Every so often, the internet becomes captivated by a fictional film that blurs the line between reality and fantasy. Back in the early days of the World Wide Web, The Blair Witch Project’s marketing campaign convinced virtually everyone, even their parents, that three film students had genuinely gone missing in the Maryland wilderness. During the pandemic, TikTok users found themselves engrossed in the 2011 found footage horror film, Megan Is Missing. To many, the unsettling visuals in the movie appeared far too authentic to be staged. Not long after that, the phenomenon repeated itself, this time with the 2007 mockumentary, The Poughkeepsie Tapes, at its center. As is the nature of TikTok, videos featuring users discussing their experiences watching the movie quickly went viral. It became apparent that not everyone was entirely convinced that it was merely a work of fiction.
- Every ‘Jesse Stone’ Movie in Order Chronologically & By Release Date
- The Black-Hat Western Star Who Stole Scenes From Clint Eastwood
- Who Dies in ‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3’?
- ‘Star Wars’: What Is the Old Republic Era?
- All The New Movies Coming to Streaming This Week: ‘The Little Mermaid,’ ‘The Banshees of Inisherin,’ and More
Directed by John Erick Dowdle, The Poughkeepsie Tapes certainly presents itself as a genuine documentary. Interviews with experts and grainy footage contribute to the film’s air of authenticity, capable of deceiving even the most unsuspecting viewers. The movie claims that the footage shown on screen was used by FBI profilers for training, and its original marketing campaign emphasized the film’s true-to-life realism. Even without this backstory, the footage within the film is so vivid and gruesome that it could strike fear into the hearts of even the most seasoned horror aficionados. But, regardless of what The Poughkeepsie Tapes’ distributor or some TikTok enthusiasts might have told you, the movie is entirely fictional. As for whether or not it drew inspiration from a true story, well… That’s a bit more complex.
What Is ‘The Poughkeepsie Tapes’ About?
For those who are unaware of what they’re diving into, The Poughkeepsie Tapes appears like your typical sensationalistic true-crime documentary. It’s packed with interviews featuring experts, law enforcement officers, and past victims, along with gruesome crime scene photographs and archival news reports. The film weaves a chilling tale of a serial killer who terrorized the town of Poughkeepsie, located in upstate New York, for decades. The narrative kicks off with the police’s horrifying discovery of ten bodies buried in the backyard of a suburban residence. But that’s not the only shocking find. Inside the house, detectives stumble upon a staggering 800 videotapes, each chronicling the torture sessions and murders committed by Edward Carver, also known as the Water Street Butcher.
It’s when the film delves into these tapes that things take a disturbing turn. While the physical violence depicted in this intentionally presented “found footage” might not be as shocking as the gore in other horror films like Saw or Hostel, the performances and the quality of the footage are enough to divide unsuspecting viewers into two distinct camps. Some will glance at the imagery and swiftly recognize that they’re witnessing a horror movie, not a genuine documentary. However, others, possibly more gullible, might genuinely believe that the documentarians have crossed a line into insensitivity and ethical misconduct—a notion that, given the state of some true-crime media, isn’t entirely far-fetched.
No, ‘The Poughkeepsie Tapes’ Is Not a Real Documentary
The Poughkeepsie Tapes is not, in fact, a genuine documentary showcasing snuff footage; it’s a work of fiction presented in a documentary style. In simpler terms, it’s a mockumentary, a genre that includes more lighthearted and family-friendly films like What We Do in the Shadows and This Is Spinal Tap. Additionally, The Poughkeepsie Tapes falls into the category of found footage films, which are horror movies designed to give the impression of real events captured by real individuals. Notable examples of this genre include classics such as The Blair Witch Project, Rec, and Paranormal Activity. To maintain the illusion that the people on screen are not actors, these films typically cast relatively unknown performers who aren’t immediately recognizable to audiences. However, there’s often at least one performance in these films that inadvertently reveals the ruse.
Surprisingly, despite the familiarity of viewers with other found footage films, many still believe The Poughkeepsie Tapes to be authentic. This belief isn’t limited to TikTok; on Reddit, there are posts dating back a decade inquiring whether the movie is, in fact, real. So, how did this misconception persist? Well, aside from the factors we’ve already discussed—the grainy, home video quality of the footage and the marketing campaign—The Poughkeepsie Tapes faced distribution challenges that added to its mystique. The film initially premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2007 and was subsequently acquired for distribution by MGM, with plans for a theatrical release the following year. However, even after substantial marketing expenditures, MGM chose to withdraw the film from distribution along with a few others. The company never provided an official explanation for this decision, fueling wild online theories. Some asserted that the film was pulled due to being deemed too frightening, while others went as far as claiming it was banned for depicting actual murders.
The Poughkeepsie Tapes remained unavailable to the public until 2014 when it briefly appeared on Video On Demand. It wasn’t until 2017, a full decade after its initial release, that the film finally became available on DVD and Blu-Ray.
Does ‘The Poughkeepsie Tapes’ Draw Inspiration From Real Life?
But now, let’s delve into whether The Poughkeepsie Tapes could have been loosely based on real events. Well, it’s a bit of a complicated answer, falling into the realm of both yes and no. The screenwriting duo of John Erick Dowdle and his brother, Drew Dowdle, didn’t specifically draw inspiration from a single real-life case. Instead, their creative process seems to have been influenced by a multitude of stories about actual serial killers. One of these influences appears to be none other than Ted Bundy, a notorious serial killer who even makes an appearance as a character in the movie, portrayed by actor Todd Cahoon. In reality, Bundy committed a series of heinous crimes, including the rape and murder of at least 30 women between 1974 and 1978. Shockingly, he often kept gruesome souvenirs from his victims. In The Poughkeepsie Tapes, Bundy takes on the role of an FBI consultant involved in the pursuit of the Water Street Butcher. To maintain a distinction between Cahoon and Bundy, John Erick Dowdle cleverly obscured the serial killer’s scenes by presenting them as highly distorted CCTV footage.
In a 2009 article, the Marist College Circle, based in Poughkeepsie, noted some parallels between the Water Street Butcher’s crimes and those of a local serial killer named Kendall Francois. Francois was responsible for the murders of eight to ten sex workers between 1996 and 1998. However, it’s crucial to clarify that any resemblances between these cases are limited to the fact that both killers operated in Poughkeepsie and during roughly the same period. Unlike the fictional depiction in the film, Francois never recorded videos of his victims. In fact, John Erick Dowdle has openly stated that he had never even heard of Kendall Francois before. Nonetheless, these comparisons continue to circulate online whenever The Poughkeepsie Tapes is brought up.