Exclusive: Writer/Director Marcus Dunstan and Co-Writer Patrick Melton Interview – THE COLLECTOR

     July 31, 2009

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Opening today in wide release is “The Collector“, a new ultra-violent film from Saw and Feast scribes Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan. I was able to sit down and talk to the duo for an in depth one-on-one about their new film, the current state of horror, and what warped their minds enough to create this film. Read on for the gory details:

The Collector movie poster.jpgHunter Daniels (Collider): So I guess my first question is, what the fuck is wrong with you two?

PATRICK: well I was ignored as a child and he was over stimulated. Actually we had some pretty funny stories about that. When [Marcus] was a kid. His dad was like an outdoorsman, and he would subject his child to perhaps some more dangerous situations than might be…normal for a child.

MARCUS: It would be called, ‘Dr. Seuss’s Well Intentioned Disasters’ in three volumes of my father’s teachings. You want to hear em?


MARCUS: Okay, the first one is pretty short. ‘son we’re going ice fishing today! Now son, there is only one place in the fishing tent you can’t step…OH! And that’s exactly where I went. Into the water. And I went down. And he ran into the icehouse and his glasses fogged up. so, he just started punching and he punched me in the face and snagged my coat and just sort of pulled me out of the water. And I’m screaming ‘ohmigawd!’

Were you under the ice?

MARCUS: Yeah! I went down. But luckily he pulled me up before I went under. So that was my first day ice fishing. Second one; so, my dad was a biologist and he says, ‘Son do you want to see what I do? Today I have to feed the raptors. Have you ever seen a hawk up close?’ ‘No.’ So I go into the room and there’s this hawk on a wooden perch and, ‘Son, go stand in that corner over there and I’ll be here’ and as soon as the hawk saw me, it sorta went like that [MARCUS tilts his head inquisitively]. So he’s like “okay, now look over here. It’s time to feed the bird. So we have to feel them rats because they eat rodents and things like that. This rat’s been in the freezer so it’s going to take me a second to chop it. but don’t worry, it’s going to be okay.’ And as soon as the hawk sees the rat, he’s like, ‘Oh yeah!’ and my dad is like, ‘here we go, 1, 2, 3′ and chop! And well, the rat was frozen so on impact of the cleaver the front half and the guts sail across the room and hit me  dead center of the chest. And I look at my dad and yell, ‘What do I do!’ ‘get out! Get out! Get out! Get out!’

So is there where the scene of the cat getting cut in half comes from?

MARCUS: kind of. But then, that brings us to story number three…Do you remember Ranger Rick?


MARCUS: Ranger Rick was an illustrated raccoon who promised adventure and good stories month to month, and I was a Ranger Rick subscriber. So, one night, ‘Son, I want you to come with your dad. I’ve set up some traps around the property and we’re gonna try and get rid of some muskrats and try and make the land better. You want to see how your dad reclaims the traps?’ ‘sure, okay.’ So I went with my dad and he has a pistol on his hip ‘just in case the animal is still alive, I want to be sure to treat it humanely should it be suffering.’ So we go up, and I see my dad go just beyond the length of the headlights and I hear him go, ‘aww shit.’ So I go, “what!” and my dad says, ‘Son you may not want to see this.” But it was already too late, I was like, “oh no! you caught Ranger Rick! There’s this raccoon just enmeshed in this trap like ‘aragggaharrrgah!” and I’m like, ‘Help dad! Ranger Rick looks bad!’ and my dad’s like, ‘that’s why I brought the pistol. Now I know this might look bad, but trust me son, it’s the humane thing to do.’ BOOM! And he shot off the raccoon’s nose. And I’m like, ‘aaaghh!’ and this noise came out of the raccoon, and my dad went ‘aw fuck!’ and he pulls out the gun and goes bam! Bam! Bam! And starts shooting the raccoon. And he’s like ‘Get back in the car! Get back in the car!’

I really wish this were a video interview.

MARCUS: and so those are the three stories of my father. So, that’s what’s wrong with me.

But PATRICK is the one playing The Collector in one scene in the movie.

PATRICK: well, it’s more than one actually. Yeah. And what that has to do with is, we shot in Louisiana, and we had 19 days and three million dollars and we shot 75% of a movie. and then we came back to LA, and over the next year and a half we were picking up days here and there. And when you’re doing it like that it’s hard to get the actor back. But luckily, we had this character who is covered in black the whole time and had a mask on so, we used Tom Gulager a lot of the time. You know, Tom, John’s [Director of Feast 1-3] brother. And you know, me other times. And it was fun.  You know, you put on the mask, and run around a bit.

MARCUS: and he was great!

Aren’t you taller than [the actor] by a lot?

