One of the scariest documentaries in recent memory tells the legend of Cropsey through the eyes of the people who lived through the nightmare of an urban legend come to life. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, mentally handicapped children systematically started going missing on Staten Island and no one knew what was happening to them. At least, not until the police were able to track down a man named Andre Rand, a vagrant and former custodian at the Willowbrook State School, who they believed was responsible for the disappearances.
The 2009 film by Staten Island locals Joshua Zeman and Barbara Brancaccio is an examination into the fear of a boogeyman monster named "Cropsey" that follows kids through their youth and how in many ways that fear is entirely warranted.
If you enjoy true crime documentaries like Dear Zachary (2008), then you'll be glued to the edge of your seat throughout Cropsey as it attempts to unravel the mystery of a group of missing children and exposes the truth behind a gruesome urban legend.
Staten Island Is A 'Dumping Ground'
One terrifying thought that's touched on throughout Cropsey is the use of Staten Island as what the New York Times calls a "dumping ground" - not just for trash or toxic waste, but for the people who are dropped off on the island. The barren woods surrounding Staten Island loom over the film like a silent boogeyman waiting to gobble up anyone who enters.
New York state, with its lush forests and access to bodies of water, has been known for decades to house an array of confirmed dump sites.
The Mob Mentality Of Staten Island
By the time the audience meets Andre Rand in Cropsey, there's no way of knowing whether or not he was the monster that so many people believe him to be. He does all of his correspondence from jail by mail in incredibly detailed messages, even encouraging lonely jurors to contact him.
To some critics, the people of Staten Island so badly wanted Rand to be guilty that they disregarded any evidence to the contrary in the service of putting him behind bars. However, Staten Island's Assistant District Attorney thought otherwise and led the charge against Rand's 2004 conviction:
When you look at Rand's past, and there is a fresh case to be made against him, I couldn't imagine letting him get away with what we believe he did [...] We think he should be accountable.
Cropsey Illuminates The Homeless Problem In Staten Island
Something that's touched on in Cropsey but never discussed by any of the locals is the sheer amount of homeless people who are living in the woods of Staten Island. In 1972, the Willowbrook State School faced a class-action lawsuit by the patients' parents due to negligent conditions and the violation of human rights. After the institution officially closed down in September 1987, many of the patients were left to fend for themselves on the abandoned grounds.
This counters the 1975 Willowbrook Consent Decree, which stipulated that New York state "would be required to spend $2 million to create 200 places for Willowbrook transferees in hostels, hotels, halfway houses, group homes and sheltered workshops."
Since 1993, the former location of Willowbrook State School has been the site of the College of Staten Island.
The Terror Of Suburbia Is Real
If there's anything to be gleaned from Cropsey, it's that suburbia isn't, and likely never was, as safe as it seems. Staten Island may seem like the borough where someone can have a house with a yard, but as the least populated and most heavily wooded area of New York City, there's no end to the dangers that lurk in the trees. Early on in the film, one interviewee relates: "There are too many places that are isolated where you can do what you want."
The insular worlds that we build outside of the city may seem like enclaves that harken back to the better time, but if Cropsey has shown us anything, it's that the underbelly of the suburbs is more horrifying and gruesome than anyone can imagine. Staten Island has been the hunting grounds of some of New York's most notorious, including "Son of Sal," "The Jersey Shore Thrill Killer," and Albert Fish, AKA "The Boogeyman."