Every little kid knows the bogeyman. The bogeyman hides in the bedroom closet, or lurks on the floor beneath the bed. Fortunately, most kids grow up and find out who the real scary people are: math teachers and driving instructors. But for documentarians Joshua Zeman and Barbara Brancaccio, both of whom grew up on New York’s Staten Island, the bogeyman never really went away. He is, apparently, still haunting them.
Zeman and Brancaccio wrote and directed Cropsey, a documentary about child abductions and the alleged, real-life bogeyman behind them. The filmmakers grew up in the 1980s during what surely must have been a nightmare-come-true for Staten Island parents: Children kept disappearing, and one of them was found dead and buried near the site of an abandoned mental hospital. Suspicion fell on a middle-aged drifter named Andre Rand, and this pathetic outcast became the borough’s “Cropsey” (a Hudson Valley nickname for any ax-wielding bogeyman) as related in this creepy – yet ultimately unsatisfying – movie.
I call it unsatisfying because, try though they might, Zeman and Brancaccio never get past gossip, rumor, and speculation regarding the decades-old disappearance of five children on the New York island. Rand was eventually convicted of kidnapping two of the kids, though he never confessed to their killings, and no additional bodies were ever recovered. This lack of hard evidence forces Zeman and Brancaccio to venture all sorts of hypotheses, including: Rand, who once worked as an attendant at the notorious Willowbrook mental institution, was seeking to rid the world of mentally disabled children; Rand was under the influence of a devil-worshipping cult, which roamed a network of subterranean tunnels beneath the ruins of Willowbrook.
There are no revelations from Rand, no interviews with him, but instead lots of wide-eyed theories posited by regular folk and authorities. But all of this speculation – from police, citizens, reporters, “experts” – has no payoff. Rand remains in prison, possibly guilty, possibly the scapegoat of a fearful, ignorant community. This ambiguity kills Cropsey, rendering it just a big-screen version of Dateline NBC when the film’s focus shifts from horror to courtroom politics.
Unfortunately for Zeman and Brancaccio, their bogeyman stayed in the bedroom closet … when they really needed him to come out. Grade: C-
Directors: Joshua Zeman, Barbara Brancaccio Featuring: Donna Cutugno, Karen Schweiger, David Novarro, Ralph Aquino Release: 2009
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