MARCUS: well it doesn’t matter if you’re shooting from above. Everyone’s sort of the same height when you’re looking from bird’s eye view. And the great thing about this particular villain is that, depending on the angle; he could change a little bit. With his reflective eyes we were always sort of looking to keep him like a specter a little bit and not a real flesh and blood person.

PATRICK: I am taller than Juan, but the way Brandon was shooting it was to make Juan appear almost larger than life in terms of height. And he’s only 6, 6″1 but he sort of looks almost 6″5 just because we used a lot of low angles. So we could mix and match a lot with, you know, me and Tom Gulager in there. But it was Juan’s face, underneath the mask, the way you could see his lips and his eyes move that really sold the character. I thought it was sort of scary and unique.

With the character of The Collector there’s sort of a, it’s extremely mysterious. We never get any idea what his plans are. Was he basically going to let the family out one by one and let them get caught in the traps? Who were the traps for?

MARCUS: He was supposed to be the human version of a spider. And all a spider does is set up a trap for its prey and then eat it its leisure. So all the idea is that he was sort of going to do this with the family. in some cases literally setting up a web of wire. In some cases setting up something more from the cockroach world, making a roach motel. Just all things that are meant to capitalize on the sort of struggling and suffering of the prey. And, his whole mystique is that he is kind of very complacent about the whole thing. he’s kind of fascinated by the whole thing. he’ll kind of watch and see how the people adapt and try and survive, but ultimately they’re boom, they’re done because they’ve already been caught. And now its just showtime.

And was the character always called the Collector? Because the movie used to be called “The Midnight Man.”

MARCUS: it used to be the midnight man, which had a nice duality with the double meaning, and the collector still works with the same duality, with one character coming to collect the jewel and the other coming to collect the lives. And so, it just was more, ultimately after you test these things more, ‘The Midnight Man’ was more, and it seemed to air too close to thriller while ‘The Collector’ coupled with the imagery really did sell that we were going to horrify.

PATRICK: like in the description he was called, ‘The Man.’ that’s it, just ‘The Man’ because we didn’t want to define him in the script and code him because it was kind of silly. But we kept trying to piece it together trying to come up with a proper title and a marketing campaign. It made more sense to highlight the villain instead of the main character because with all the great horror franchises it’s really kind of the killer instead of the main character that’s the big star. So by using the mask, it just made sense to call it that because it’s also and explanation of what he does. As you pointed out, when you jump in this movie you don’t really know what it’s about. Because you’re starting the POV of this person who’s not supposed to be there, who hasn’t been subjected to the beginnings of this sort of harsh treatment, who hasn’t been put through the sort of games this guy puts people through. So it sort of explains that a little bit.

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It’s sort of like the first ‘Saw’ movie, except you never go back and explain the 8 months of history beforehand. you really never explain the killer, which I sort of admire.

PATRICK: what we were trying to do was, sort of twist the genre to a certain extent. So this is the subgenre of the home invasion which is a movie we’ve all seen a million times of, you know, we’re at home and everything’s lovely and then someone shows up and everything goes pretty bad pretty quick. So this is that, but we see it through a different pair of eyes. we see it through the perspective of that X-factor who’s dropped down into the middle of it so either, he’s going to get the F out of there, go home, have a sandwich. Or he’s going to try and help the family within. And, you know, this being a movie, he’s going to try to help the family within. So, we were trying to add to a subgenre in a way that we haven’t seen before. And we try to do that with all of our original work. We try to do something a little bit different. And that doesn’t mean reinventing the wheel. It means, sort of, taking something we’re all comfortable with, but then twisting it a little bit and making it original.

MARCUS: and we try to react to the landscape. We see a lot of sequels, we see a lot of remakes…what’s wrong? What can be improved upon? What can we pervert them, just a little bit. Plus, today, a lot of villains are sort of…over-explained. If you narrow their target, you narrow the audience you can sort of scare. So, the great thing about a shark is, if you’re in the water, you’re screwed. You know? It doesn’t matter who you are, if you’re in water, they’ll eat you. So, with this land-based shark. This land-based threat…if you’re human you’re screwed. If you’re human, and you own a home, you’re screwed.

I think I’m gonna go buy a cave.

PATRICK: we had this discussion in the development process where someone who wasn’t all that familiar with the horror movies was all like, we need to have that reveal. The family did something so this is the payback.

MARCUS: They’re a bunch of molesters! And this cat, he doesn’t like that.

PATRICK: right. But that seemed sort of cheap and contrived. And you know, we did the rewrite, the production polish on ‘My Bloody Valentine’ and that sort of story design is akin to a lot of early 80s slasher movies where it’s like ‘oh the killer’s doing this because when he was a kid there was this other killer and he saw ‘em and he was affected so now he comes back in this bizarre mental state and then he’s doing the same thing.’ and it’s just, it seems…cheap at the end when you get that type of reveal. So with this one, it was supposed to be that everyone can be affected by it. this person is dark, and he does this thing, and he sees someone and he goes and gets ‘em. There’s this really, um, disturbing thing, I remember from a few years ago. I remember this guy…

The BTK Killer?

