Joshua Zeman and Barbara Brancaccio’s horror documentary on the Cropsey urban legend, Cropsey, proves it.
The Shadow of Man and the Ink in His Heart
Personal belief (spoilers follow): The alleged underground Staten Island Satanic cult that lived underneath the abandoned Willowbrook complex in Staten Island was real. They abducted mentally impaired children (children serial killer Andre Rand considered “imperfect” and therefore “impure”) for sacrificial ritual. Pay close attention to the brief stints where the documentary reflects on Rand’s preoccupation with deformity and his mother’s employment at a mental institution that fiercely resembles Willowbrook–down to its very architecture. When evidence of Satanic practices began to arise, unknown forces were at play to conceal the truth — a gigantic media-induced red herring I suspect Satanic cults have excelled in for centuries. Notice the hints of such practices in these abandoned structures filmed in the documentary. Rand, the convicted scapegoat behind the Cropsey urban legend serves a life sentence at Rikers Island as a consequence of the found remains of Jennifer Schweiger, a 13-year old with Down Syndrome who mysteriously disappeared in 1987, and of eye witness testimony from residents of Staten Island. He was an undeniable pawn in the scandal. He was an extremely disturbed and peculiar-looking man that worked maintenance at the now-condemned Willowbrook State School (something right out of Brad Anderson’s Session 9), who either witnessed or participated in the sexual atrocities that occurred there between the staff and patients.
The Cropsey Urban Legend: Your Worst Nightmares Incarnate
The footage shown of the institution through Geraldo Rivera’s 1972 undercover exposé, Willowbrook: The Last Disgrace, is straight out of a nightmare. Mentally destroyed catamites, some deformed, rocking back and forth in indescribable agony, moaning, screaming, living in their own filth and excrement (an institution designed to house a maximum of 4,000 patients, housed 6,000 by the time Rivera showed). When Rand was finally arrested, he was, literally, trapped inside the pitch blackness of his mind, in a fugue state–escorted to a cop car in handcuffs, he drooled rather profusely from the mouth, with eyes as subtracted of human consciousness as that of a gargoyle. Rand would not come out of this fugue state for another three days. Don’t take my word(s) for it, of course. Go see it for yourself. Looks like it made Roger Ebert’s best documentaries of 2010 list.
While the subject matter of this film is obviously not for the unabashedly faint of heart, I must insist on the squeamish to make a rare exception. The point inherent to the film’s taut 80 minutes of running time, aside from junctures where the phenomenon of the urban myth is clearly explored, is distinctly more primordial than intellectual. It is, quite simply put, a community’s fight against pure evil. It is a microcosm of what happens on a global scale, everyday. This is something that agnostics, Christians, atheists, and individuals of various faiths around the world ought to actively recognize as the barest good: the preservation of innocence in the face of malevolent forces we cannot begin to understand. And what ambassador better embodies the boundless idea and existence of pure innocence than a child?
Check out the Cropsey trailer below: