Shot in a strict documentary style, The Poughkeepsie Tapes recounts the story of the Water Street Butcher, a serial killer who terrorized Poughkeepsie, NY for over ten years starting in the early 90s. Eventually the butcher made a minor slip-up and several battalions of SWAT came calling, but he was already long gone when they arrived. Instead, what they found in his abandoned house was an enormous, meticulously cataloged library of VHS tapes in which he had documented his entire career in murdering. The Poughkeepsie Tapes winds its way through the killer's story by giving us interviews with cops, FBI agents and the friends and family members of the victims, and also includes extended clips from the actual video library, so we can see exactly what happened to the victims, not just leave it to imagination. Needless to say, this is all bullcrap. The Poughkeepsie Tapes is the new Blair Witch, a carefully constructed piece of faux realism -- the longer it goes on, the more obvious it becomes, but I'm happy to say that doesn't detract from the fun.
The killer's M.O. changes randomly throughout his career -- a calculated move to throw the authorities off the scent -- but torture of some kind is almost always on the agenda. In one horrifying scene, we see -- through the aged, shaky footage of his personal camcorde, as always -- him pickup a woman who needs a lift to a gas station. By the look of his car and his helpful demeanor, she takes him for a plain clothes police officer and agrees to ride in the back seat. Little details like her unexplained British accent help sell the setup, and after they've driven a while, it becomes clear that he isn't taking her to any gas station. "Let me ask you something ..." he finally asks. "What made you think I was a police officer?" Cut to one of the numerous scenes of torture in the killer's dank, greenlit basement hellhole. The victim is usually hogtied or chained and gagged, while the killer toys with them by wearing a scary Comeddia dell'arte mask and asking questions like "Are you happy that I killed your family?"