Directors Barbara Brancaccio and Joshua Zeman present an intriguing documentary consisting of the 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 axe, but always lurking in the shadows, stomping in the darkness waiting to snatch trespassers. When they were teenagers, the story they believed was 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.
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 to the mystery of Jennifer and then more 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 fantasy stories about Rand. This real-life monster serving multiple sentences with no parole for life, use to work at the mental institution, mentioned previously that we learn about from a investigative reporter Geraldo Rivera who won acclaim fame from his story of the horrors of this facility. The disgusting treatment fills the screen, half-naked chiding scattered about, curled into the fetal position, rocking on the floor, banging their heads, filth everywhere, the images reek of wretchedness, only to questions why and how this all happened and realizing the answer, they were all unknowns, the forgotten, a fleeting care over the crisis. After the location of shuttered the doors, reports of patients and low level staff, such as Rand returning to live at the crumbling structure, and scatter 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 an attempt to a videotape interview with the horror film equal to that 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 interest grew around Rand, the wild possibilities did as well, such as the connection to satanic cults, the infamous ‘Satanic Panic’ where doctors and psychiatrists blame dark movies and music for the rise of the devilish groups, linked to so many without any shred of evidence. Thankful, 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 subject usually turns into a multi-lane quagmire depending on the subject, and references material the audience likely creates a pre-judgment 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 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 late 70s and early 80s. The documentary never declares the guilt or innocence, just speculation which might be more rewarding and resulting in more interest on the topic of Cropsey. The hinting that every community likely had 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.