Euro-Horror Project: The Collector

(William Wyler, 1965) The Collector* can’t claim inspired direction or script, but it does boast a mesmerizing Terence Stamp performance, which makes this cocked-premise endeavor worthwhile. Stamp’s Freddie is an awkward youth who uses lotto winnings to buy a manor with a dungeon. One hit of chloroform later and his obsession, Miranda (Samantha Eggar), finds herself imprisoned. Arch-stalker Freddie believes it’s only a matter of her getting to know him before she returns his affection. He visits her daily, mystified about her lack of interest in the restored dungeon — a symbol of his own deep-set psychosis. The film’s fiat is clear: becoming a predator’s target is as arbitrary as winning the sweepstakes. It’s as arbitrary as birthright in the British caste system, another dividing line between Freddie and his victim; demand for respect is a bartering chip for both characters, and this sociological subtext de-legitimizes 1960s class and gender norms. Miranda’s the picture of the horror genre’s Helpless Woman — a butterfly pinned to a pallet — and her passivity strikes us as unconvincing today. Most women would clean Freddie’s clock within a day of capture, given the opportunities he allows and his inoffensive size. But Miranda’s inaction has as much to do with her upper-class propriety as it does plot contrivance. Her expression of appalled disbelief at what she’s about to do when she levels a shovel at Freddie’s head works in context with the story.

The Collector’s heavy-handed butterfly conceit (blame the John Fowles’ novel it’s based on) doesn’t just foreshadow the film’s ending — it barks it. If, like me, you’re insulted by the symbolic spoon-feeding, look to the butterflies as an ornate mirror and nothing more, and enjoy the performances instead. Beyond Stamp and Eggar (who won awards for her role), the best thing about Wyler’s twee little chiller is the characterization of Freddie himself. Apart from some faint moments of violence towards the conclusion, the movie”s deliberate softness offers a much subtler representation of the killer’s inner gestalt than the overplayed butterfly collecting. There isn’t a breath of dialogue during the first ten or fifteen minutes of the film when character is established. When Freddie does speak, he rarely raises his voice, and when he slams a door on his anxious prisoner, the echo imparts more threat than any spoken ultimatum. He latches doors softly and sets down trays with hardly a rattle, and Maurice Jarre’s score reinforces his unsettling air of harmlessness with a lullaby theme — Freddie believes he’s as benign as a child, and the self-perception of a sociopath in denial is what puts the chill in our bones. I recommend this film primarily because it depicts my beloved Gentle Sociopath archetype, which has been skulking around since Peter Lorrie brought Hans Bechert to life in M. These aren’t the standard Norman Bates variety of killer (reticent types who vulcanize into violent rippers), but men who dispatch their victims with a feather touch. Freddie’s in the same camp as Graham in The Young Poisoner’s Handbook, Vann in The Minus Man, and — best of all — the disturbingly considerate abductor in Spoorloos (the original Dutch-language The Vanishing). That’s some fine company. –Ranylt Richildis

*Granted, The Collector is more thriller than horror movie, and it’s only partly a UK production, but I found this old article kicking around on my hard drive and I’m throwing it in the Euro-Horror pot.

What’s the Euro-Horror Project?

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