There are not all that many horror documentaries out there and certainly not all that many genuinely horrifying horror documentaries that are 100% real and not some “Blair Witch” riff nowadays. And getting Wes Craven, Eli Roth, etc to talk about the movies they loved when growing up doesn’t really count (no matter how scary Roth’s body hair can be).
This documentary (with a title that will already be well-known to residents of upstate New York, the Staten Island area and fans of The Burning) was made by Barbara Brancaccio and Joshua Zeman when they realised that the urban legend they had been scared by as children was actually based in fact and that a whole area had once caught and locked up the person they picked out as their very own boogeyman, despite the evidence being no more than circumstantial and the witnesses being generally unreliable. Andre Rand looked the part so he must have been the bad guy, right?
Cropsey isn’t just another “True Crime” expose, not just another look at what made a killer become what he became. Cropsey is more about showing how a neighbourhood in fear took the elements around them that fed into that fear and pretty much made their own killer. It’s a perfect example of how Chinese Whispers can go round and round until, one day, a lie told often enough becomes the truth (as Lenin once said).
As Brancaccio and Zeman try to dig deeper and uncover any hard fact associated with the mystery of the disappearance of numerous children (most, if not all, of whom had special needs) in the Staten Island area they soon find that everyone has created their own reality from a blend of assumption, gossip and self-preservation.
Former mental patients roaming the woods? Satan worshippers wanting youngsters to use in strange rituals? Andre Rand simply preying on children and removing weak specimens from the world? All of these things come up as possible factors in the investigation and it must be said that Rand doesn’t help himself by initially refusing to be involved with the documentary and then toying with the filmmakers as they try constantly to get some answers from the man himself.
Rand may or may not have been guilty, that’s not the point of this documentary. With the evidence available he could/should not have been found guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt”. There is plenty of doubt. Viewers will undoubtedly feel for the parents seeking answers to the whereabouts of their children but it’s also worth noticing one detail easy to overlook and difficult to mention tactfully: at least one of the children seems far too young to have been left outside wandering/playing on her own. It’s the world we live in, however, and the natural instinct of those who have suffered great personal tragedy – find someone to blame, get someone to pay for what has happened, cover up the guilt with an easy solution even if it’s not the right one.
Those who have seen the likes of Capturing The Friedmans and Paradise Lost: The Child Murders At Robin Hood Hills will know what to expect here with doubt, ambiguity and a lack of judgment on display while looking at events everyone involved has a concrete opinion on. The people interviewed range from the obsessed to the cynical to the creepy to the seemingly mad while the surroundings investigated by the two directors remain as creepy today as they must have back then (although not quite as distressing as the featured archival footage shown featuring a young Geraldo Riviera making his name by exposing the conditions within Willowbrook State School, the mental institution that Rand once worked in and now an abandoned building with a network of tunnels often used by the homeless).
Disturbing, thought-provoking, chilling and constantly tense, Cropsey is absolutely everything a documentary should be and is highly recommended to horror fans due to the “urban legend” at it’s core.
DIRECTORS: BARBARA BRANCACCIO, JOSHUA ZEMAN
STARS: BARBARA BRANCACCIO, JOSHUA ZEMAN, ANDRE RAND, DONNA CUTUGNO
DURATION: 84 MINS APPROX