THE POUGHKEEPSIE TAPES (2007) – You’re the real monster

Well, I don’t think I’ve ever actually pronounced the name of this film. In my mind, the word is imprinted like a photograph, as if I’ve never really read it. Every time I have to search for it on Google, it’s a continuous “the pogh tapes,” “the poough tapes,” “the p tapes,” and so on, until Google, exhausted, gives me the fateful “The Poughkeepsie Tapes.” So, putting aside the arduous title, in addition to the arduous challenge of finding halfway decent images, I have to say that if I’m here writing using images where you can count the pixels, it’s because it’s evidently worth it.

the poughkeepsie tapes 2007 killer with mask

Yes, I’m a sucker for mockumentaries, so?

“The Poughkeepsie Tapes (2007),” directed by John Erick Dowdle (I later found out he’s the same guy who did “As Above, So Below”) is a mockumentary, a genre that I must say has a certain appeal to me. It alternates between interviews and footage of a serial killer from Poughkeepsie.

Despite my choice of somewhat colorless images, the film is not in black and white. It presents itself as a documentary about a supposed serial killer who slaughters women in Poughkeepsie and plays with the authorities, leaving them a box filled with a large number of VHS tapes related to all his murders.

the poughkeepsie tapes head cut off

The Poughkeepsie Tapes, an unknown gem

Despite being almost unknown as a title and not very renowned, I find The Poughkeepsie Tapes to be a little gem.

The footage shown in the film is often disturbed (you often see very little), which is both a pro and a con: it forces you on one hand to imagine what might be happening, thus stimulating the imagination, but on the other hand, it takes away the shock effect of actually seeing the horror on screen.

The peculiar thing about The Poughkeepsie Tapes that I particularly liked is its POV (Point of View). While it can certainly be easier to have the viewer empathize with a victim being chased by a mad killer, it’s definitely a bolder decision to put the viewer in the shoes of the killer himself. Besides the unusual choice of POV, I find the ending of our victim, who ends up becoming dependent on her tormentor, to be very original.

Choosing to make the viewer empathize with the victim certainly leads (probably for the weaker ones, less so for the veterans) to hold their breath. That tiny sense of anxiety that keeps you tense during perhaps the climax of a chase or escape scene.

Choosing to make the viewer empathize with the killer leads to a somewhat deeper sense of anguish, probably. There’s no longer that need to flee, to escape, but there’s certainly something different: discomfort, disgust, repulsion. A sense of horror mixed with a worrying curiosity. Being in the shoes of the villain is definitely a great experiment that I think works well in The Poughkeepsie Tapes.

the poughkeepsie tapes victim on the ball

The worst scenes in The Poughkeepsie Tapes

Among the scenes I MOST appreciated is definitely the rush/fit of the kidnapping of the little girl. I think it’s a really well-constructed and equally disturbing scene. The same goes for the sense of unease you feel when the two cookie girls end up in the house. “What will happen to them? What did he put in the cola?” And then, like, nothing, he lets them go. Again: the scene when at the gas station he signals to the camera of the “red house,” even before committing the murder. All premeditated.

Do you remember when the killer infiltrates Cheryl’s house and waits in her closet until night falls? He enters the house, stays hidden, and comes out at night. Shortly after, we have another of my favorite scenes: Cheryl notices the intruder, turns terrified, and sees us: SEES us, because we are the eyes of the killer. The terror that pervades her, the expression of shock and the confusion that takes over her. Erik Dowdle terrifies us with other methods: he makes us feel dirty, rotten, and despicable. It’s the horror and human madness that are the real monsters.

françois kendall

Is The Poughkeepsie Tapes based on a true story?

We know very little about the protagonist killer, but I love how they try to surround and characterize him: the theatrical side we see from time to time in some scenes, the sadistic side, the cunning and deceitful side, the sick relationship that he gradually builds.

I also read that technically the film is inspired by a real serial killer from Poughkeepsie: Kendall François, who killed about ten prostitutes over the course of two years. François, however, did not record any of his murders. I only remember a brief description where a policeman describes the degrading condition of François’ house, where he had several bodies scattered around in various stages of decomposition, complete with insects & co.

As often happens to me lately, I like to dwell on the sound impact of the film: unsettling silences mixed with increasingly fast, increasingly annoying rhythms during the killer’s fits. I think they accompanied the various scenes in the best way.

the poughkeepsie tapes, victim mask stretcher

Final thoughts on The Poughkeepsie Tapes

As a fake documentary, it obviously has the bitter aftertaste of being all fiction. Sure, I don’t know how many people would want such an individual to actually exist. But I think that for its hour and a half of disturbing and bizarre clips, The Poughkeepsie Tapes is an excellent entertainer. I rewatched it to refresh my memory: I liked it just as much, but the discomfort it gave me the first time I watched it was top tier. Recommended!

Picture of Lorena |

Lorena |

I like unusual horror, the kind that gets under your skin and scares you because it's realistic. The anxiety of watching something that, all things considered, could easily appear in the real world. Email me at

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