Marcus Dunstan, along with co-writer Patrick Melton, crafted his sequel “The Collection” as a response to the recent glut of found footage horror cluttering theaters and store shelves. As he told me in a chat via phone, he said that while some found footage films have merit, there’s been an erosion of the type of horror that truly affected him as a young fan. Movies made with the care, beauty, and respect for imagery of Dario Argento’s giallo classics “Suspiria”, “Inferno,” and the like. In our conversation, Dunstan shared insight on “The Collection’s” gruesome (and hilariously horrifying) opening bloodbath that sees (spoiler alert!) a club full of horror archetypes slaughtered by a giant wheat thresher(!), the origin of his future slasher icon The Collector, and more, including an update on the eagerly-anticipated “God of War” adaptation that he and Melton are writing.
MTV Geek: How did you come with that opening scene?
Marcus Dunstan: The opening scene was a response to just the dirge of teen slashers that are predictable. So we lined up every stereotype; we had the sassy friend who’s got quite the mouth and you know that she’s probably going to be the second to last victim to die terribly, but she’s got that young brother that really has a crush on the main girl who is still just smarting from the recent breakup with her cheating boyfriend and wouldn’t you know it, they’re all that the club! So, now by the time that whole plotline would have played out you can actually hear the mental groan when all those characters are kind of wandering in — like “I know where this is going to go” — and what the thresher represents, as it descends form the ceiling, is out acknowledgement of, “yes, we know that movie would’ve gone that way all well, but what if we didn’t see it at all?” WHAM! BOOM! [Laughs] And it’s done! And then the adults from the John Frankenheimer movie step over all these deceased kids and look to step on a bully’s neck for all of us. I think that was the more interesting movie.
Geek: Why was it important for you to lierally slaughter the expectations of the audience?
MD: Because, it was also a reaction to how many films were just following that same pattern and I definitely approached with the element of dark humor — “Oh wait they’re not going to…OOOO! Well surely they won’t…OOOOOO! Well at least…NOOOO!” [Laughs] That thought of defying the expectation and straight up lie to the audience right away and alter the structure of what the story should be, so by minute ten you’ve done three acts of a typical teen slasher structure and you’re out of it. And you’re kind of just going right to the part utilizing any element of violence to develop of threat level for the villain not just waste time, if you will. So we’re starting two things with that opening, you can expect the unexpected and our villain has been practicing.
Geek: Speaking of the villain — he’s a masked killer — how do you come with a character like that at this point, what are we 40 years out of “Halloween” at this point?
MD: We’re not only 40 years out of “Halloween” but we’re double that from the initial slasher story, Agatha Christie’s “And Then There Were None.” November 6, 1939, she released the story of a silent stalker taking down ten people on an isolated island and it was an instant classic. Some forty years after that Kevin Bacon gets an arrow through the neck in a filmed homage to that very same story type. And it in itself spawned ten movie sequels in which it was the masked killer, and we knew who it was. But this character, our Collector, was really personifying a shadow.
When I was a kid I was attacked by a German Shepherd. It was the most frightening thing I had on the books at the time. And when the shepherd jumped it was just adhering to its functions. I out my hands defensively and grabbed the sides of the shepherd’s cheeks. And then I learned, to my horror, that all that does it kind of prevents it from getting a little closer, because the jaw extends beyond the skin another half-inch. So these glistening teeth and the slobber was slapping me in the eyelashes and all I could see was into the eyes of the shepherd. And they were very complacent, you couldn’t register anger, you couldn’t register any anger whatsoever, it was simply function. So with that in mind — I was lucky that my grandmother who was a merchant marine in World War 2 was able to pull the dog off me and send it on its way — but, my thought if that was a person, and if that person adopted more of the entomology angle, he was a spider looking at all of his prey like folks who could get tangled in ornate webs of his design, and he just watched as they toiled and struggled and became, maybe even succumbed to panic, and he would just creep down from the shadows, stare a little while, and complete his purpose. His function being, he’s just this bizarro artist that wants to re-imagine those he looks down upon as works of art.
