture and brutality, with some of the worst being shown to us later in the movie. Part of the reason why it becomes so challenging a watch is how each crime, much like in a crime documentary, is alluded to before being ‘reconstructed’. The problem here is that these aren’t reconstructions; these crimes are ‘real’ (despite being fiction), which puts you in the scene, and not as a voyeur but as a witness.
The acting is top drawer in some cases, especially the actress that plays Cheryl Dempsey, the missing girl in the narrative. She delivers a haunting performance throughout, especially towards the end of the runtime. The twists in the final act denied a Hollywood ending and was perfectly executed, and the ending itself enhances the hollowness I felt at the end of the movie.
To say I enjoyed this film would be wrong; I definitely endured it. But as a horror movie, The Poughkeepsie Tapes was adventurous, original and did its job of chilling me enough to make me get out of bed to ensure my front door was double-locked.