Horror Documentary: Cropsey (2009)
CROPSEY is a first for me. Now I’ve done horror documentaries before, but they’ve all been about films. There’s NEVER SLEEP AGAIN about the NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET franchise; THEY CALL HIM JASON about the iconic killer Jason Voorhees; and THE SPLAT PACK about the rise of the torture-porn sub-genre in the 1990’s. But I’ve never reviewed a film that documents an actual killer. CROPSEY tells the story of possible real life child killer Andre Rand and how evidence slowly emerged that pointed to Rand being the kidnapper and killer of five children on Staten Island. Or does it?
CROPSEY begins with filmmakers Joshua Zeman and Barbara Brancaccio exploring the urban legend of Cropsey. “Cropsey,” they tell us, was a catch-all name for a supposed escaped mental patient who lived in the basement of an abandoned institution located on Staten Island. The abandoned hospital is real, the Willowbrook State School for the mentally handicapped. “Cropsey” was just another name for the boogeyman that camp counselors and teenagers would use to scare younger kids. Cropsey, the urban legend goes, would come out of his basement just long enough to snatch and kill some children. But as Joshua and Barbara look into the legend of Cropsey they discover that there might be something concrete to the urban legend … that there might actually be a real monster with a real face and a real name; Andre Rand.
This is a really fascinating and comprehensive documentary that covers a lot of ground in it’s 84 minute run time. We get a history of Staten Island and tons of interviews from locals who were present when the story of the missing children began to surface. The filmmakers even interview the original police officers and detectives involved in the case. The event in this documentary that was the turning point going from a film exploring an urban legend to being a documentary on an actual killer occurred with the 1987 disappearance of 12 year old Jennifer Schweiger, a girl with downs syndrome. The investigation eventually leads to Andre Rand’s arrest. Rand was an orderly who worked at the Willowbrook State School which was closed down due to horrendous conditions. This institution housed mentally retarded children and a Staten Island reporter broke the story about the conditions inside Willowbrook’s walls. The reporter is interviewed here and we get the original footage to accompany his interview. This, people, is some truly horrifying footage of naked children covered in their own feces wandering aimlessly around the institution. There’s no order or protection and these kids live worse than animals. It’s some truly disturbing footage that reminds you no fictional horror film can ever be as disturbing as what occurs in reality.
Slowly the filmmakers learn about other children who disappeared from the late 1970’s to late 1980’s. Along the way the filmmakers see that all the kids who disappeared were somehow mentally retarded and that Andre Rand can be placed at the scene of the disappearance in every case. But things take an even more bizarre turn when the filmmakers come across accusations and evidence that Staten Island has a huge Satanic worshipper’s cult that actively performs black masses. This is a hugely interesting documentary full of detailed research and comprehensive interviews. After the documentary’s over, though, you’ll have two burning questions that you’d love to ask the filmmakers: Why is there such a large amount of retarded children on Staten Island, and is no one concerned about the large concentration of active Satan worshippers on Staten Island? I’m just saying … there sure seems to be a large amount of retarded kids and Satan lovers in that New York borough!!
At the center of it all is, of course, Andre Rand. He’s both the focus of this documentary and is also an extremely elusive figure. He refuses request after request to be interviewed by Barbara and Joshua and almost seems to enjoy “playing” them, a point Rand’s sister points out to the filmmakers. What’s also so interesting here is even at the end of the documentary you’re not sure if Rand is really guilty or not. There’s a TON of circumstantial evidence that connects Rand to all the disappeared children, but there’s honestly not one hard piece of evidence that links him to the kids. Rand was eventually convicted of kidnapping Jennifer Schweiger but not with killing her. He was sentenced to prison and was up for parole in 2008. The authorities then started examining other missing children and as they did they started connecting them to Rand.
This documentary brings up some great issues besides just exploring the potential monster Andre Rand. For one, was Rand able to get a fair trial in Staten Island? The jury was made up of locals who were scared and wanted justice for all the missing children. As I mentioned, there was a ton of circumstantial evidence but not much to directly connect Rand to all those children. CROPSEY doesn’t attempt to present that case that Rand might be wrongfully accused. Rand is an extremely strange man that was definitely up to no good. But from a legal perspective ya gotta ask, was the evidence the police gathered enough to legally convict Rand of the disappearance and murder of multiple children?
CROPSEY is being released by Breaking Glass Pictures on May 10, 2011. I think this s a “must see” film for anyone interested in real life horrors and if anyone’s interested in getting a glimpse at a real monster. Definitely check out CROPSEY and see why real life will always be more horrifying than fiction.
Filmmakers: Barbara Brancaccio & Joshua Zeman
Plot: 4 out of 5 stars
Gore: 0 out of 10 skulls
Zombie Mayhem: 0 out of 5 brains
Reviewed by Scott Shoyer