Every community has a boogeyman, a dark secret that grows into legend as lurid tales of evil are passed around playgrounds and police precincts alike. Kids on Staten Island called him Cropsey. He lurked in the tunnel system underneath a long-abandoned mental hospital. Some said he was involved in a satanic cult. Many insisted he had a hook for a hand. Often it was a chainsaw.
And in 1987, when a little girl with Down syndrome disappeared, Cropsey got a face. Staten Islanders Barbara Brancaccio and Joshua Zeman's Cropsey follows the case of Andre Rand, a transient sex offender arrested for the disappearance of Jennifer Schweiger. Instantly presumed guilty when hauled from a homeless shelter drooling and looking deranged, Rand was promptly sent to prison for kidnapping—but not murder.
Were Cropsey content to simply follow the case, it would be a spooky exercise in documentary journalism. But the directors have crafted an electrifying film dissecting child murder and madness, in addition to a stunning indictment of the ways hearsay and ghost stories infiltrate the criminal justice system. Following Rand's conviction, investigators began to connect dots between the disappearances of four other developmentally disabled children throughout the course of a decade, and soon decided to press charges against him for the kidnapping of another girl—without any physical evidence, or even a recovered body. Cameras rolling, Cropsey captures the trial in real time while digging deep into local mythology, unearthing people who knew Rand, victims' families, extensive archival news footage, eerie location shots and even increasingly deranged mailed correspondence from Rand himself to drive its narrative.
Cropsey has enough chills to fill an entire shelf in a horror section of Movie Madness. But equally frightening is watching the trial unfold, with media-hungry witnesses sending the disturbed Rand deeper into the frying pan with tales of human trafficking, Satanism and necrophilia that have no basis in fact, yet damn a man whose legend supersedes fact.
We will probably never know what really happened to the five children who went missing in Staten Island. But in Rand, the community crafted its boogeyman, a scapegoat for all its deepest, darkest fears. With the Kyron Horman case unfolding every day and finger-pointing already turning into rampant vilification, Cropsey's arrival in Portland couldn't be better timed. Brancaccio and Zeman have tapped into the nightmares of anyone who has ever been dared to enter a vacant building with the promise that the boogeyman will spring at any second. It's simply chilling.
opens Friday at the Hollywood Theatre.