Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The Poughkeepsie Tapes

Authorities find over 800 VHS tapes made by an elusive killer in and around Poughkeepsie, New York.  We the viewer – most of whom are absolutely not police or FBI agents – get to watch some of these and see what terrible things this killer did.  Awful things.  Twisted things.  Why did they let us watch these? 

My thoughts:
This wasn’t as much out-and-out scary as it was supremely unnerving.  I had to keep telling myself, “This isn’t real, this isn’t real.”  I believed myself for the most part, but a little part of me knew that I’m not a smart person and was probably lying.

This movie is 86 minutes long.  There is a whole lot of life-scarring material in this movie for it being so short.  There are things in this movie I will carry with me for years.  Maybe the rest of my life.  I may pass those things down to my children.  They don’t deserve this, man.

There is a lot of stuff going on here, but a decent portion of the movie deals with the kidnapping/torture of Cheryl Dempsey.  She was a teenager when she was abducted.  She was abused physically and mentally to a terrible extent.  We see the torture.  We see her mind cracking under the strain of it all.  It’s heartbreaking.
In a particularly chilling scene, the killer videotapes himself as he approaches Cheryl’s mom, offering to help find her child.  Eventually it dawns on her mother that she is talking to the man who took her daughter.  As she is paralyzed with fear, the killer laughs and walks off.  That scene broke me down.  Of all the things I saw him do over the course of this movie, that felt like one of the worst.  It felt like someone punching me in the gut.  The torture I can take.  But that?  That’s a bridge too far, fella.

But that wasn’t the worst.  Not really.  He did some, let’s call it “creative surgery,” that was horrifying.  Just horrifying.

Both his psychological and physical torture are next level sadistic.  If this man existed in real life and was anywhere close to my town, I would have picked up and moved a long time ago.  Maybe burned my house on my way out of town for good measure.

I feel like I’m really talking this movie up.  I liked it, but it wasn’t perfect.  There are some slow moments.  There are some scares that don’t really land.  But those are small moments and relatively easy to overlook.  Again, it’s a short movie, and those moments are in the minority.  For the most part, this is an extremely well-done movie.  It used the found footage genre to perfection.

If you’re looking for an unsettling serial killer movie, this is it.  It has had a troubled release history, so it’s not the easiest movie to track down, but you can find it if you search hard enough.  That aspect makes this a little creepier: it’s a movie about hours and hours of torture and murder, and it’s not easy to track down.  That aspect makes it feel a little more real.

Turn off the lights, check to make sure all your doors and windows are locked and throw this on.  You may find yourself staring at the screen as the credits roll, wondering what you have gotten yourself into.  Then checking all the closets in your house.  Just in cases, you know?

Rating: 5/5

Notable actors: Bobbi Sue Luther, a real serial killer (probably)

Wednesday, May 11, 2016


A deaf, mute female author lives alone in a fairly secluded house in the woods.  A man in a creepy mask shows up, kills her neighbor and terrorizes her.

My thoughts:
This seems like a pretty standard home invasion movie, but I gave it a shot because it was directed by Mike Flanagan.  I wasn’t overly fond of Absentia, but I loved Oculus so I was looking forward to what Flangan would bring to the table within the home invasion subgenre.  He did not disappoint.

Having a deaf, mute protagonist certainly allowed for a fresh take.  Some of the standard slasher moves went out the window here.  There is a scene where the killer takes his knife and scrapes it against the window.  That nails-on-chalkboard effect didn’t faze Maggie.  I like to think that the killer had a lot of other tricks up his sleeve that he wasn’t able to use here.  “I’ll start clanging some cans together outside…okay, okay.  Can’t use that.  What about knocking really loudly on the door…nope.  Nope nope nope.”

Maggie’s lack of hearing did put the killer at a bit of a disadvantage, although it’s really his own fault.  He saw a deaf woman living alone and assumed she would be an easy kill.  He toyed with her a little more than he should have.  In fact, at one point the killer is in the house with Maggie before she even knows he’s out there, and he doesn’t kill her.  He takes his opportunity to get into her head.  When he could have been using that opportunity to get into her head…WITH A KNIFE.  (I’m so sorry.)

