I have a soft spot for horror movies that have at least one aspect of their plot intricately-planned. While The Collector wasn’t a box-office hit and featured bad decisions made by stupid characters who were played by wooden stand-ins allergic to charisma, I’d argue that it has the makings of a (very) low-key modern classic.
Our one-note story follows a man who looks like Michael Vartan but isn’t trying to break into a house to steal jewels to win back his daughter’s mother (sob story alert!), only to find that a highly creative psycho has gotten there first, and has rigged the house with an inventive array of grisly booby-traps.
They’re not quite Saw-like which, frankly, makes it creepier – this isn’t in some dripping cave or seedy, foreign hostel – it’s all happening in your upper-middle-class suburban homestead: razor-wire, strung up like Mission Impossible lasers; a knife-tinged chandelier; a room full of enormous bear traps. Imagine if Kevin McAllister was just fucking done with Buzz’s bullying.
Not Michael Vartan (Josh Stewart) spends the majority of the film trying to rescue the house’s gagged and bound owners, as well as keep his presence hidden from The Collector; between that and the plethora of perilous playtime props, it’s a good 80 minutes of solid nail-biting. Gore, if that’s what you’re after, is gruesome, plentiful and stomach-churning, and just teetering over the wrong side of gratuitous.
As a horror entity, The Collector himself is arguably not scary enough on his own; his design is a little dull (Sam from Trick ‘r Treat grew up), and his mannerisms too pronounced and humanised. He handles his weapon, a hunting knife, in like a Juggalo thug fighting over alley piss space, and for a guy who intricately rigged a stranger’s house in no time, he’s too easily fooled by the simplest things. But this is a nitpick – a guy bigger than me is scary enough; add a knife and I’m sweating in fear. Throw in a series of Indiana Jones-style torture porn death gauntlets that require careful sidestepping under pressure? Fuck, I suck at Operation. I’d have shat myself to death.
There’s a sequel, though, and I’d happily watch it. It’s on par with the Purge franchise: low-budget, simple/linear story, and competent filmmaking. In horror, that’s a surprisingly high bar.