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The Collectors Reviews

Why would anyone want to own a painting by a murderer like John Wayne Gacy, Richard "The Night Stalker" Ramirez or Henry Lee Lucas, really bad guys responsible for grotesque serial killings? That's the question posed, if never satisfactorily answered, by this documentary portrait of two Louisiana-based collectors of "Killer Art," Tobias Allen and Rick Staton. Staton and Allen are also dealers, and the film is structured around a 1999 "Death Row Art Show" Allen and Staton arranged in Houston, TX. That the show featured work by Elmer Wayne Henley — who, with the notorious Dean Corll and another accomplice, murdered at least 27 Houston-area youths in the early '70s — insured that it drew the curious and the furious in equal numbers. Filmmaker Julian Hobbs avoids taking a moral position on collecting, letting interviews with victims' families and victims' rights advocates carry the weight of societal disapproval. He also includes comments from experts like author Harold Schecter, who's written extensively about real-life serial killers, and painter Joe Coleman, longtime connoisseur of the creepy. Both Staton and Allen are articulate and seem to be fairly intelligent, which makes it all the more frustrating that they don't explain their interest in macabre tchotchkes more thoroughly; they do, however, manage to make themselves look like cackling ghouls as they run around scooping up souvenirs from crime scenes. Hobbs clearly has some ideas about the warped values of all collectors and the perverse allure of serial murders under certain controlled circumstances, but ultimately his film doesn't shed much light on the motives that drive Allen, Staton and, by extension, others like them. It will horrify people who had no idea a subculture of killer collectibles existed, and leave viewers more familiar with the subject wishing it had dug a little deeper.