The Collector | Horror | rated R (A,L,N,S,V,G) | starring Josh Stewart, Andrea Roth, Madeline Zima | directed by Marcus Dunstan | 1:30 mins

Handyman Arkin (Josh Stewart, Dirt) indebted to a lone-shark who now threatens his estranged family, hatches a plan to steal a large ruby from the safe of the home he has been helping to renovate. Once inside he realizes that he is not alone. This petty criminal has walked in on the work of a true psychopath who has the family inside bound and gagged for a night of serious torture. As Arkin tries to stop the masked figure  and save the family he runs into an elaborate gauntlet of death traps planted all over the house, also trapping him inside.

Remember the wet, electrified door mat in The Last House on the Left or the mallet over the door in A Nightmare on Elm Street? House-rigged traps aren’t exactly new to the horror genre. But given that Saw sequels have completely saturated the mainstream horror movie market lately, raising the gore bar, and that writers Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton were writers-for-hire on the 2nd Saw trilogy, their own creation is going to suffer the inevitable comparisons.  Well, let’s do it: The Collector is better than the last 3 or 4 Saw movies. Dunstan as director has a far better handle on how to make a tension filled horror film. Collector is a pure cinema gore-hound reward not for the squeamish, instead of beating the audience over the head with obnoxious characters, impossible torture traps, even more impossible twists and a self-consciously flashy visual style.

Ok, that last thing The Collector may be guilty of. But typical serial killer Seven-inspired opening titles aside, and even more useless cold opening, once we get into the house with Aiken and The Collector playing cat-and-mouse the movie holds it’s breath and doesn’t let up for the next hour or so. The Collector is a call-back to old school 80s horror where horror was about fun, blood, senseless nudity and bad guys without motives or backstory. It’s also the best recent American attempt at what the French are doing with horror, a confined thriller with style, some cringing, boundary-pushing gore, imaginative (if absurd) deaths and a kick a** attitude. Like the French horror films, Aiken has to fight tooth and nail if he is going to survive the torture. Nobody just dies easily in these films, their suffering is prolonged, their body brutalized. The movie finds that good balance between being a brutal knock-down-drag-out fight for survival without being a torture porn flick.

From their debut film Feast we know that Dunstan and Melton are sick mothers and there are a few sequences in Collector where they indulge in some sick creative stuff with their new character. Making effective use of fishing hooks, cockroaches, fish tanks and in a favorite scene, beat traps. The Collector collects people the way someone else would collect insects. That’s all we know of him. His mask – it’s nothing, no cheesy gimmick. Dunstan smartly plays the entire film minimally, with very little dialog or explanation. But he lays into the gore and the tension, stretching it just so with a very effective use of slow motion. The movie does a good job of setting up the spacial relationship of the house, turning it into a maze with no way exit. And, yes, it would be impossible for The Collector to set all these traps in one night, but you’ll just have to go with that one.

Feast was fun, but The Collector establishes Dunstan and Melton as a creative force on the independent horror scene, setting them apart from the legion of independent schlockmeisters who think they can just throw blood at the screen and the slasher crowd will eat it up. Collector is a messy film at times, rough around the edges, and doesn’t seem to know when or where to end.  But it’s got a nifty premise and an intriguing new villain. A tense, refreshing, and wholly recommendable horror flick.