Almost every time one of my uninitiated friends goes to see a horror movie, they always come back with the same question; "What must the people be like who write that stuff? I mean - You have to wonder, if they spend all that time thinking that stuff up." It's a question that never ceases to annoy me, as most people in the horror community that I've met have been perfectly normal folk who'd not even wish to harm even the hair of a kitten - unless it was a particularly evil kitten. So it was with some surprise that I found myself asking myself the very question I detest so much during The Collector. So cruel and unusual were the methods of destruction put up on the screen they MUST have come from a warped mind, surely?

Well, yes - They're supposed to come from the mind of a twisted and vicious serial killer. As anyone who's ever tried writing anything will attest to, the actions and desires of your characters are not necessarily those of the authors. Sure, you may have to wallow in dark places to come up with the evil deeds perpetrated, but this doesn't mean that the authors are secret psychos - It just means they have fully functioning imaginations. I have to point this out at the beginning because I have a feeling there might be a little bit of controversy over this film in certain areas of the tabloid press. The Collector, in terms of unpleasant and contrived methods of killing, often takes a step beyond the boundary-pushing Saw franchise and sets a new standard for gore in a mainstream movie.

Comparisons to Saw are not unfair. Both scriptwriters, Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan, have worked on many of the latter entries in the series as well as the relentlessly bad taste Feast movies. Like the antics of Jigsaw and his not-so-merry band of maniacs, The Collector isn't strictly a horror movie but more of an extreme serial killer film. In fact, I'd go slightly further and point out that this film shares much in common with the Giallo movies with protracted "stalking" sequences giving way to painfully horrific deaths. At their best, these sequences take you right back to classic Argento as the extended build up suddenly gives way to blood splattered shrieks by hideously original methods. The Collector is nothing if not imaginative in his methods of ending life.

This killer likes to turn his victim's houses into devious traps, waiting like a spider within to pounce on those unlucky enough to avoid his murderous devices. But not everything is going according to plan for our evil arachnid. A thief has broken into his latest target's home while The Collector goes about his work and discovered the death traps within. Both killer and prey have to think quickly to gain the upper hand.

The core idea of The Collector is great. Patrick Melton describes their original premise as "What if a thief broke into a serial killer's home - someone like Michael Myers - and Michael came home?" It's a nice concept rich with the promise of atmospheric tension leading to frantic chases as the spider closes in on the fly. But there's a problem. The more the film spins its web, the more tangled it becomes. Huge holes appear in what should be a fine and deadly mesh, and once you start to notice them everything starts to unravel. It's pretty clear that certain questions are not answered as this is intended as the first part of a franchise, but other things don't stand up to any logical thinking.

For example, The Collector uses bait to lure his victims into the trap. This normally takes the form of a large chest containing one of his still living previous victims. But in the instances shown here, there seems to be no connection between the old victims and the new ones. Even more questionable is why the killer would need to place bait in the victims' own houses - it's not like it's a place they rarely visit, and how can this be bait when the victims have no prior knowledge of the chest until the moment they discover it hidden somewhere in their home?

We're told that the murderer kills those he doesn't like but keeps those he wants to add to his collection, but his deadly traps are so arbitrary that it's a surprise he ends up with anyone. Arranging overly elaborate invisible wire and pulley systems all over the place, The Collector's toys are a serious health and safety issue for all who visit these properties. And it seems like he constructs an awful lot of traps that work on the off chance that someone might pick up, for example, a pair of scissors or stumble blindly into a room without checking that the floor isn't covered with enormous mantraps. To be fair to him, he gets it pretty right in this movie - most of his nasty surprises end up working in the way he intended so he must be pretty good at his job. So good, in fact, that he seems to be able to silently construct every single trap in the house and board up all the doors and windows in the few minutes it takes the thief to break in, do his work and try to escape.

In fact, when subjected to careful scrutiny, so little of the killer's plot makes sense that the film feels like a series of enormously mean-spirited and hugely graphic murders tied together by a gossamer-thin thread. And these really are horrible deaths. People are gutted, impaled and crushed in ways that will make even the most hardened moviegoer wince from time to time. The film is worth seeing for the inventiveness with which the gore is dished out alone, but at the same time feel like they have become the film's entire reason for being. It's almost as if the writers came up with a good idea, then got utterly carried away in constructing the web of death and lost sight of that central deathly premise.

Ignore the plot holes and heavy-handed spider imagery and this is quite an enjoyable thriller. While most people will spot who the killer is very early on, there's still enough mystery remaining about his motives to keep you watching. It's the sort of movie that plays fast and loose with the characters' lives, so you're never sure quite who's going to survive or how horribly they will die. Sure, the payoff isn't quite as satisfying as I'd have liked but, as I said earlier, this is clearly part one in a series and certain cards remain unplayed. The Collector is a film that frustrates as much as it entertains - you can't help but feel they slackened off from original vision and the end result isn't the high-tension experience it should have been. It's an attempt at a Hollywood Giallo, but one that should perhaps have focused a little more on weaving its first web before setting its eyes on a second.

Review by Paul Bird

Released by Icon Film Distribution