PATRICK: No. there was this guy who was driving by this home, this country home and he saw a girl, and he was just instantly attracted to her. So he went into the home and killed the family and took the girl. And I just remember being really disturbed by that. And I don’t want to add any more darkness to this world, but that story just got to me because there was just no rhyme or reason to this person who was doing. And I think that is what real horror is. Something can effect everyone and sort of get under everyone’s skin. Like ‘The Strangers’ I think that was the best horror film of last year and that had a similar development with people arguing back and forth that the three killers are there and you need some sort of explanation. And then finally it went back to the original script where it was ‘you were home’ which is extremely disturbing and worked really well for me. And we were in the same school of the more realistic the motivation, the more effective it is.

And on that same sort of very disturbing level, I kept thinking about it, and I couldn’t come up with anything at first, but I realized this is more close in tone and execution to the French slasher films like Inside and Martyrs and Frontier(S). and those came out of giant race riots in France. Do you think that America is ready for this? Or is so fucked up in America that we are ready for that?

MARCUS: well gosh, if we were to dare step into the social area, I think there is a lot of unrest and so we are depicting characters who are sort of desperate to protect their own, but end up unleashing something much worse on themselves by doing so. But the French just raised the bar, you know? Those movies are just GORE-geous. They really are! And se it’s like, okay. We’d like to try that, and we lucked out.

PATRICK: And it’s great that you pointed that out because a lot of horror does sort of come out of social unrest. And, five years ago, you’d laugh at French horror, but now, you look and there’s all this great horror coming out and I think it’s because of that. There’s anger and it manifest to these horror movies which are more metaphors for how people are feeling. So, in this one, it’s a reaction to that. This is an original horror movie. and we were sick of remakes and sequels and seeing the French being able to do these really great sort of low budged horror movies, so that was definitely our goal. And it goes back to the movies we grew up on. MARCUS is a huge Dario Argento fan and John Carpenter, Tobe Hooper, Wes Craven, who made those original horror movies that were totally effective, and very really, and really got under your skin. And so that was our goal with this, to make something in that school, and to not make something that could be watched between ‘Prom Night’ and ‘Sorority Row’. and I like those movies, and they have their place, but this is definitely not that. This is supposed to be a hard-R, original American horror movie.

MARCUS: hopefully, this is gonna be the horror movie that’s gonna get a kid in a lot of trouble for watching, but then his mom or dad is gonna get kind of taken by it and they end up getting kind of end up sharing the blanket kind of thing…maybe we should lock our doors at night.

One of the things it reminded me of was, I saw Inside for the first time with no subtitles. A friend gave me a bootleg of it before it was available in the US. And watching this movie it’s similar to that because there is just 25 minutes of silence at the end of the first act.

MARCUS: Yes! And that’s where our DP Brandon Cox comes into play because he’s like the other star of the movie because it’s his camera that tells the story. And we wanted to do that because it’s a challenge in filmmaking, because you cannot cut away from that moment if you want to build suspense. You can’t cut to ‘3 days later’ in the middle of the chase scene. It’s all about being in the chase scene. So this one has, pretty much from minute 30 on, it’s in pretty much all real time. and that allowed us to play and really, really ratchet up the tension. So that was very, very mental. It’s, you know, hushed tones and if anything, we wanted to exploit that. we wanted to go back to those where the camera reveals the threat, the camera reveals the potential victim and then the camera backs off and shows them get close to each other.

PATRICK: because we weren’t interested in doing sort of, cheap jump scares based upon rapid cutting and sound stings. It was all supposed to be this roaming camera that let’s the tension build, build, build, build and then bam! It hits you right away, which is…it’s much more effective because in a lot of films where it’s just sort of a line up of these cheap scares there’s this separation between you and the actual character but when you’re in the same position as the character and what he’s going through you sort of, that was our attempt with this. Don’t do the sort of tricky camera editing tricks that are very popular right now. Lets go back to how John Carpenter used to scare you. Lets go back to how Tobe Hooper used to scare you. And Dario Argento. Just let the actors and the camera sort of do their work and so it builds and I just think that’s much more effective. And, you know, the proof is in the pudding because it took us 4 times to get through the MPAA. But no more bloody than a Saw movie, but there is just an intensity to this one because it’s so real and it’s just effective.

