What Happened?: ‘The Poughkeepsie Tapes’

Back in 2006-2007, you may remember a trailer for the found footage horror flick The Poughkeepsie Tapes playing before Frank Darabont’s The Mist. I sure do, and I remember it being pretty darn spooky too, which means it was right up my alley. A collection of tapes is found in Poughkeepsie, New York, chronicling the torture, rape, and murders of The Waterstreet Butcher. The film is actually inspired by various serial killers including one from the titular town Poughkeepsie, but it’s not based on any one single murderer. Despite the promising theatrical trailer, The Poughkeepsie Tapes never actually got to meet the big white screen. For years the only way to attain the film is a rough cut through torrents and file sharing sites that are more than likely to send a little parasitic gift packing along with your download. The film is directed by John Erick Dowdle (Quarantine, Devil), his brother also on board as producer and co-writer. You’d think after their well received American remake of Rec, and nearly saving M. Night Shyamalan’s career, the film makers little ditty would be let out into the sun, but still no word.

When you do a quick internet search for the film, you’ll likely come up with a bunch of question marks and old forum threads asking when the release of the film is. The bread crumbs seem to drop dead after that. The film was pulled from its February release, rumored to be because of poor festival reactions. Though according to actual audiences members the reactions were positive. Now since this is a horror it’s tough to gauge a reaction because someone walking out of the theater could technically be considered a compliment. The film premiered at Tribeca in 07′ and MGM studios picked it up. They slated the film for a wide release and then pulled it about 5 weeks before hand. This wasn’t the only film the studio pulled, they yanked a handful of others from release as well (unidentifiable). It’s no secret the studio has gone through some financial woes, and it seems that they pumped the big bucks into promoting this feature, hoping maybe it’d be another Blair Witch Project, since The Poughkeepsie Tapes was a good two years before the receding tide of found footage flicks out now. Due to budget concerns they may have pulled the plug on the promising film. This is all really speculation, for there was never any public statements about the decision to not distribute the film. MGM still owns the rights, and other studios have offered to buy it. The hole might be dug too deep now, the film is possibly no longer culturally relevant for a theatrical release, and the studio may be hiding in the underbrush, waiting to pounce it on an unsuspecting public. The fear that is may get lost in the already crowded sea of found footage trash to sift out of Hollywood. A second release date was scheduled for January 2, 2009 but that date too faded into memory. Fangoria Magazine has had the film on their upcoming release calendar for about 4 years now.

So what is the reason for this silent hold on The Poughkeepsie Tapes? Do we really need an answer? I think yes, in order to keep the legacy of the film alive, and plus it’s downright fun to develop a mythology around this thing. I have actually seen the film, back in 2009 I watched it on an I-pod during my Latin class, in broad daylight, in a crowded room, and the film still disturbed me. On a 4″ x 4″ screen I still remember haunting images and scenes of the Waterstreet Butcher being “intimate” his victims. Interviews with a deformed woman, chilling voice overs recounting seemingly too real incidents, and an unnerving mask that I couldn’t quite identify. With all those variables working against it and it being a rough cut of the film I’d like to believe that the film was pulled from release to spare the sanity of the public. The Poughkeepsie Tapes is terrifying, haunting even. The way MGM fell over it they must of felt the same way, perhaps after some outside opinions and another screening they second guessed their decision. It isn’t very bloody, but it’s atmosphere is heavy. The Poughkeepsie Tapes suffocates the audience.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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  1. Amanda Duke

    Very good read Brandon. I was surprised to see 66 reviews up on IMDB with no official release of this. Tells you how well this was distributed on filesharing. Might grab it myself 😉

  2. David Tatlow

    Really enjoyed reading this – I remember some buzz behind it from some of the film press in the UK, I always wondered what become of it…

  3. Jordan David

    I wanna see this!

    • i must say , i am a huge fan of horror and sci-fi . when i found this flick on viooz , i loved it instatnly . go to viooz , nothing to download or install , just free streaming movies, the way the innernet should be

  4. Corey Koepper

    A group of my friends once thought this was an actual documentary. Beneath my laughter was an urge to actually check it out.

  5. Really interesting film. I enjoyed it. Creepy as hell, a sense of constant dread throughout. The acting was sometimes a little laughable, but it didn’t ruin the film for me.

  6. Nice read 🙂
    I love this film, and “own” an avi of the leaked copy. I watched it a lot back in the day. Everyone I introduced to the horror that is the the Water Street Butcher either liked or, at least, appreciated the film. I’m gutted for Team Dowdle that it wasn’t released, but the fact that it’s now a “lost”, mysterious piece of work, is kinda cool. Makes it special.
    Thanks for the article 🙂 and the reminder! Haven’t seen it in a couple of years!

  7. If the united states can bring the exorcist back to theaters in 2000 im sure we can handle the poughkeepsie tapes.

  8. Sean ceasar

    I remember seeing this trailer in theatres before “the mist”(good movie by the way) and having it stand out in my mind and thinking it was real. Saw it finally on YouTube last year and it disturbed me but I knew it wasn’t real. Freaky stuff.

  9. Vidmagic

    Seems safe to download via Torrent. Use a Mac if you can I guess. Well worth the effort to see the film but don’t plan on sleeping too well if you watch it late at night. Unlike many films of this nature the reality it is based upon is all too real. Because of this it is in many ways far more disturbing than A Serbian Film (and far more watchable) although it is not as much of a social commentary on the modern day life in the country of Serbia.

