The movie which lived on past its festival run of long ago, thriving on VOD, and now available on DVD from Breaking Glass Pictures, still holds a truly special place in both documentaries and urban legends, so often explored by horror movies in general, but never quite equal.
Directors Barbara Brancaccio and Joshua Zeman present an intriguing documentary first consisting of urban legend, Cropsey, filled with horror before switching to horrendous crimes against children, tormenting families, Staten Island communities and the creation of real life monster, named Andre Rand. The filmmakers grew up in the area, and heard of the legends, an escaped mental patient living in old abandoned Willowbrook Mental Institution sometimes described as hook for a hand or wielding a bloody ax, but always lurking the shadows, stomping in the darkness waiting to snatch trespassers. When they were teenagers, the story they believed linked to cautionary tales designed for their safety however, in retrospect, it created dares from young adults done mostly for a fun prank, a great laugh, and no true dangers.
Then looking back in time, assisted by news footage and eye witnesses, to summer of 1987 when a 12-year-old girl with down syndrome named Jennifer Schweiger disappeared from their community, now one must understand this was well before the era of Amber Alerts and sex offender registries, the panic occurs the results stall. The documentary takes the high road and delves into the mystery of Jennifer and then more on missing children in a short span of time, and discovering Rand their version of drooling freakish appearing boogeyman. The initial starting position of discovering the urban myths takes a back seat with the journey of bodies, children murdered and strange links to other topics, including fantasied stories about Rand. This real-life monster serving multiple life sentences with no parole, used to work at the mental institution, mentioned previously that we learn about from an investigative reporter Geraldo Rivera who won acclaim and fame from his story of the horrors of this facility. The disgusting treatment fills the screen, half-naked child scattered about, curled into the fetal position, rocking on the floor, banging their heads, filth everywhere, the images reek of wretchedness, only to question why and how this all happen, realizing the answer, they were all unknowns, the forgotten, a fleeting care over the crisis. After the location shuttered the doors, reports of patients and low-level staff, such as Rand returned to live at the crumbling structure, with scattered gurneys, food trays, bed-pans across the wooded acres once belonging the hospital of horrors. As the documentary progresses the directors who act as a Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson engage in attempt to a videotape and interview with the horror film equivalent of the monster serial killer, with cryptic letters to questions, as if playing a game, something from Criminal Minds or even Silence of the Lambs (1992).
As the interest grew around Rand, the wild possibilities did too, such as the connection to satanic cults, the infamous ‘Satanic Panic’ where doctors, psychiatrists blame dark movies and music for the rise of the devilish groups, linked to so many without any shred of evidence. Thankfully, that chapter closed for the most part with only a few believing it, and leaving the pages dog-eared. The cults according to locals conduct rituals on the old Willowbrook grounds in the tunnels sacrificing children and some alluding to Rand that he supplied them, though nothing supports this claim.
Documentary filmmaking, let alone reviews of the material and films, opens an interesting avenue for everyone to discuss, as the avenue usually turns into a multi-lane quagmire depending on the subject and reference material the audience likely creates a prejudgment about the topic before ever watching any trailers or summaries. The filmmakers often try to design a Chinese Wall method to isolate their internal feelings to the subject material and not allow any bias information to creep into the subject field. The fact that Rand’s unwillingness leads many to believe he is guilty, of what exactly that is a bit confusing, as no physical evidence ties directly to him, no luxury of DNA, remember it’s the late 70s and early 80s. The documentary never declares the guilt or innocence just speculation, and that might be more rewarding resulting more interest on the topic of Cropsey. The hinting that every community likely has an urban legend like this one, or a forbidden location, though most didn’t have an actual maniac such as Rand.
Cropsey provides another solid sordid tale in the growing dark world of the human monsters, that exists far too often to surface of the broad daylight, roaming amongst the rest of civilized society. In recent times, these films have included the trilogy of Paradise Lost (1996), involving The West Memphis Three, and Aileen: Life and Death of Serial Killer (2003) dating back to those Ed Gein and Ted Bundy, the true crime and horror fans will always have a fascination with these creatures ripping at soft flesh of men, women and wholesome children.
This review originally published on the Rogue Cinema site in February 2015, with 1,430 views.
IMDb Rating: 6.4/10
Baron’s Rating: 6.8/10