There is less than one shot a second, so that helps. You not only don’t cut away but you don’t, there’s no throat slicing in this movie. You don’t , there’s simply someone gets a nail under their fingernail, or into their ear or into their ear and out their eyeball. Did you just sort of save up all the really gross things you can do to the human body and not use them in the Saw movies so that you could put them into this?

MARCUS: Well, we wrote this before we ever did a Saw movie. So this pile was already over there and sort of protected. And as we were going up and working on more Saw films there was always this temptation to go into the Collector pile but it was like, ‘no, no, no, that’s got to stay, that’s got to stay, because it’s already been engineered. There are some taboos even in the Saw universe that you can’t touch. So that make the Collector pile all the more fertile.

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PATRICK: It’s sort of dubious for me to say this, but we didn’t want to be gratuitous…but we didn’t want to be. so when the throat slashing does happen, it happens off screen heard through a vent. you know exactly what’s going on over there and then you see the results of it later. But it’s the little things that really get you like the pin into the eardrum. It’s like “OOH!” and little moments like that are often more effective than seeing someone cut their throat. But with certain movies and this probably comes out of the torture porn type thing, is that people go too far too early and you sort of numb the audience and we were very aware of that. we’re not interested in gore for gore’s sake. We wanted to make it all seem very organic and very really and just build. One of the bloodiest movies is ‘The Shinning’ and literally, by the end of that movie there is a river of blood coming towards the camera…if we’re gonna go by pints of blood.

“Piranha” looks like it might beat that.

PATRICK: well Piranha is a different beast, it’s of the Feast school. Piranha is gonna go for it. it’s gonna go so far. There is going to be so much blood, so much nudity, so much gore that it might be brilliant. But it’s of a different school. It’s Alex [Aja] recognizing that this kind of movie, and trumping everybody.

MARCUS: I think it just might be horror nirvana.

PATRICK: He might because he is just fully embracing that movie.

MARCUS: I just wanted to pimp that we have a little scene at the end of the credits, for anyone who wants to stay.

Yeah, I saw that last night. It was cool…there is so much violence and brutality in that movie, and I’m never left speechless by anything and I just sort of walked out of the theater going, ‘what have I just seen?’ And, I’m going to be really interested to see how this plays and where it goes because…

MARCUS: I think we’re going to be deported.

So, you think you’ll lose your citizenship?

MARCUS: well, there’s always Canada or Mexico.

PATRICK: well a lot of that intensity is sound based and we had a wonderful score by Jerome Dillon, Nine Inch Nails drummer, and with Korn and Depeche Mode, and Bauhaus, and Nico Vega, and Page Number 113 and Copy Christ just lowered their rates to be part of the movie.

And that 3 million you had to make the movie, does that include the soundtrack?

MARCUS: yeah, it’s nuts, but it all worked out.

PATRICK: Well, the 3 million is what Dimension paid and then there was about 300 thousand that MARCUS paid out of his own pocket to get it to a certain point and at that point it was when we were able to buy it back from Dimension and then Mickey Liddell bought it and put even more money into it and that allowed us to shoot the credit sequence, some stuff at the end to sort of enhance the ending a little bit and then some pick up shots here and there and then the music. And then proper color correction and a proper sound mix. And it’s a horror movie, so there are really very few things more important than the way it sounds and the color correction. So, Mickey put a bit more money in to finish that, so at the end of the day it’s probably around 3.3 and 3.4-ish. We couldn’t go over a certain number I know. And we weren’t going to be able to get Korn or Depeche Mode. But they started hearing the buzz on the movie and they started reading the reviews on aintitcoolnews.com and they knew it was a brutal hard-R horror movie in the middle of a summer in a season just full of sequels and remakes or, you know, ‘The Orphan’ [SIC] which isn’t not exactly appropriate for a Korn song. Like, the Korn song just defines the killer. When he shows up and that Korn song starts playing. And that bass and that little sort of weird child voice song comes on it’s like, this is about to get really bad.

MARCUS: And I knew at a point we were going to be pushing people too far when a lovely couple didn’t make it past the opening credits and her boyfriend looked really upset and he was like, ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry she doesn’t like horror movies.

PATRICK: I was thinking, did you see the poster? It’s not vague. Every time we’ve shown this in the last few weeks we’ve begun by saying, if there’s any pregnant women or people with heart conditions you might want to step out because it might induce labor or kill you because it’s so intense. I mean yeah, we understand that it is intense. But seeing the response to Martyrs and Frontier(S) I think this is the horror movie that, this is the theatrical horror movie of quality that fans have been desiring.

MARCUS: and we need your help to get the word out on it…

That’s why I’m here.

MARCUS: Because we’re up against robots. Rapping robots and gerbils that are on special ops.

Freestyle Releasing opens The Collector in 1500 screens Friday. For more on the film go to www.healwaystakesone.com and thecollector-movie.com

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