I saw that there were enough twists and turns in that brain mechanism to merit creating this entity, this macabre villain that maybe was born somewhere in the 70’s giallo movies, and mixed with a little modern effects chutzpah, could be a good time. There are many other ways that we can scare an audiences, but I wanted to contribute this type of villain with this type of filmmaking and give a hug to the movies that kept me up very late at night watching through parted fingers, which were the Dario Argento thrillers of the late 70’s, early 80’s. And they were beautiful, they were shot beautifully, and they just scared me so deeply. And there hadn’t been a modern interpretation of that stateside that folks could check out.
Geek: How did the Argento movies specifically influence this film?
MD: The two in particular that I was very fond of was “Suspiria” and “Inferno.” “Suspiria” was one of the last films to use the technicolor matrix system, that is, you take a band of film, nothing digital about it, and you color band by band, with bold colors — gold, red, blue — and it in itself was shot almost like a fairytale. Every sequence was designed the most artistic impact, when it comes to violence, when it comes to blood-letting, yes, it’s extreme and it’s horrifying, but there is a beauty to it. And that movie taught me, it was bracketed in the time by grunge, by hand-held, by all this cruelty and viciousness. And you couldn’t see much craft in the filmmaking. But yet there is this one about witches in a ballet academy — “Suspiria” — where it is just hypnotic. And I thought okay, well I have been tasked to bring action, and horror, and this villain and his sleek black look with his complacent reflective eyes, I would like to also see if we can’t take a few moments here and see if we can’t make it beautiful. And I thought as a movie, that we stand apart from the recent wave of found footage films in which it all seems to be about the same digital, impaired darkness. Shake the camera, a big sound a door slams, and “WHAT WAS THAT” is the only plot point they have to go on. I wanted to see it. I wanted it to look stunning, and I wanted to still scare with that technique while having it have the luster of beautiful 35mm, anamorphic film. A dying breed in its own right. So I was very, very fortunate to have those tools to really show affection for those films of yesteryear and bring it back and I like how aggressively different it is from the first “Collector” where we had a modest budget, a modest scale, and by comparison, this time we were able to just load a cannon and shoot, and it was great!
Geek: You’ve touched on this two times so far, but what are your thoughts on modern horror right now.? You were very integral in part of it, with all the “Saw” movies; but you weren’t into this found footage that’s happening, and I get the feeling that you’re not a fan of found footage.
MD: I’m a fan of good horror movies, and I’ve seen a lot of good found footage horror movies, but in looking at the terrain, before you even set out to make a movie, like “The Collection” you also look at what else is being made in the sense to not copy, but to stand out. I looked at two years of potential product that was coming out, and it was eighty percent found footage. It was zero percent 35mm anamorphic film with a ten million dollar budget. Now it’s such a fight to get horror movies really in that buffer above five, six, seven million bucks, it’s just easy to make it for less, slam a few doors, and shake the camera, and call it a day. I would say, I just saw on recently called “Hunted” that is a marvelous found footage film. But it’s made and it’s crafted much closer to filmmaking than shaky-shaky. It wrapped me in just like any other film would. I think that it has a place. And I also don’t want to brow-beat found footage before I’ve done it, because I also don’t want to be speaking from a point of “well I haven’t done one,” because you know, I might just go do one. And see if I can’t add what I find missing. But we shall see.
Geek: What’s going on with the “God of War” movie, it feels like it’s been in production forever. What’s happening?
MD: It was literally turned in last week. So it’s as fresh as fresh can be.
Geek: Can you give us any information about it?
MD: [Laughs] I can tell you verbatim, I have been gag ordered. It’s under lock and key and I think for very good reasons. Man, I hope this film gets made so much because it is awesome! I say that like a high school kid with devil horns in the air, revving a car, spinning outside in the lot. It is awesome. And I really think it deserves to be made. Because we’ve seen so many interpretations of the sword and sandal films as of yet, but we have not seen anything like this.
Geek: Thanks, Marcus!
“The Collection” is on Blu-ray/DVD/VOD and Ultraviolet today, March 26!