The horror genre sure could use a boost right about now. We’ve already run through the slasher phase, the torture porn parade and, most depressing of all, the wave of ’80s-era remakes. If there’s a worse reboot than the recent “Nightmare on Elm Street” I don’t want to know about it.
So it’s intriguing to hear “Cropsey” being marketed as a documentary-style horror film, a hybrid that at least smacks of originality – and doesn’t involve Jason, Freddy or Michael Meyers.
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The film opens in at the Alamo Drafthouse Ritz July 5, and the Laemmle Sunset 5 in L.A. July 9.
The movie doesn’t live up to the advanced billing – it’s more traditional documentary than scare machine. But it takes the notion of a childhood boogeyman to a place where parents will feel goosebumps all the same.
The story begins with the ’80s era disappearance of little girl in Staten Island, N.Y., the least celebrated of the city’s five boroughs. It’s hard to stir up positive P.R. when your community is famous for being the home of a massive garbage dump.
Andre Rand quickly became the prime suspect in the girl’s disappearance. He certainly fit the bill – he appeared to be mentally challenged, could graciously be described as a drifter and, once captured, made parents in the area sleep a bit easier at night.
An image of the man leaving the courtroom, a line of drool dangling from his mouth, is as damning a visual as a defendant could endure.
Rand brought to mind an urban legend of a wild man in Staten Island who haunted area children. They called him Cropsey, but no one expected a real-life Cropsey would haunt their neighborhoods.
But was Rand the child killer of their nightmares, or a scapegoat to help citizens sleep at night? And why were so many Staten Island children disappearing?
The filmmakers, Joshua Zeman and Barbara Brancaccio, grew up in New York and have a personal investment in Rand’s case – and how it connects to their community. They take great pains to detail life on Staten Island, letting its residents share their thoughts on the missing children cases and the isolated place they call home.
“If you have a bad idea in your head, you can do it they-ah,” one resident says in an accent so thick Joe Pesci would blush.
It’s a detailed portrait spiked with terror, and the film does a dutiful job recalling the seamier side of the Rand case as well as its legal flaws.
“Cropsey” also delivers a few other frightening aspects, including video shot by a very young Geraldo Rivera exposing a criminal child-care facility.
Those flickering video images – young, mentally challenged children living in squalor – are as haunting as anything movie audiences will see this year.
The film’s personal touch helps drive home the horror, but it’s also balanced enough not to feel the scales of justice tipping unfairly to one side.
“Cropsey” uses ’80s era news clips and a wealth of interviews to show how people respond to real monsters in our midst.