Granted, we don’t really see his method outside of his approach with Maggie, so maybe this is just how he operates with people trapped in their houses, but I got the impression that he was so confident of being able to kill her easily that he wasn’t as careful as he usually would be.  “I can come in at any time,” he tells her early on.  But he doesn’t.  He taunts her.  He walks around the house, stalking her in plain sight.  He gives Maggie enough time to get over her initial shock and devise a plan.  Initially to stay secure and survive, then to escape, and ultimately to fight back.

This is a small movie.  If you count the brief FaceTime call with Maggie’s sister, there are only 5 people in the movie, but the majority of the movie involves Maggie and the killer.  At 81 minutes, it’s a short movie, but it’s such a small movie that it could easily have become boring in lesser hands.  On its face, this movie is simply, “Man walks around house while woman hides inside,” for roughly an hour.  But it never really dragged.  There were a number of tense moments, but it wasn’t always tense.  Even in those down moments, it was never boring.

By the way, the character of the killer is simply “Man” in the credits.  I love this.  It’s impossible to see things like that and not think of “?” (Frankenstein) or “The Shape” (Halloween).  There’s something about an unnamed character in a horror movie that makes me happy.
We also have no idea where the killer came from.  We don’t know how long he has been killing.  We don’t know why he chose to use a crossbow.  We don’t know anything about him, and I really don’t care.  I don’t need to know what led him to this point: all I need to know is that he wants to kill.

I had a few issues, but they’re nit-picky ones.  The killer wears a creepy mask in the beginning, but he gets rid of it 15 minutes in.  There’s a good reason for this, and the actor did a good job, but I wish we would have seen that mask for a little while longer.
During a call with her sister, Maggie says (well, signs) that she has “writer’s brain.”  Basically, when she writes, she looks at every situation and sees how it could possibly end.  Kind of like Choose Your Own Adventure.  Because of this, she has a hard time finishing her books, because she can’t stop writing alternate endings.  They play with this a bit towards the end of the movie, and it’s one of my favorite scenes.  I wish they would have done this a little more throughout the movie.  Perhaps more liberal use would lead to it not being as effective, but I would have liked to have seen this used a little more than it was.

In the end, those were minor issues that didn’t detract from the rest of the movie.  I really enjoyed it and I definitely see myself revisiting this one quite often. 

Rating: 4.5/5

Notable actors: Michael Trucco

Tuesday, May 3, 2016


Genetically modified super-wasps descend on a gathering of rich people.  If you get stung (STUNG, you guys.  I just got it) by one of these wasps, you will become a person-sized wasp.  So kind of like zombies, except with wings and a stinger.  But hey!  Maybe you can produce some delicious honey.  (Wasps cannot produce honey.)

I don't have a whole lot to say about this one.  It was a b-movie creature feature.  It was a decent amount of fun.  There were a couple twists and turns that were pretty easy to spot, but this movie wasn't about that.  This was a fun, dumb movie about wasp people attacking rich people and growing their wasp army.

I didn't buy the relationship between the two leads, but that's easy enough to overlook.
  I'm not watching a movie about genetically modified wasps to see a realistic portrayal of relationship dynamics in the workplace or in times of extreme duress.

I do have to bring up an issue with it, though.
  The relationship in question occurs between the two leads: Paul and Julia.  They are catering the fancy event and are caught up in the mayhem.  Paul is an irresponsible pot head who hits on the female guests.  Julia is a professional who is responsible and takes her job seriously.  She is essentially running the catering company by herself.So why, when the party starts going south, does Paul become the hero and Julia the damsel who desperately needs saving?  Why wouldn't that be the other way around?  I'll tell you this: if I were in this situation, I'd throw Paul to the wasps and count on Julia to be the level-headed thinker.  I would apologize to Paul, but he's already a wasp person out for revenge.
"Oh no. However will I defend myself without a pot head man-child?"
If you're looking for a dumb creature-feature movie with decent effects, you could do a lot worse than this one.  There are some legitimately fun moments.  This seems like a great movie to throw on with a group of friends and alcohol.However, if you're looking for anything more than that, just cross to the other side of the street and keep on walking.

Rating: 3/5

Notable actors: Lance Henricksen, Clifton Collins Jr.