Cropsey Provides a Dramatic Look at Real-World Horrors

The documentary looks not only at crime, but also at context

Cropsey (2009)

Director: Joshua Zeman, Barbara Brancaccio

Writer: Joshua Zeman







This 2009 documentary examines a series of child disappearances/abductions which occurred in Staten Island between 1972 and 1987, and the eventual arrest and multiple trials of Andre Rand, who was convicted of kidnapping in two of the cases, and charged with murder in one of those, though the jury did not convict him of that charge.


Rand in 2004

The movie is bookended with comments on the popular East Coast urban legend/campfire story character Cropsey, a mutable icon who can be adapted to fit any number of different stories (the name is familiar to many horror fans elsewhere from its use in the brutal post-Friday the 13th summer camp slasher movie The Burning); this provides a context to the narrative’s focus on the complex interrelationships among popular mythology, mass media presentation (of both fact and fiction), and real-life events. Viewers are given a look at the value of community action and cooperation, as well as at the dangers that collective thought and perception can present to the individual.

Filmmakers Joshua Zeman and Barbara Brancaccio, both Staten Island natives, make their own presence very much felt in the documentary. They share the task of narrating, often speaking in the first person; they both appear on camera, not just as interviewers, but also as participants in the drama – as characters; and they share their correspondence with Rand, and their personal reactions to that correspondence. This acknowledgment of their own subjectivity helps to legitimize their interrogation of the means by which the media not only responds to, but also informs public opinion of and reaction to tragedy, crime, and accusation.


Zeman and Brancaccio

It’s a fascinating documentary, well researched and produced, and powerfully dramatic in its presentation. It addresses a range of issues, including the treatment and the demonization of the insane and the disabled, the role of law enforcement in our society, and the effects of cultural isolation on a community.

My only real complaint would be with the title. The Cropsey stories are used to contextualize one aspect of what the filmmakers are exploring, but they are far from central, and there is no in-depth analysis of the history behind the character – nor would such analysis be especially relevant. As a result, the choice feels a little exploitive, like a way to grab the attention of horror hounds and mislead them about what they’re going to see. Of course, it does serve as a self-reflexive admission that part of Zeman and Brancaccio’s own interest in the Rand case is rooted in the same mixture of fascination and coping mechanism that produces campfire stories and horror movies, and some of the questions raised might feel especially relevant to genre audiences.


Hey, if you enjoy this type of content, how about visiting The Blood Shed’s Official Kickstarter?

One Comment

Leave a Reply



  • Jennifer
    22 October 2014 at 8:46 pm - Reply

    I think that photo of Zeman and Brancaccio is hilarious–they look so freaked out–just a glimpse into how engaged in the filming they were. Good stuff, man!