"Hopefully, people who saw the 'Saw' movies will see that 'The Collector' does have that feeling," said Liddell, a Norman native and University of Oklahoma graduate. "There are parts of it with traps set up throughout the house that will give you all the thrills that the 'Saw' series does, but to me, it's actually more like an action-thriller. I'm on the edge of my seat every time I see it. And I've seen it 30 times."
Having opened in limited release at theaters July 31, "The Collector" has earned more than $6.5 million in its first two weekends a penance compared to a studio blockbuster, but a windfall for a small-scale indie made on a reported $2 million budget.
Those numbers are especially sweet, given that the film almost bypassed theaters entirely.
Originally titled "The Midnight Man" (not to mention briefly considered as a "Saw" prequel), "The Collector" was abandoned by Dimension Films (the shingle behind the "Scream" trilogy) and destined for a straight-to-DVD release until Liddell swooped in and saved the day.
"I came in at some point in the editing room and said, 'Gosh, I think there's a good movie here,'" he said. "So we bought it from Dimension, re-shot a lot of it, renamed it and kind of made it more cohesive. If you like scary movies, this one really delivers."
True to Liddell's word, the Dunstan-directed "The Collector" is a nifty horror-thriller about Arkin (Josh Stewart, TV's "Dirt"), a kindhearted, blue-collar worker forced by extenuating circumstances to rob the house of his well-to-do employer. While trying to crack the safe one night, Arkin discovers another criminal element in the home: the dark-suited, spider-eyed "collector" of the title, so named because of the intricate traps he has laid amid its halls, walls, floors, doors and windows.
So, instead of draining the family of wads of cash, Arkin attempts to save their hides, as the silent killer aims to torture them all.
Expect extreme bloodletting " no surprise for a film with a scene in which a dining room floor is carpeted in bear traps. "The Collector" went four rounds with the MPAA in order to have its NC-17 reduced to an R. Ultimately, trimming seven seconds did the trick.
"It reminds me of the first time I saw 'Saw' or 'Hostel," Liddell said. "You really go, 'Oh, I can't believe this is happening.' It's one of those movies that at the end of it, you go, 'Oh, my gosh, I'm exhausted.'"
The fright flick is not Liddell's first foray into horror, having made his directorial debut with last fall's ghost story "The Haunting of Molly Hartley." Prior to that, his credits were strictly as producer, on such projects as the 1999 cult comedy "Go" and the TV series "Everwood" and "Jack & Bobby."
"Molly Hartley"'s low budget may make it a spiritual cousin to "The Collection," but Liddell warned the similarities end there.
"That was made just for teen girls. It's PG-13 and we couldn't do any of this stuff we do in 'The Collector,'" he said. "I think people have to understand the real core horror audience is never going to go see 'Haunting of Molly Hartley.' And there's people I would not recommend to go see 'The Collector' in any way. I have nieces and I'm like, 'Do not go see this. I promise you, you'll hate it.'"
No matter what the audience, Liddell said his interest in projects all boils down to the main character. It was Arkin's do-or-die situation that turned him on to "The Collector."
"I liked his story. If I can feel connected to the main character, I really get into it," he said. "But if I'm not, you just can't scare me. You can blow stuff up forever, but if I don't care about the people, it doesn't do anything for me."
Although Liddell has a comedy script in mind for his sophomore directorial outing, his next credits fall on the producing end, including an ensemble black comedy titled "The Details," starring Tobey Maguire, Elizabeth Banks and Laura Linney; and October's Chris Rock documentary, "Good Hair." Rod Lott