Editor’s note: This review originally ran as part of our Fantastic Fest 2012 coverage, and since The Collection hits theaters this week, we felt obliged to scrape off the dried blood and post it back up.
In 2009, Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton gave us The Collector, which, in addition to being a dark and bloody enjoyable horror gem, was possibly the greatest Home Alone sequel ever conceived. Now, in keeping with grand horror tradition, a franchise blooms. The Collection continues the exploits of our hoarding serial killer and centers largely on his prized acquisition from the first film. When Arkin (Josh Stewart) is finally able to escape the clutches of The Collector, it is at the expense of the maniac claiming the lovely Elena (Emma Fitzpatrick) as his new treasure. A team of mercenaries, hired by Elena’s father (played by “Shooter McGavin” himself, Christopher McDonald), forces Arkin to lead them to the killer’s lair on an ill-advised rescue mission. Lots of people die.
The incredible thing about The Collection is that, even though this is only part two, the franchise seems far more mature. The Collection feels like part six of a series, and we’ve somehow missed three through five. This is the zombie Jason, the dream child…the critters in space. It takes everything we enjoyed about the first film and twists the dials past eleven until the knob snaps off. Our boogeyman has, between films, earned a formidable mythos and seems well established within horror canon by his first appearance on screen. To any but diehard horrorphiles, this may seem a derogatory observation, but The Collection is wonderfully comfortable in its new, outlandish attire. Dunstan and Melton make the wise decision to quickly dispense with any misconception that what they are making is deathly serious. The spectacularly violent, and playfully macabre, opening scene sets in stone the sequel’s tonal shift. If you’re not thoroughly aware of what you’re in for by that point, you weren’t looking at the screen (What, are you texting? Put your damn phone away!).
The film operates on an Aliens structure, with the team of badasses sent in to deal with the antagonist that plagued our hero in the first film. They aren’t all well-defined, but more often than not likable aspects of the characters rise nicely to the surface. We then watch them tour the ominous hideout of a madman, with all its requisite trapdoors and depraved machinations. We in turn hoot and holler at the ghoulish delights around every corner. And Dunstan and Melton once again demonstrate their cruel cleverness with their traps; mad scientists in the most crowd-pleasing sense. In many ways, though no paranormal entities roam the halls, The Collection is the most apt haunted house movie in recent memory, in that it feels like walking through a cheesy, but seasonally satisfying haunted house. The experience is less than substantial, but even fleeting thrills have merit.
Though its content may play to a very specific set of tastes, the filmmakers aren’t merely coasting on the generosity of genre fans. The Collection is well-constructed from the ground floor up. The plot flies by at a blitzkrieg pace that never allows for tedium, and there is some truly inventive cinematography at play. It’s also very much appreciated that the characters are not bereft of common sense as are so many in horror sequels. The common pitfalls of slasher screenplays are almost entirely accounted for and organic solutions are built into the narrative. The unsettling body horror visuals of the killer’s creepy carnival sideshow are a welcome addition to the series, and the balance struck between scares and laughs is of great benefit to the overall experience. Josh Stewart adequately sells Arkin as an amiable hero and a seasoned veteran of The Collector’s war on human anatomy. Fitzpatrick is sweetly engaging, but never a helpless load of which the audience yearns to be unburdened.
That’s not to say everything works in The Collection. There are few story elements that are introduced without real payoff or even heavy influence on subsequent plot points. Also, some of the more “shock value” specimens in the killer’s museum are silly to the point of distraction. But ultimately, the minor quibbles barely resonate in the raucous gore party that is The Collection.
The Upside: A slick, wickedly funny, and brazenly over-the-top sequel that does justice to the budding franchise.
The Downside: Its content is going to play to a very niche audience.
On the Side: Dunstan and Melton actually built a working version of the vicious contraption featured in the film’s opening scene.