Cropsey (Joshua Zeman and Barbara Brancaccio, 2009)
Cropsey is on the surface about a particular urban legend that surrounds an abandoned mental institution in Staten Island, New York, but Zeman continuously hints in the narration that the movie is really about the creation and life cycle of urban legends in general. Had we ever actually gotten that movie, I think Cropsey would have been a much more satisfying thing than it is, though the story they cover—the real-life alleged serial killer Andre Rand who lies at the heart of the Cropsey urban legend—is interesting enough to carry the movie.
Plot: co-directors Zeman and Brancaccio, both of whom grew up on Staten Island, had childhoods saturated in the urban legend of Cropsey, a shadowy, semi-legendary figure who supposedly lived in the bowels of the abandoned Willowbrook State School, a horrific mental institution that was the subject of an expose by Geraldo Rivera early in his career. Cropsey, it is said, was responsible for the disappearances of a number of area children over the years. The reality of the situation at least as the State of New York would have us believe, is that Cropsey was actually Andre Rand, not a former patient there, but a former orderly. It has been proven that Rand did, in fact, live on the grounds of the former Willowbrook for a number of years in makeshift camps. Allegedly, he was also responsible for five of the disappearances attributed to Cropsey that took place between 1972 and 1987. The film, once it starts to focus on Rand, takes us through his arraignment and trial for the kidnapping of Holly Ann Hughes, who disappeared in 1981.
For what it is, it’s not bad. But what it is and what it purports to be are two different things, and that kept nagging at me as I watched the movie. If you’re more interested in true-crime documentaries, then this should be right up your alley—but if you buy into Zeman’s assertions that this movie is a lot more meta than it really is, then you’ll probably end up feeling as disappointed as I was. Still, it’s worth watching for the more mundane angle. ***