Eric Renderking Fisk | September 2016
Introduction to the movie’s homepage.
“Growing up on Staten Island, filmmakers Joshua Zeman and Barbara Brancaccio had often heard the legend of ‘Cropsey.’ For the kids in their neighborhood, Cropsey was the escaped mental patient who lived in the old abandoned Willowbrook Mental Institution, who would come out late at night and snatch children off the streets. Sometimes Cropsey had a hook for a hand, other times he wielded a bloody axe, but it didn’t matter, Cropsey was always out there, lurking in the shadows, waiting to get them.
Later as teenagers, the filmmakers assumed Cropsey was just an urban legend: a cautionary tale used to keep them out of those abandoned buildings and stop them from doing all those things that teenagers like to do. That all changed in the summer of 1987 when a 12-year-old girl with Down syndrome, named Jennifer Schweiger, disappeared from their community. That was the summer all the kids from Staten Island discovered that their urban legend was real.
Now as adults Joshua and Barbara have returned to Staten Island to create Cropsey, a feature documentary that delves into the mystery behind Jennifer and four additional missing children. The film also investigates Andre Rand, the real-life boogeyman linked to their disappearances.
Embarking on a mysterious journey into the underbelly of their forgotten borough, these filmmakers uncover a reality that is more terrifying than any urban legend.”
In an episode of The Fedora Chronicles Radio Show, we had a special two-hour episode about your favorite horror movies, and I listed some of the mine – most of them were documentaries about real horrible things that happened to real people.
One of the most horrible of all documentaries is “Cropsey.” It’s one of those movies that gets under your skin and once there it’s hard to get it out. From being a child who used to play out in the woods to an adult with children, I can tell you from various aspects and points of view there are reasons why this movie should freak anyone out. There are reasons why some urban legends freak us out because there’s an element to them that reminds our reptilian part of our brains that there are dangers out there that are beyond our comprehension and we should still fear them.
“Cropsey” begins with the investigation of the region where this incident takes place, Staten Island, the legend behind the name ‘Cropsey,’the history of a now abandoned Willowbrook mental institution where some believed ‘Cropsey’ lived, the disappearance of a few handicapped children, and the convicted abductor and killer Andre Rand. It’s a barrage of information but in the capable hands of the movies writers and directors Barbara Brancaccio and Joshua Zeman, all of this is easy to follow.
The actual meat of the movie revolves around “why;” why would someone like Andre Rand actually abduct and kill innocent children or is there a chance because Mr. Rand had a partner or worked with the group, or was he actually innocent of these crimes and he was the fall guy for someone else?
And if he had accomplices then who were they?
Towards the third act of this movie, Joshua Zeman and Barbara Brancaccio introduce us to the notion that Andre Rand was actually abducting children much earlier than suspected and was actually harvesting children for sacrifices made by a satanic cult in the region.
This theory is so prevalent that if you search for the phrase “satanic cult Staten Island” you will find links back to this documentary and related to other searches which include "andre rand" and "Willowbrook state school."
This is the moment when the entire concept of the documentary is flipped and turned inside out, the notion that “Cropsey” was merely a harvester of living sacrifices that were allegedly delivered to a satanic cult and this notion was so horrible to merely contemplate that some of the people interviewed turned stone cold before our eyes and the cameras.
One of the investigators who took part in some of the original investigations into the missing children that Andre Rand abducted virtually ended an interview abruptly when he’s obviously terrified to speculate about the notion of Rand’s accomplices and their ties to human sacrifice.
We’re left to believe that Satanic Rituals wasn’t just possible in this region around Willowbrook – the closed mental institution – but incredibly likely. And since that aspect isn’t resolved, it’s quite possible that those involved who were never caught, charged and prosecuted are still at large. And might still be living in the regions.
Urban Legends still give us cause for caution because there’s a part of us that believes that at their core there is a kernel of truth to them, that they are based in reality. It’s true horror because it revolves around missing children, social issues about the mentally challenged and disabled, abandoned buildings where scary things might literally be happening, and there are elements of this movie that are left unresolved.
“Cropsey” isn’t just terrifying because it happened, it’s terrifying because of some of the issues were left unsolved with lingering questions. If something happened in Neighborhoods in Staten Island, could it be happening in ours?
Your thoughts on "Cropsey" and other horrifying documentaries?