The Collector (1965)

I’ve been on a bit of a Terrance Stamp kick as of late. I’ve been a fan of him for sometime, probably ever since his General Zod showed me the sublimely manicured face of evil all the way back in Superman II, but much of his early work I simply had never gotten around to watching. But after James and I took the time to watch The Mind of Mr Soames for one of our High and Low (Brow) podcasts (Episode 4 – Comas), I decided that perhaps it was finally time to devote some real effort into watching some of his earlier films, which brings me to The Collector, a film that only recently graced my radar after I found out that a very loose remake was being released in theatres last year.

Now, it isn’t often that you see films co-opted, manipulated and outright subjugated to the whims of modern remakes. Wait, let me rephrase that. Alright, so it is common. But in the case of The Collector it has been a very unique form of modern bastardization. You see the title was taken and the idea of collecting people was used (or mis-used as the case may be) and that was the end of it. Complex characters were abandoned for one dimensional stock. The creepy, slow burning plot was replaced with the now standard mess that highlights gore and ignores everything else. It is a thin thread that ties the modern “remake” to the original. Which, honestly, is a good thing.

You see the modern film is a blatant Saw facsimile lacking tact, pathos or good taste, let alone competent filmmaking. It is a shallow and facile piece of celluloid bilge that infuriated me as I watched it. It was the antithesis of horror, as it relied on gratuitous gore to encourage the masses to gleefully gorge on, well, gore. You weren’t pushed, challenged or attacked; simply stultified into ignorant bliss.

So how exactly did it draw my ire? Simple, it followed a man who captured families, tied them up and then proceeded to fill their entire house with booby traps because evidently he knew that they would escape at some point during the film. Who cares if that particular plot point flew in the face of reality and common sense, as the practicality of it is nothing less than fucking ridiculous. You can’t just simply suspend disbelief to believe this was even possible, you had to disembowel your brain.

Perhaps even more frustrating is that horror critics ate up this pile with a spoon. Hordes of people who really should know better praised this pile of dung to the nines. Excuse me, this piece of derivative shit. But thankfully the original aspires to be quite a bit more than a horrible Saw knockoff.

Freddie Clegg (Terence Stamp) is lonely. Thanks to winning the lottery he has been able to live a life of comfortable luxury in the British countryside. He bought a house on a quiet estate and he now has the time to devote to his growing lepidopterology hobby. But still, he’s lonely. Even worse he is socially awkward, which makes it even more difficult for him to find someone special to spend the rest of his life with. So Freddie devises a plan. A plan that will mean he’ll never have to be alone again.

Immediately it is obvious that The Collector is a very different film than its future progeny. While the remake omits details in order to confuse viewers and hopefully keep them interested the original hides nothing. It meticulously reveals every detail of Freddie’s plan, though the reveal remains obscured because Freddie’s plan isn’t shown entirely in chronological order, thus forcing the viewer to actually engage their brain to keep pace with the bizarre world that Freddie exists in.

You see Freddie is a little unhinged. He’s under the belief that if he kidnaps the woman of his dreams (Samantha Eggar) that in one month she will fall in love with him. To complete this quest he buys a secluded estate, complete with an elaborate wine cellar, that will allow him to keep her in the life he believes she should live. Of course, her feelings on the situation don’t really matter. But that fact that he brings her a few of her favorite things should, at least in Freddie’s mind. Freddie gives her 30 days to fall in love with him, and that is when the mind games begin.

Perhaps the most fascinating, and best, aspect of The Collector is how capably and confidently it pulls back its twisted and complex layers. It is neither showy nor sadistic, rather, it meticulously and proudly reveals to the audience what a tragically twisted web that it is weaving. It has no intention of playing nice, nor of going easy on its audience. It plain and simply wants to creep you the fuck out. And time and again it does in spades and thanks to some standout performances and a blatantly manipulative score The Collector takes great glee in toying with its audience at every turn leaving you so unnerved, even the most seemingly facile of moments offer the allure of ghastly reveals.

And creep you out it does. In perhaps the films finest scene Freddie reveals the full power and depth of his obsessions when he reveals his extensive butterfly collection to Miranda (Eggar). During the opening of the scene you find yourself admiring his dedication to his hobby. Clearly this is something he loves and values, but as soon as you begin to identify with Freddie, The Collector turns its fiery gaze on you, indicting you along with its resident monster, leaving your mind to race to its own defense as the film continues to pummel Freddie and throw his tortured psyche under the nearest metaphorical bus.

From that point on The Collector manages to deftly walk a fine line between admiration and revulsion with Freddie. It wants you to sympathize with him, but at the same time it has every intention of punishing you for having such feelings for such a beast. But as The Collector batters you for such blasphemy it soothes you with its reiteration that Freddie is simply a man with zero social skills. To be frank, he’s a nerd. A nerd who has never had a meaningful interaction with a woman, thus he has no idea how to have a friendly relationship with one, let alone an intimate one. Freddie simply wants to be loved for who he truly is. Is that so wrong?

Be careful how you answer that.