That sly, sadistic killer Jigsaw is the undisputed MVP of the Saw series, savagely tormenting and destroying his morally compromised victims across eight films — not to mention inspiring copycat mayhem from beyond the grave.
Second only to the serial slayer in terms of orchestrating the franchise's fright is Darren Lynn Bousman, director of four Saw movies (2005’s Saw II, which he also co-wrote, 2006’s Saw III, 2007’s Saw IV, and this year’s Chris Rock-starring spin-off Spiral: From the Book of Saw) — the most of any filmmaker in the bloody saga.
In our latest MVPs of Horror profile (watch above), the 42-year-old Kansas native explained why the Saw movies continue to remain so popular 17 years after the James Wan-directed original.
“I think there's a couple of reasons,” Bousman said. “One, there are no monsters in Saw. Saw is human nature at its worst — or best — depending on which way you look at it. But it's people doing things to each other. And I think that that immediately becomes more relatable than watching an unkillable monster. Secondly, I think that there are messages in the Saw films. You know, some people are so quick to dismiss them as torture porn. But there are really heavy messengers there.”
Bousman points to his personal experience coming onboard the franchise, when an unrelated spec script he wrote called The Desperate grabbed Lionsgate’s attention and was ultimately rewritten as Saw II.
“If you look at what the early Saw films are about, it's about a man [Tobin Bell’s John Kramer, aka Jigsaw] who's dying of cancer, who is distraught and disturbed that all those around him that have life, that have health, are wasting it or squandering it, [and] don't realize this precious gift of life they have. So he takes it on himself to say, ‘Appreciate your life. I'm going to put you in this situation for you to understand what you truly have.’
“The time that I got Saw, both of my parents, my mom and dad, both were diagnosed with cancer months from each other. I remember that my dad, who was this very strong guy, I saw him weak, and I saw him going through all of his radiation or chemo. … And I would get mad at people that I would see: these obese people or smoking people or people that were doing drugs. And it made me mad. I was like, ‘Here's this amazing man who raised this family and is struggling for everything.’ And then you see all these other people that are just taking advantage of what they have. And so it hit a place for me and I understood Jigsaw’s message a little bit more than I had.” (Bousman happily reports that both of his parents beat cancer.)
And then of course there’s the blood and guts, paramount to any horror movie, but certainly presented in grislier fashion through the Saw saga.
“We like seeing disturbing stuff,” Bousman says. “I know I do. The fanbase likes disturbing stuff. And I think we present the kills in more clever ways than just shooting people or stabbing people. They're clever. And so I think when you add all those elements together, it makes us really macabre stew that people like.”
Indeed the Saw movies are famous for their complex death traps, oftentimes involving victims forced to instigate their own mutilation. But when asked to name a favorite kill he’s executed, Bousman prefers the ones that were not as complicated.
“I think that to me, Saw II will always hold a special place because the majority of the traps in Saw II were simplistic,” he says. “You could understand them at a glance. You didn't need a complex tape telling you everything about it. One of my favorite ones is the most simplistic and it wasn't even really supposed to be a trap in the movie. It was just supposed to be a shot.
“Kevin Greutert, the editor, made it a trap in the editing, which was the scene where Addison [Emmanuelle Vaugier] went in and put her arms in a box that cut her wrists so she couldn’t pull them out. They were all simple, but I love that.”