The Collector (1965)
The Collector tells the story of a young man (Terence Stamp), who after coming into some money, uses it to purchase a new home complete with a vast cellar. Intent on possessing the young girl (Samantha Eggar) of his dreams, he kidknaps her in an attempt to force her to love him.
A uniquely odd film built around two towering performances by Terence Stamp and Samantha Eggar as a romantic psychopath and his prisoner. Hardly anyone else is afforded any screen time whatsoever. Bookended by first character narration by the charming Stamp, the film feels like a documentary wedged into a looking glass.
William Wyler’s movie benefits from meticulous set design and a psychological tension unusually hidden beneath an intelligent script. The attention to deail in Eggar’s ‘room’ in the cellar is haunting in its evidence of Stamp’s ludicrous degree of planning. Curiously, what’s more provocative is the refusal of the screenplay to elicit dislike for Stamp’s destructive insanity. We feel for him as Eggar slips away from his possessive grasp and despite our better judgement are knowlingly complicit in wanting Eggar to remain and fall in love with her charming, if schizophrenic, jailer. This is all the more perplexing as we are well-aware this can never happen, at least not in a way which could see Eggar survive her ordeal alive.
Wyler uses frequent close-up shots of both Stamp and Eggar’s emotion-filled faces with Stamp’s quivering eyes and Eggar’s ‘rabbit-in-the-headlights’ look constantly thrown across the screen. You’d think the chemistry between the two would be dominated by negativity but that’s not the case. The score is largely responsible for this, being a touching melody more suited to a doomed romance than anything more macabre. At times, there are clear moments of ‘Stockholm syndrome’ which Stamp of course sees as incremental steps towards his goal but, in reality, are purely the consequence of emotional and physical dependency of a captive locked in a deep cellar.
Given the time that the film was made, it is not surprising that it manages to avoid any themes of an overtly sexual nature. It is not carnal gratification that is sought but aesthetic beauty and timeless companionship. Indeed, the one scene in which sex is explicitly on-display is brought to an abrupt end by a vexed Stamp who decries Eggar as a mere lady of the night.
There are two scenes which are so well-orchestrated by Wyler that they require particular attention. The first is a grueling suspense set-up as we watch water spill over the bathtub and down the stairs towards a visitor to Stamp’s lair, threatening to expose his sinister exercise in imprisonment to the wider world. The second is a heightened argument between captive and captor as to the merits of modern art and ‘high-brow’ literature and its descent into a physically threatening tryst.
The subject matter should make for an uncomfortable viewing experience but it’s a film which is ashamedly enjoyable; and every one of us, in our darkest moments, should be be able to see at least some vestigaes of a mirror image in Stamp’s pitifully lonesome character. The ‘unhappy’ ending is initially heart-breaking and subsequently menacing; but in an uncanny way, the audience is quietly envious of Stamp’s next victim.
Brutally effective cinema.
hotdog rating : 9/10