Cropsey: the Winnipeg premiere of the terrifying new documentary
Friday, October 30 at 8:00pm
3rd Floor Warehouse upstairs from Ace Art + Urban Shaman (290 McDermot Avenue)
Admission: $7 (includes FREE drink)
Cropsey is a creepy documentary that explores how fact and fiction intersect in a real-life murder case in Staten Island, New York. Like many kids that grew up in the area, directors Joshua Zeman and Barbara Brancaccio were told the story of Cropsey, a lunatic child-killer that escaped from the Willowbrook Mental Institution. Cropsey was treated as just another urban myth until Jennifer Schweiger, a young girl with Down’s syndrome, disappeared from her Staten Island home in 1987. After Jennifer’s disappearance, three more kids — all of whom suffered from a mental or physical disability — also turned up missing. Jennifer’s corpse was eventually found near the site of the abandoned Willowbrook campus. Andre Rand, a disturbed transient who worked at Willowbrook until it was shut down, was quickly identified as the main suspect. The evidence against Rand was circumstantial at best, but he was convicted and locked away. Twenty-two years after his initial conviction, Rand was convicted of the murder of one of the three remaining missing kids despite the fact that her body was never found.
Cropsey is built around Zeman and Brancaccio’s detailed investigation of the Rand case. The film presents interviews with family and friends of the victims, police officers who investigated the case, Rand’s associates, and people who claimed to have been witnesses or potential victims to his crimes. The filmmakers also weave the Andre Rand case into the weird, secret underbelly of Staten Island. Through newsreels and new footage, the filmmakers examine the history of Willowbrook, which was famously exposed by Geraldo Rivera as New York City’s dumping ground for the mentally ill. The weed-covered Willowbrook campus was once rumored to be the stomping grounds for transient child-abusing cultists led by Andre Rand. Now, teenagers enticed by rumors of satanic sacrifices visit Willowbrook at night for scary thrills. The film also details the unsolved disappearances of dozens of kids all over Staten Island, and many people believe that Andre Rand was somehow involved. Cropsey asks a lot of questions, and the answers (or lack of thereof) are very disturbing. (Rodney Perkins)
From The Manitoban October 26, 2009:
Friday night frights
Acclaimed horror doc gets “devil’s night” Winnipeg premiere
Ever wonder if there’s any truth behind urban legends? Documentary filmmakers Joshua Zeman and Barbara Brancaccio did. Growing up on Staten Island, NY, rumors circulated of a psychotic murderer, maybe with a hook for a hand, named “Cropsey,” who was said to roam the woods around the ruins of Willowbrook Hospital. In its prime, the institution was the world’s largest insane asylum, but was later shut down after the brutal living conditions of its patients were exposed to the public.
The legend became a starting point for the new documentary, Cropsey, which co-director Zeman says “is about ‘legend tripping,’ that is, a thing younger kids do. You go to a local haunted house and it’s everyone’s test for their mental resolve, their fear factor. You go out, sit in your car and see if you can see the ghost.”
The documentary, which has begun screening at festivals worldwide to much acclaim, is set to have its Winnipeg premiere on Oct. 30 at a special “Devil’s Night Screening.” It should also represent something of a “fear factor” test for audiences in itself, with its unsettling atmosphere and lack of clear answers. The film investigates the rumors surrounding the figure of Cropsey, and connects it with actual abductions and murders of handicapped children that occurred on Staten Island during the filmmakers’ youth. Andre Rand, who lived in the woods around Willowbrook, was eventually convicted for some of the crimes.
Zeman claims that “a lot of what happened was scapegoated on Andre Rand. For me, in the film, his innocence or guilt is not in question. The film is about the urban legend and other people’s experiences [ . . . ]. Just by releasing the film, rumors about Andre Rand have taken off. The newer generation had forgotten Cropsey, so now we’ve almost strengthened it by bringing all of these strands together.”
Local filmmaker Kier-La Janisse, whose Big Smash! Productions is presenting the documentary along with CineMuerte, first saw the film at the 2009 Fantastic Fest in Austin, TX and was struck by how it worked more as a “whole movie instead of just a doc.”
“It’s about a true crime but it raises so many other questions, angles and perspectives on the myth.” Janisse said, “Satanists, ex-patients returning to the mental hospital — all these creepy elements. It’s so crazy that I had never heard about them.”
Although the film focuses on an urban legend, it also represents a larger examination of socio-cultural problems in Staten Island at the time. Indeed, it has been, at various times, home to the largest dump in the world, the largest mental institution in the world, and largest sanitorium in the world and once had the largest quarantine in the world, for sick immigrants coming into the country through New York City. As Zeman observes, “These politics, intentional or not, can’t not have an effect on people. It’s logical [ . . . ]. One by one these things were put down by the residents of Staten Island, pitchforks-in-hand in kind of a Frankenstein, not-in-my-backyard-type scenario. Andre Rand was a just Frankenstein, too, the culmination of an embattled communities’ fears and guilt.”
- Ryan Simmons
From UPTOWN Magazine October 29, 2009:
What if the boogeyman is real?
Cropsey explores the true story of child-killer Andre Rand – and ends up with more questions than answers
On this upcoming Devil’s Night, the titular urban legend that plagued the children of upstate New York will be given a face and a name – and it doesn’t look anything like the fictional Cropsey found in the 1981 slasher, The Burning.
Cropsey, a disturbingly dark documentary that picked up honours at this past year’s Tribeca Film Festival, turns a reopened murder trial of an alleged Staten Island child killer into a fast-moving, if exploitative, quest for the truth. Ultimately unsuccessful at digging up any new information on the already-incarcerated individual, filmmakers Barbara Brancaccio and Joshua Zeman must rely on an exploration into this particular boogeyman’s myth.
Opening with a recollection from the now-grown residents of the dumping ground known as Staten Island, these former youths recall the eerie details from long dowsed-out campfires and overnight sleepovers where killers with hooks for hands and strange masked men with sinister motives reigned over their nightmares.
After the 10-minute mark, Cropsey begins to delve further into the serious subject of vagabond Andre Rand, the man held accountable for the 1987 murder of a little girl with Down syndrome. Rand is about to stand trial for the 1981 disappearance of another young girl, and the filmmakers capture on-the-street interviews with the many eyewitnesses who swear they saw him interact with the girl shortly before she was reported missing. (Despite what Law & Order might suggest, it’s strictly forbidden to shoot film inside courtrooms in New York State.)
Rand had been an employee of Willowbrook State School, a degrading mental institution that was an early exposé for television journalist Geraldo Rivera in 1974. And Rand certainly fits the part of a horror villain: as he drools on the courtroom steps, clearly out of it, audience members will be prone to believe he’s guilty of these despicable crimes. The theory that he’s simply being used as a scapegoat by law enforcement is given lip service by Brancaccio and Zeman, but it’s never pursued beyond a cursory suggestion.
Instead, the filmmakers investigate far more sinister implications: is Rand a part of a cadre of Satan-worshippers along the Hudson River? Or, is he the mastermind behind a collective of degenerate homeless men who use the now-deserted Willowbrook to pass around abducted children? Was his time spent as an orderly in a disturbing workplace to blame for his mental incapacities?
Late in the film, after describing their sincere intent in many letters addressed to Rand, Brancaccio and Zeman finally make contact with their subject. It’s a bit of a letdown in the end, but the many manipulations by Rand make for a startling peek into the mind of at least a partially deranged man.
The allusions in the many newspaper headlines to Hannibal Lecter never seem more accurate than they are in those moments.
— Aaron Graham