The Collector, 1965.
Directed by William Wyler.
Starring Terence Stamp, Samantha Eggers, Mona Washbounre and Maurice Dallimore.
Fredrick “Freddy” Clegg a lonely butterfly enthusiast with an unstable mind. After becoming infatuated with young art student Miranda, Freddy kidnaps the girl, storing her in his private dungeon, hoping to convince his victim to fall in love with him.
We all like a good love story. Boy meets girl. Boy falls in love with girl. Boy kidnaps girl and keeps her locked in a basement until girl loves boy back. This twisted take on romance is the story of John Fowls controversial bestseller The Collector, which soon after its publication, was scooped up by William Wyler, the legendary director of Ben Hur, who brought the story to the big screen with decidedly creepy results.
The underrated Terence Stamp portrays Freddy Clegg, the titular collector. A creepy loner whose idea of romance involves kidnapping and imprisonment. Stamp is fantastic in the role, his calm, almost polite, manner of speech hiding a deeply disturbed monster. Never has the phrase ‘I hope you slept well. I brought you some cereal’ ever sounded so menacing. Stamp’s performance is unsettling primarily because of the level of sincerity which he portrays Freddy. He is someone who genuinely believes his twisted actions will end in romance, even as his every disgusting utterance and sudden outburst of petty rage keep you on edge and your skin crawling.
Acting opposite Stamp is Samantha Eggers in an Oscar-nominated performance as Freddy’s would be “lover” Miranda. Eggers while, in my view, not quite having the same draw as her co-star, delivers a believable portrayal of the kind of desperation and emotional exhaustion of a kidnap victim. Struggling to keep her sanity and attempting to understand her captor while also trying to find a way to escape his clutches.
The interactions between Eggers and Stamp are where the real fireworks happen. The tension that develops between them is intense and uncomfortable, Eggers viewing Stamp with what looks like genuine contempt and fear because it probably was. The tension on-screen was mirrored off-screen thanks to some devious engineering by director William Wyler who instructed Stamp to remain in character throughout filming and to treat his co-star with a chilly demeanour. It’s a mischievous, probably unethical and frankly cruel way to influence your actor’s performances but, given the results on display, it seems like an effective one.
While not a particularly violent film with a high body count, The Collector can be seen as something of a precursor to the modern serial killer psychological thriller genre, with it acting as a fascinating character study of a psychopath.
Freddy has a high opinion of himself and looks down on others, thinking his own views to be superior, dismissing Picasso or The Catcher in the Rye as ‘rubbish’ because, in his mind, it doesn’t make sense and that everyone else probably agrees with him. Yet, he is also contradictory, suffering from an inferiority complex, believing that everyone also looks down on him. Take his reaction when Miranda attempts to explain things like Picasso, lashing out at her because he doesn’t understand the meaning behind them, thinking that his lack of understanding means that others consider him stupid.
This confusing and infuriating mindset extends to his treatment of Miranda, a woman he is supposed to be ‘in love’ with. Idolising her and treating her like, in his twisted mind, ‘a gentleman’, feeding her and promising ‘not to take advantage’. Yet, when she finally grows tired of fighting and, in the hopes of gaining her freedom, tries to seduce Freddy, giving him what he’s always wanted, he rejects her. Taking his idea of the moral high ground and looking down upon her as no better than a prostitute.
The Collector is a slow-burner with much of the action taking place in a single location, almost like a filmed stage play. This limited space creates a claustrophobic atmosphere in which we, like Miranda, feel trapped in this dark basement with a lunatic. The lack of music in many of the scenes between Freddy and Miranda only heighten the tension, the eerie silence just waiting to be broken by something horrible lurking around the corner.
While the limited action and stage-like presentation allow the film to hone in on the actor’s performances and to create an uncomfortable intimacy between the characters, it does leave things moving along at a slow pace. While I enjoyed the acting and found it unsettling, I would be lying if I said there weren’t a few moments where I was bored. And although only clocking in at two hours, the runtime is perhaps too long and could have maybe done with 15 minutes or so being trimmed. However, it is the strength of the actors’ performances that still kept me watching and leaning in ever closer, terrified as to what Freddy might do next.
While it is slow in places and can test your patience, The Collector remains a disturbing and fascinating film to dive into. It’s simplistic setup and strong performances creating a chilling portrait of a deluded and dangerous “romantic” soul. Check it out if you’re curious.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★