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"We went too far!": 'Project Greenlight' graduate Marcus Dunstan on his incendiary new horror movie 'The Collector'

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the-collector-20091Writer-director Marcus Dunstan loves to set himself on fire for the camera. Well, perhaps “loves” isn’t quite the right word. But he sure does it a lot. Dunstan roasted his own flesh on three separate occasions while making student films and he did it again for home invasion horror-thriller The Collector, his directorial debut which opens tomorrow. “There’s a scene where we needed to have a zippo lighter burn a character’s hand” says Dunstan, 34. “I didn’t want to hurt the actor and I didn’t have a good enough fake hand, so we burned mine. You’ll see the hairs curl up and you’ll the skin start to smoke. And that’s me!”

Dunstan’s introduction to Hollywood was, appropriately, enough a trial-by-fire. His script Feast, which he penned with writing partner Patrick Melton, was turned into a movie on the third season of the throw-a-bunch-of-people-together-and-see-if-they-can-make-a film reality show Project Greenlight. “I was working at a retirement home during the day and then at Blockbuster until two in the morning” he says of his pre-Greenlight life. “All of a sudden, you get a phone call: ‘Hey, remember that horror script? We’re gonna make it!’ The negative part is you do sign a document that allows them to portray you in a way that’s not necessarily how things go all the time. But it was really a golden ticket story.”

the-collector_lIndeed, Dunstan and Melton have since written two Feast sequels and three Saw movies as well as the hyper-violent Collector, a home invasion horror movie with a twist. “There’s a young man named Arkin (Josh Stewart) who befriends families moving to country homes.” explains Dunstan. “His true intention is to case the home and then, on the first weekend the family is gone, rob them. On this night, he discovers, to his horror, that the family never made it out of town. They’re chained up in the basement and they’re being hurt and killed by a predator far more vicious than himself. It culminates in a brutal war. It’s primal. We just hope people can make it through.”

Not everyone has. The writer-director says at the recent Comic-Con one couple fled a screening after just ten minutes: “The girlfriend was crying and saying, ‘I just can’t! I just can’t!’  It was in her best interest to go. Because that was when the movie was at a three. 40 minutes in we jack it up to nine. And it ultimately finishes somewhere at about 19.” Dunstan says it took four visits to the MPAA to secure an R-rating but that, in the end, their notes proved beneficial to the final result. “I think we went too far” he admits. “The MPAA brought us back to a point where it maintains all of the impact,  and now it lands even more real. The gore we ended up cutting out only amounted to about seven seconds. But it was frames here and there that really went beyond the realm of good taste.”