So it’s Halloween week. And undoubtedly, people of all ages are excited for Thursday night – I know I am. Halloween brings people together to have fun, make memories, and of course, start November off with a sugar coma. But today, I’d like to mention something that I miss about the weekend of October 31st.
Nearly ten years ago, a film with a $1.2 million budget slashed its way into American theatres and made nearly $60 million at the U.S. box office alone. The movie, which was the brainchild of Australian filmmakers James Wan and Leigh Whannell, spawned a huge horror movie series that became one of the most startling and original franchises that the horror genre had seen in years. I’m talking, of course, about the Saw franchise.
From the creepy, unsettling opening shots of the original Saw back in 2004, to the vicious twist endings of every film since then, the Saw series has done everything a horror franchise should: it’s enthralled, captivated, frightened, and riveted everyone who has seen them. As of today, the entire series has grossed (literally and figuratively) over $873 million worldwide, unadjusted for inflation.
But contrary to popular belief, the heart of Saw isn’t blood, gore, and torture alone. No, the heart is the deranged, brilliant man behind the on-screen insanity – John Kramer, AKA the Jigsaw Killer.
Jigsaw is introduced via flashbacks in the first Saw film; in fact, he is not seen until the shocking, memorable finale in the final minute and a half of screen time. He abducts victims who have run afoul of the law (or have some other glaring moral weakness) and puts them in lethal situations where they must find a way to survive. The idea is that they must find a way to survive these tests and become a better person in the end. The name “serial killer” is a misnomer for Jigsaw, as he has never directly murdered anybody. His nickname comes from his calling card – he leaves a jigsaw-shaped scar on his victims’ bodies if they didn’t complete the test. In fact, in Saw II, Jigsaw mentions he dislikes the nickname, and that it was purely intended to be symbolic of his victims’ lack of survival instinct – that they were missing a vital piece of the human puzzle.
The Saw series has always been polarizing to critics and audiences alike. Strong language. Graphic, brutal violence and torture. It’s been derided as “torture porn” and labeled as “snuff films.” Some people say that it’s only for die-hard, gore-happy horror fans.
Jigsaw himself is a fascinating study in psychology, but perhaps even more interesting is how civil engineer John Kramer became wanted madman Jigsaw. John was a successful man with a beautiful wife, Jill, who was expecting a baby boy. But she suffered a tragic miscarriage (as seen in Saw IV flashbacks). A devastated John couldn’t bear with the pain, and he and Jill eventually drifted apart and divorced. Shortly thereafter, John was diagnosed with terminal colon cancer. Not long after that, John attempted suicide by driving his car off a cliff, but survived. He then began to realize how much everyone (including himself) takes their life for granted. As Jigsaw later puts it in the second film, “I dedicated the rest of my life to testing the fabric of human nature.”
Make no mistake: Jigsaw is one of the most iconic villains of the last decade. And he may have revolutionized the modern horror genre with his sickly clever traps and torture devices. The fact remains that, unlike typical horror villains, we are driven to understand him and why he does the things he does. Unlike Freddy or Jason, he hasn’t miraculously resurrected himself or come back from the dead even more bloodthirsty than before. The creators of Saw were smart enough to use Jigsaw (and gifted actor Tobin Bell) repeatedly and keep him a part of the storyline even well after his death.
So who is Jigsaw?
Is he a deranged mastermind of human torture? Probably.
Is he some kind of twisted philanthropist? Theoretically.
Is he a vital part of horror movie lore and one of the main reasons people love this franchise? Undoubtedly.
This character and this franchise are missed. Even by someone who usually doesn’t like horror movies.