Filmed in a documentary style complete with Jitter Cam, The Poughkeepsie Tapes is a movie that is best seen with the lights on.
It chronicles the (fortunately fictional) spree of killings in Poughkeepsie, New York, that are all videotaped by the killer, who comes to be known as the Water Street Butcher. Hilarity, Gorn, gambits, terror and ham ensues.
The film was made during 2008 but never got a theatrical release, though a rough-cut of the film has been leaked online and is screened at film festivals. After years of being in limbo, it finally saw a home video release from Shout! Factory in October 2017, being released on Blu-Ray and DVD under their Scream Factory label.
This work features examples of:
- Adult Fear: After this movie you'll likely never help out strangers on the road or let your kids play on the front lawn or fundraise door-to-door.
- Ambiguous Disorder: It's never really made clear what exactly is wrong with the killer. He displays traits of psychopathy, antisocial personality disorder, and narcissism, but is implied to have the capacity for remorse, and as such, goes out of his way to distance himself from the reality of his murders by employing theatricality in his tapes. He also deliberately invokes this to confuse the public into thinking his killings are unrelated.
- Anti-Climax: Around three-fourths of the way through the movie, the police claim that they've captured the killer. They're wrong.
- Apologetic Attacker: Cheryl, who is forced to slit a woman's throat.
- Axe-Crazy: The killer.
- Batman Gambit: Carver, realizing that he's getting too much heat for his crimes, starts exclusively killing prostitutes to make the public believe that they're safe. During this time frame, when the public is still searching for his new persona, he frames a cop for his tenure as the Water Street Butcher, believing he would receive the death penalty for his murders (which he does). As such, he's able to commit at least one of his "regular" murders undetected by law enforcement and then slip away.
- Being Tortured Makes You Evil: A straightforward example of this trope.
- Being Watched: Cheryl can feel the murderer watching her immediately before her kidnapping.
- Chewing the Scenery: "Your name ... IS SLAAAAAVE!"
- Confusion Fu: The Water Street Butcher switches up his M.O. often and even within these different phases demonstrates odd inconsistencies. This is part of what makes him so hard to catch, since it makes him nearly impossible to profile and difficult to realize it's the same culprit.
- Deadpan Snarker: The killer, most prominently towards Samantha.Killer: (as Samantha tries to get out of his car) Obviously, I wouldn't leave handles on the doors.
- Disposable Sex Worker: The killer starts targeting prostitutes to confuse the public.
- Downer Ending: Carver escapes justice, having successfully framed James Foley for his murders as the Water Street Butcher, and driving Cheryl to suicide.
- Driven to Suicide: Cheryl...for her "Master".
- The Faceless: The killer's face is never seen, except in an identikit.
- For the Evulz: The Butcher just loves to torture, kill and mutilates people for no other reason exepct pure sadism.
- The Fourth Wall Will Not Protect You: At the end the authorities say they will be keeping a close eye on places where the "documentary" will be aired as they believe the ego of the killer will not allow him to miss watching it. So maybe it's implied the Butcher could even be the viewer sitting next to you..
- Frameup: The Water Street Butcher successfully frames a cop, who ends up being executed.
- Gorn: Not as much as some horror movies, but definitely noticeable.
- Infant Immortality:
- Subverted to hell and back. The killer's murderous rampage begins when he kills a young girl by bashing her head in with the camera, and it gets worse from there.
- Played straight with the girl scouts. Although, he was going to kill them before Cheryl intervened.
- Irony: The killer kills a cop using the justice system.
- "It" Is Dehumanizing: Similar to Buffalo Bill, the killer occasionally acknowledges his victims as "it" to strip them of their individuality and as such, not feel any shame for what he does to them.
- Jitter Cam: In many of the scenes, the killer is holding the camera.
- Karma Houdini: The killer is never caught.
- Large Ham: The Water Street Butcher has a flair for the theatrical and tends to wear a beaked Carnival mask with a ruffed cape. There's also the infamous manner in which he kills the English woman—he creeps up on her on all fours (actually using his feet as opposed to his knees for maximum effect) despite nobody being able to see but the camera, then slowly lances her through the neck. Justified because he uses it to dissociate himself from any guilt.
- It's shown also during the balloon sequence. Despite not being on-screen his voice says all (POP IT !!)
- Madness Mantra: "Just take me home, just take me home..."
- Malevolent Masked Man: The killer hides his face by wearing a creepy Venetian bird mask.
- Magnificent Bastard: One police officer actually acknowledges the possibility of admiring such a skilled and elusive killer in an interview and after a moment of hesitation firmly asserts that she could never feel anything but loathing for him.
- Mockumentary: A rare case where a horror movie mockumentary tries to look like an actual documentary rather than simply shaky cam.
- Mood Whiplash: "Ed" is prone to this. One minute, he'll be speaking in a soft tone to his victims, but before you know it, he'll be Suddenly SHOUTING! at them.
- My Beloved Smother: According to Stacy Chbosky, Cheryl and her mother didn't get along, even after her return home, where Victoria dressed her in church clothes and tied her hair in a French braid, since she couldn't.
- Names to Run Away from Really Fast: The credits in the official release reveal that the killer's real name is Edward Carver.
- No Kill Like Overkill: Tim's death, as described by Edgar Cummings.
- Oh, Crap!: A very dark and serious example. When the English woman sitting in the back of his car realizes who's driving, there's a long pause as you can see her silent realization in the dark."I'm a butcher."
- Police Are Useless: So much that they get tricked into executing one of their own for the crimes of the Water Street Butcher.
- Scarpia Ultimatum: Subverted. He offers the English woman the chance to live if she lets him rape her. She agrees, but he immediately says he's not that stupid, and that neither of them would want her alive to see what he planned to do to her.
- Serial Killer: The Water Street Butcher, real name Edward Carver.
- Shout-Out: The first chapter is titled "First Blood".
- Snuff Film: The eponymous tapes.
- Stockholm Syndrome: Up to Eleven. Poor, poor Cheryl.
- Suddenly SHOUTING!: This exchange.Hooker: (starts bouncing on a balloon) Like this?
Killer: (calmly) Yes.
(the hooker continues bouncing on the balloon for a few seconds)
Killer: Now pop it.
Killer: POP IT!
- Torture Cellar: A basement serves as the killer's lair, but it's noticeably corpse-free.
- Used to Be a Sweet Kid: Footage from the Dempsey's home movies show a young, more carefree Cheryl long before her abduction.
- Would Hurt a Child: In a tape the killer shows he started his "career" by killing an 8 year old girl. In another he attempted to kill two little girls scout only to be stopped by Cheryl's screams.
- Very Loosely Based on a True Story:
- The story is similar to the crimes of real-life serial killers Roy Norris and Lawrence Bittaker, who, in the late '70s and early '80s, kidnapped five young women and sound-recorded the girls' screams while torturing them with a pair of pliers and a wire hanger.
- It also has some similarities to Leonard Lake and Charles Ng, who would take their victims to a secluded compound, torture them, and record it on a video camera.
- People also think that this story is somehow based on Kendall Francois, a serial killer from Poughkeepsie, New York, convicted of killing eight women. Though that's where the similarities end.