Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Throwback to the late 70's is the real deal


D. Marcus Dunstan
Fortress Pictures


This amazingly brutal slasher picture is in a lot of ways a throwback to the horror films of the early 80s in that it is played absolutely straight. No funny business, no one liners, no bullshitting around with the audience to make them feel comfortable and safe. No hedging of the bets so there will be T-shirts and lunch boxes and other crap that the Hot Topic crowd will talk about as they paint their fingernails black while waiting for the next TWILIGHT book and discussing who will play Pinhead in the remake of HELLRAISER. Nope. THE COLLECTOR is the real deal. Is it perfect? Not by a long shot. But it is pretty damn good, and very serious, and these days that counts for a whole lot in my book.

The film is about a young locksmith/thief, played by Josh Stewart, who has cased a country home owned by a rich family. The family are basically decent people, with two daughters, one a young girl, the other a 17 year old sexpot. He has agreed to rob them because his own girlfriend is in hock to a local loan shark, putting his preteen daughter directly in danger and forcing him to come up with the money by midnight to get them out of trouble. When he breaks into the home that night the family is supposed to be out of town, yet he finds that he is not alone in the house: someone else has broken in right before him and wired the entire home with intricate booby traps that do things like cut off fingers if you open windows, or impale you if you go out doors. He then discovers the parents are alive in the basement and have been tortured with the intention of being "kept". The youngest daughter is alive somewhere in the house hiding, and the other daughter is out on a date with her boyfriend. Both are in danger of this rampaging murderous psychopath still in the house.

You have to suspend your disbelief to get into the movie right away with the idea that someone could set up all of these traps in one day, plus we never really know too much of why he would do it, as the movie is not exactly heavy on plot details. But this isn't really a plot piece, it's an adrenaline movie that pumps you up and keeps you scared. With that it works. The killer is creepy as hell with his black S+M mask that looks like the black leather version of Decker from NIGHTBREED. But unlike many other killers in horror films, he is fast and vicious. Once he zeroes in on someone, he attacks - no slow stalking, no Michael Myer's walking while they run. He jumps in and BOOM: he's on them, slashing, stabbing and tying them up with barbed wire. Juan Fernandez plays the killer and it's an incredibly physical performance. Readers may remember him from several Charles Bronson programers, such as the ultra scummy KINJITE where he played a flesh peddler who was the first guy in a train run on a 13 year old girl in one of the most repellent scenes I have ever seen in a movie. He also showed up in several Ferrera films over the years, as well. Now he gets to add another nasty villain to his repertoire.

I'm sure many people will have complaints about the level of violence and torture in the film, especially considering that the writers and director have done the last several SAW films. But I felt that the material here was pretty justified and intense. Never did I feel like I was invited to enjoy the suffering the people on screen were going through (as has sometimes been leveled at the SAW or especially HOSTEL). I felt for these people and their plight, making it all the worse to bear out. Which is the point. I was genuinely afraid and disturbed for the characters on screen.

This is the strength of the movie. The characters, though not given a lot of characterization, are at least recognizable and likable. Especially the lead. It was refreshing to have a hero who was flawed, but still trying to do the right thing. Several times in the movie he makes some cowardly and bad decisions, so he's far from perfect and I liked that. It made me feel for him a lot more than I would some stupid teenager who only wants to get laid or high.

Technically the movie is outstanding with incredible editing, and really sweet cinematography. It does get a little too dark once things get trapped in the house, but overall it is a visually striking film, with really great use of color and moving camera. The soundtrack is terrific too, with intricate and unsettling sound design and tremendous use of discordant industrial music throughout, including Bauhaus' "Bela Lugosi's Dead" in a key moment. My only complaint in that area was the opening credits that were way too much like the movie SE7EN.

I'm making this sound like a little classic, and it really isn't. The plot is thin, and there are holes a plenty. But the good outweighs the bad by a far margin. Just be prepared to get a balls-out, in-your-face movie that doesn't intend to play nice with you. They really don't make them like this much anymore. This is horror without a safety valve and I appreciated that.

Andy Copp

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