Tonight is your last chance to catch Cropsey at Zeitgeist (9 p.m.). The film about a mentally unstable man jailed for kidnapping a missing girl on Staten Island in the early 1980s is both a documentary and indulgent foray into urban legend. The name "Cropsey" is a generic nickname for a crazy man who lives in the shadows and snatches children. Here, the filmmakers talk about the specific case of Andre Rand, who sometimes lived in the woods surrounding the (now shuttered) Willowbrook State School, a mental hospital where he used to work, and they discuss how his case seems like a real life version of the urban myth. It ends up being not just a true crime story, but a true horror film.
The film often seems unfair to Rand. One could probably stir up fear of a Girl Scout troop if their activities were discussed as a series of open-ended questions while the camera panned over graffiti and rusted gurneys in an abandoned and vandalized hospital, or over discarded rubbish left in the woods. Also, many people interviewed in the film offer what is at best speculative testimony about events they otherwise can't explain, but suspicion of Rand is handy. One probably wouldn't come away thinking Rand is guilty of nothing, but for him to be guilty in all the missing children cases in Statan Island over the course of a decade - leaving so little evidence - he might have to be a criminal mastermind, which also seems unlikely. The filmmakers correspond with Rand while he is in jail, trying to get him to do an interview, and he clearly has a jail cell agenda. But the film's suspense rests on the agonizing desire to get the truth about the long-gone children. Certainly Rand is not a danger while in jail — though he may get out on parole one day — but if the people of the community rest easier with him there and he's not the only Cropsey figure involved, then the problem isn't just a urban myth.