  10. footnotegirl

    If you want to know why it wasn’t released? Here’s a blog with part of why.
    I was at the BNAT this year and I can tell you that lots of people were REALLY excited about this and it not only fell flat, most people I knew in the audience (and it’s a pretty intimate audience, lots of repeat people who get to know each other) felt it was aggressively bad. It attempted to be a comedy, gore porn, fake documentary, and crime/suspense and failed on EVERY count.

  11. The Poughkeepsie Tapes’ failure–having been hyped but never having been released–isn’t so surprising as its success–having ever been talking about at all. In Brandon’s article, as well as in the comments posted above, it’s clear that the popular judgement of found footage horror as ‘trash’ holds weight; this is a widespread view that I don’t think has to do so much with the ‘found footage’ identifier as it does the fact that, with so much horror being released–with it being the top-grossing box office genre, pretty consistently, year after year–there’s just a lot of really bad horror being made all the time, regardless of the situation of whether the characters are looking right into the camera or not. This is further fueled by the fact that found footage horror is still emerging: Brandon identified the ‘receding tide of found footage flicks out now’, but, with the increasing pervasivity of personal video recording tech (such as your cellphone), the tide is only growing as more fillmmakers become capable of accessing such a reachable genre.

    So, being associated with found footage horror to begin with (rightly or wrongly, given that the film is constituted of more than just found footage; it’s perhaps more of a mockumentary) is enough to tarnish the film for a lot of audiences already. But there seems to be something more, something about The Poughkeepsie Tapes itself that tends to polarize viewers. I enjoyed and appreciated the film when I saw it, but it holds echoes of torture porn, another emergent, particularly divisive genre, and that could easily be what’s turned off a lot of the viewers who are left, perhaps before many of them have even seen it. The fact is, Hostel included some far more visceral scenes than Poughkeepsie, but the format of the former, the familiarity of shooting our own movies in our own homes, reframes modern horror narratives in ways we haven’t seen since Texas Chainsaw or the innovations of VCRs and video stores.

    So, I’m tempted to try to defend The Poughkeepsie Tapes–and I think it’s worthy of defense–but, like Brandon says, its lack of release for so long is indicative of a situation for the film that is very real and should be addressed. I just hope that it is a controversy might lend the film the kind of infamy that will, one day, also lead to a measure of deserved respect.

  12. NoBullSh!t

    I saw the the Poughkeepsie Tapes in the theatres in Connecticut in 2007. It was terrifying. It was also even more terrifying that when the movie ended, there were 2 FBI vans outside the theatre, filming everyone’s faces that came out of the movie. I have a few friends that lived in Poughkeepsie, NY (just a few hours ride from CT) and according to them, the movie closely fit the events that actually did occur there. I believe the FBI worked with the producers and directors, and helped make some serious changes and additions to the film to get some sort of reaction from an UNSUB that fit the bill of the killer in the film. They must have assumed he would be in the CT area, and did a release there to draw him out. I would sign an affidavit of truth to this.

  13. Josephine Haburay

    I hope they release it. I am currently trying to watch it on YouTube.

  14. Bluegrasslass

    I watched it on YouTube a couple of years ago, as it was the only way of
    seeing it at the time. Scared the ever-loving crap out of me! The footage of the mother of one of the victims – brrr! It made me shudder!
    it’s still up on that site, but I would LOVE a Blu-Ray release. The extras could include a doc on why it took so long to release, which would only contribute to its legendary status.
    Such a shame it’s sitting on a shelf gathering dust. The public need to see it, and give the filmmakers’ careers a huge boost.

  15. Am watching a movie where the street reminded me of Poughkeepsie so that’s why this popped into my head today but interesting to see someone comment on this yesterday as well. I lived a couple years there almost 30 yrs ago. Been back a few times. Can definitely see it as a horror film setting. Going over to Youtube now to check it out. I started by going to eBay looking for a copy. Oh well.

  16. Gretchen

    I absolutely loved the creepiness of it all. Very good horror flick. I loved the fact that it was not a “bloody” affair. I’ve recommended it to several people for a good scare.

  17. This is a genuinely disturbing film. The fact that it only describes and, in some cases, merely alludes to the killer’s monstrous crimes leaves the viewer to imagine their true depravity. If the scenes were filmed, the viewer could simply choose to look away. Because the diabolically sadistic crimes are simply described by the characters in the lost footage, the audience has no way to avoid the searing images left behind and they really “went for it”. This film pushed my boundaries and left me with waking nightmares. My expectation is that many who generally like serial killer fiction will be repelled by this as simply too dark while a select subset will find this film a revelation. In fact, I expect it to become a cult favorite.


    Spookiest, scariest, never forget the rest of ykur life type of movie. Do not let children watch this. Beyond horror. Torture, capture, mutilation, terror piece, coming soon to your nightmares. Do not talk to strangers. Do not pick up hitch hikers. Do not let your children ever out of your house. Buy a gun. Door locks. Then move somewhere else, your still not safe.

  19. This movie is fucking terrible. Even funny at times. The acting & the script are both dreadful. What are you all talking about? The movie was canned because it’s garbage. Horror really is subjective, isn’t it?

  20. You should have paid attention in class; you could have read and translated the entirety of The Æneid into English.

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