Tucked among the holiday tentpole and Oscar bait movies opening at your local cinema this weekend is Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton’s gory little horror film The Collection. The Collection is a sequel to Dunstan and Melton’s 2009 film The Collector. In the original movie a burglar named Arkin, played by Josh Stewart (The Dark Knight Rises), robs a house that, unbeknownst to him, has been filled with deadly booby traps set by the titular Collector; a masked killer who delights in watching innocent people meet their demise in his traps. In The Collection, Arkin is blackmailed into helping a privately funded group of mercenaries rescue a young girl held hostage by The Collector in an abandoned hotel rigged with all manner of homemade death traps.
This week we had a chance to sit down with Dunstan and Melton (whose credits include writing Feast, Saw 4 – Saw 3D, and Piranha 3DD) and talk about having a sequel stand on its own two feet, navigating audience expectations, and why they chose to shoot a low budget movie on film instead of digital.
(Note: mild spoilers ahead)
Although it’s a direct sequel to The Collector, you don't have to have seen the original movie to get what’s going on in The Collection. Dunstan and Melton wisely created a sequel that stands on its own two feet; even opting for a title that plays off the original film’s title instead of the more serialized The Collector 2. “We didn’t want to make it too serialized so that you had to see the first movie” Melton said, “we wanted to have it as its own stand-alone entity because even (though) it is obviously nice to know who Arkin is, because it gives a little bit of history between the villain and the protagonist, you don’t need it. We introduce (Arkin) as he falls out of a box, we flashback and show how he got there, and we’re moving on from there.” Dunstan likened it to his having seen Aliens before Alien without losing any narrative context. After an early test screening of The Collection proved successful despite only 2 members of the audience being aware of the original movie, Dunstan knew they’d made the right decision. “I thought, well, great, we did it, you know. We stuck the landing in that people don’t need that first one, but if they care to (see it) it’s out there and it’s scary."
Movie sequels are a dime a dozen these days and Dunstan and Melton actively tried to avoid cranking out a cookie cutter sequel. “The sequel could have been ‘okay the super villain is at an apartment now and there’s traps and all new characters and they all die by the end’” said Patrick. “We’re horror fans and we’ve seen sequels. The best ones are ones that don’t simply go through the same beats as the first movie. I couldn’t have been more disappointed at The Hangover 2 because it was the same movie. That’s always disappointing for everyone. Starting with our first movie Feast, we tried to dispel a lot of tropes and play against types. I think it’s just kind of fun to do that because a straightforward horror movie can be completely effective but we’ve always tried to do something that’s a little bit different. That starts with having the understanding of the genre and respect for the genre and then building upon it so that it’s fun to be with an audience and take them down a certain road and then trick them”.
Dunstan and Melton make good on their promise to trick the audience by cleverly opening The Collection like a run of the mill horror sequel, introducing a bevy of hip teens on their way to a party. Then, in a matter of minutes, the killer completely obliterates everyone in a gore filled bloodbath. “This movie opens and you’re thinking ‘oh okay it’s going to be about these young hot teens and they’re going to go to this club and then the entire movie’s going to take place there and they’ll eventually make it out in the end because golly gee we sure love them” said Melton, but then you realize “oh, (I guess) that’s not going to happen because they’re dying right now.” Humorously the opening gorefest was inspired by a preproduction note requesting a young cast. “The note we got (said) ‘let’s make this cast young, sexy and hot’” said Patrick “and our response was okay, that’s fine, but how long do they have to live? And they said, ‘oh we don’t care’. I said, ‘well okay here’s the first ten minutes of your movie."
The Collection was shot on film using mostly practical effects; a rarity for any movie these days, especially a low budget horror movie. “Ultimately we are telling a story of people dressed in black and a fight at night” Marcus explained. “There are seven grades that I can play with in film. Seven areas to push or pull in that negative. The digital format that (was) available to me that when we made the movie only had three areas of give. I needed all seven so I can create shadows, so I can put things in shadows, so I can hide wires. The practical effect when shot on 35 millimeter anamorphic film has elements of imperfection in the emulsion that allows the brush stoke of the effects artist to be a bit more concealed. The actor looks a bit more polished, and the effect feels more real. A digital effect, no matter how well it’s done, still creates an element of distance between (the actor and the effect). CGI blood looks like a weightless spurt. CGI entities that fall kind of land with a false thud that feels more feather than lead. If it’s real, it feels real. No matter how goofy the alien looks or how strange or macabre, if it’s something in the room we get to see it, and that shrinks the gap between falsehood and reality. So if this is our killer, our knives, our blood, everything hurts like its real because it was."
The Collection is out in theaters today, Friday 11/30/12.