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Slashers & Serial Killers in Review: The Collector (2009)

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After making a splash with their major studio debut, Feast, and shouldering the burden of continuing the formidable Saw series from the third entry on, screenwriters Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton came into their own with the release of The Collector in 2009. Dunstan directed the film from a script co-written with Melton that was originally pitched as a Saw prequel. The end result was a horror movie similar to the Saw films in its levels and methods of violence and gore, but with a chillingly different breed of killer.

And in the annals of horror, he and the film he dominantes are barely a footnote. 

Bear with me.
I’m making a point.

Have you ever turned on Friday the 13th Part III simply to enjoy the wacky marijuana-fueled antics of Chuck and Chili? When you think about the Nightmare on Elm Street series, does your mind immediately turn to Beatrice Boepple’s stunning portrayal of Amanda Krueger in The Dream Child? Of course not. And if you’re like most genre fans, you’ve also tried to forget that Busta Rhymes was in, much less survived, Halloween: Resurrection. There’s a simple reason for this.

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Horror franchises succeed or fail based on the strength and popularity of their antagonists.  

Jason, Michael, Freddy, and perhaps to a lesser extent, Norman Bates and Scream‘s Ghostface, loom large in our memories and imaginations. What is it about them? Do we relate to their monomaniacal drive to kill on some emotional level that movies allow us to safely examine? Are we entranced by tales of Is it because they represent our childhood fears? After all, we’re told at the end of Halloween that Michael Myers is in fact the Boogeyman.

I don’t know, man. I’m not a doctor.

What I do know is that some cinematic hackers and slashers appeal to audiences, and some don’t. Cropsey’s crispy corpse didn’t come back to life for The Burning II. Madman Marz is still wandering the woods of Long Island. And while the Collector did come back for one sequel (The Collection, which disappeared quickly from theaters without recouping production costs), that character failed to connect with moviegoers. He did not become a horror icon like his predecessors.

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Maybe it was just a matter of bad timing. The Aughts were a difficult time for horror. With the phrase “torture porn” being tossed about as wantonly as the word “love” at a singles mixer in a church basement, it seemed like every movie that didn’t prominently feature ghosts was being labeled as a Grand Guignol grotesquery to be avoided and derided. That left fans with a glut of PG-13 rated horror. I’m sure not the guy to slam PG-13 horror movies. Some of the most frightening movies I’ve seen have been PG-13. But that climate, in which the Saw movies represented the most extreme end of the spectrum while audiences flocked to calmer, more mainstream fare like Paranormal Activity, which was almost as exciting as watching grocery store surveillance camera footage, there was little room for a savage film like The Collector.

Arkin, the protagonist, played by the eternally tired and heavy-lidded Josh Stewart, is no angel, but he is perfect for this film. As a petty thief who finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time, he comes across as scrappy, but not too intelligent. That’s what this story needs. There’s no room for a plucky virginal Final Girl in this film. Arkin has seen some shit, man, but he’s never seen anything like what the Collector has arranged. In a way, he represents the horror audience, jaded from years of oneupmanship from one film to the next. Just as we crave new scares and situations, Arkin goes from room to room in that booby-trapped house, his weary eyes taking in each scene as he struggles to adapt and endure. If the Collector is the spider, then Arkin, our proxy, is the fly.

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There is not a shred of humor in this film. It revels in its own grimness. And while it could have been rated BG (blue/green) for the usage of color filters, The Collector is an intimidating watch, made even more so by the physicality of the Collector himself. He is lithe and quiet. The Collector has nothing to teach. He’s not Jigsaw, with a skewed moral outlook on the world. To quote Nick Frost in Hot Fuzz, “He’s not Judge Judy and executioner.” The Collector works like a spider, trapping people inside their own homes with web-like tripwires, nails poking up through wooden stairs, falling chandeliers rigged with downward-pointing butcher knives, and other nasty devices. His eyes are covered by dark scleral lenses that reflect the light like the eyes of an animal. No lumbering giant stumbling about with a dull hatchet, the Collector was born for the hunt. He is brutal. He is a sick and methodical son of a bitch. Even his mask, with its inhuman ridges and slight gunmetal sparkle, looks like a twisted piece of dark nature.

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Even if we didn’t love the movie, we should have loved the Collector himself. Heck, we have followed Jason from place to place, from outer space to inhabiting different bodies, all with varying amounts of success, but we never stopped loving him. The Collector, with his pinched-up luchadore mask and shiny eyes, was worthy of that kind of adoration. Clad in black, he stays hidden today in the shadows cast by the giants of the genre. Maybe in thirty years, audiences will rediscover him, like they did Cropsey, Madman Marz, and even the pitchfork-toting Prowler in his World War II helmet. The Collector deserves that kind of cult following, not only for being an effective and mean horror movie, but for giving us one of the most terrifying cinematic killers most people have never seen.

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Jeffery X. Martin is the published author of several stories that are sure to shock, including those in the Elders Keep universe. He also published a fantastic tale in The Black Room Manuscripts Vol 1. You can find his work, including his latest novel, Hunting Witches, on Amazon’s blood-soaked altar. When Mr. X is not writing creepy mind-benders, he’s the host and/or contributor to several podcasts and review sites, including but not limited to, Popshifter, Kiss the Goat, and the Cinema Beef Podcast. He is a frequent contributor to Machine Mean, reviewing for us The Wolf Man(1941), The Invisible Man’s Revenge (1944), Revenge of the Creature (1955), Squirm (1976) Kingdom of the Spiders (1977) and many more.

Enter Jeffery’s world of Elder’s Keep in his terrifying new novel Hunting Witches!

Hunting Witches: An Elders Keep Novel by [Martin, Jeffery X]

And keep reading more…

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