Grisly "Collection" easily betters its predecessor

The Collection (2012)
82 min., rated R.

With their first claim to fame being the scribes for the last four "Saw" movies ("Saw IV," "Saw V," "Saw VI," and "Saw 3D: The Final Chapter"), writer-director Marcus Dunstan and co-writer Patrick Melton melded a home-invasion setup with torture-porn in the 2009 slice-and-dice horror thriller "The Collector." It was an efficient, brutally nasty piece of work but ultimately just another pointless exercise in unpleasantness. The sequel, logically titled "The Collection," is the filmmakers' second chance and it more or less makes the cut. For one, these movies have a leg up on "Saw" by not only rivaling the torture devices and gore but by being the total opposite in storytelling, which is so lean, economical, and taut, while that once-inventive franchise became burdened by over-plotting in its mythology.

When "The Collection" begins, the twice-convicted jewel thief, Arkin (Josh Stewart), is still missing and the masked, serial-killing mastermind is still at large, having the unnamed city living in fear. When and where he will strike next might be sooner than anyone thinks. Meet Elena (Emma Fitzpatrick), the teenage daughter of a wealthy man (Christopher McDonald), who goes out for the night to a rave party in a shady side of town with her two friends. Once they get into the crowded top-secret club, the collector turns the dance floor into a killing floor in one messy sweep, mowing down every partier, except for Elena. Before being captured and stuffed into a red trunk herself, she stumbles upon Arkin and sets him free. Taken to the hospital, the injured Arkin is then approached by Lucello (Lee Tergesen), Elena's long-time bodyguard, who wants the recent captive to lead him and his team of mercenaries to the collector's lair, the Hotel Argento (get it?). Can they get past all the booby traps to take down the so-called collector? Is Elena a goner? 

Wince-inducingly grisly, without lingering on the sadism as much, and preposterous, without insulting our intelligence, "The Collection" ups the ante with a distressingly to-the-point setup, slicker production values, and a more rapid pace. The most memorable set-piece happens to be the first, the nightclub-set Grand Guignol giving the first "Blade" movie's rave blood-shower sequence a run for its money, and never have so many grinding extras turned up dead since "Piranha 3-D." Director Dunstan and his lighting technicians certainly didn't spare atmosphere in the house of "The Collector," but the hotel in "The Collection" is even better. With this atmospheric, labyrinthine house of horrors designed for an amusement park, the production designers spared no expense, filling it with a hallway of mannequins, a corpse pit at the bottom of a laundry shoot, a gang of zombified prisoners, a plethora of bear traps and other nasty goodies. Many of the eviscerations are of the abrupt variety involving hooks and other pointy objects, but there's a bit that will get arachnophobes squealing, a tense moment that employs a strobe-light effect, and a jaw-dropping moment where Elena has to re-break Arkin's forearm for resourceful reasons. 

Again, the collector himselfamounting to an anonymous, personality-free psycho that sometimes growls behind that corset mask—almost makes one yearn for "Saw's" Jigsaw and all his chatty, "moral" game-playing. This movie monster just seems like he has nothing better to do. The method to his madness is explained more so here, and he thankfully loses some of his superhuman powers, but the collector's identity (and his face) is wisely still kept a mystery. Also, there's a stand-by in horror thrillers where a character hides from their captor just in the nick of time. Here, Elena does this a few times, and it absurdly ignores all logistical impossibilities. As Elena, a young woman who's lost her mother at a young age, caught her boyfriend cheating on her, witnessed her friend's splattery demise, and stands as the most important thing in her father's life, the pixie-haired Fitzpatrick makes an appealingly spunky and determined but still vulnerable heroine. Reprising his role as Arkin, a convict-turned-victim-turned-survivor, the gruff Stewart is solid. One of the few supporting standouts is Erin Way as the creepy, doll-faced Abby, one of the collector's unstable collectibles. 

This one's not really for the general populace but for its niche audience of thrill seekers and Fangoria readers—don't be embarrassed, you know who you are. It's still too soon to assess if these movies will become long in the tooth like the "Saw" franchise, but given the satisfying, kick-ass conclusion, a third movie hopefully won't be diminishing returns. "The Collection" won't make your heart stop, but it's a blood-spurting, involving-enough quickie until something more horrifying comes along.

Grade: B -