Starting this Hallow's Eve, for one week only, the 2004 torture thriller Saw is coming back to the big screen.
Like The Blair Witch Project, Halloween, and other independent horror films before it, Saw is a gritty film that rose above its budgetary constraints and captured the imaginations of horror fans around the world.
Focusing on two men trapped in an underground industrial bathroom by a demented killer, Saw was produced on a slim budget of $1.2 million, and it went on to gross over $100 million worldwide. Writer-directors James Wan and Leigh Whannell, who struggled to produce the film in their home country of Australia, ended up making it in Los Angeles — realizing the Hollywood dream.
This week, I'm talking about the film's influence with horror directors from around the world.
Marc Roussel and Mark Thibodeau, Canada (Their grimy, Saw-inspired short film, The Last Halloween, played last month at the Diabolique International Film Festival in Bloomington.)
Ten years ago, with a few blessed exceptions, the horror genre was dominated by campy CGI-fests like 13 Ghosts, Americanized J-Horror like The Ring, big budget remakes of grindhouse classics like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and Final Destination sequels. It was in this environment that the trailer for Saw came washing over the culture like a river of blood, carrying with it the promise of something else; something beyond what had come before. Saw was the first movie to come along in a long, long time that literally had us afraid to go into the theater for fear of what lay in wait for us there. After the terrorist attacks of September 11, a lot of us thought that nothing so trivial as a horror movie would ever be able to scare us again. Saw proved us wrong. For that reason alone, Saw deserves its place alongside the greats in the pantheon of horror cinema.
Joshua Hull, U.S. (Writer-director of the Indiana-made zombie comedy, Beverly Lane, which earned him a Golden Cob award for Best Emerging Filmmaker, a positive review from famed movie website Ain’t It Cool News, and support from fans at horror conventions around the state.)
I can’t remember what movie I was seeing when I caught the Saw teaser for the first time. It engulfed me. It made me happy, excited and most of all, it made me yell out, 'What the hell?' in a packed theater. Most horror films couldn’t do that, and this was a damn teaser trailer!
So after months of waiting, the film was released and was an instant hit. It was this grimy, violent horror film that wanted you to squirm, wanted you to cover your eyes and it wanted to leave you talking. And it did.
Saw is a prime example of creativity thriving under budgetary constraints. The filmmakers behind it made that movie with limited resources and turned it into a mainstream hit. Much like Night of the Living Dead, The Blair Witch Project and countless other inspiring films, Saw is another professor in my own private film school.
It was original, it was fun and it gave the horror genre a much-needed boost. It also introduced the world to filmmakers James Wan and Leigh Whannell and a new horror icon in the Jigsaw killer. Saw is a horror classic, and I’m still happy to play Jigsaw’s twisted game ten years later.
Pedro Santasmarinas, Portugal (Director of the animated short film, Zombies4Kids, which kicked off the first batch of short films at the Diabolique International Film Festival)
I think James Wan and Leigh Whannell wrote a simple and gruesome realistic feature that no one was expecting. All the answers to the crime were in front of our eyes yet we did't see it because we were too concerned with the victims. It was so twisted! In a way, I think the whole franchise works as a criticism of the corrupted society we live in. It gives you a pure heart evil genius who kills for a "better world." Saw taught us that you can achieve the true meaning of horror through simplicity and realism of daily real-world behavior.
Dionysis and Manos Atzarakis, Greece (Writer-directors of the chilling short film, Santa, which also played at Diabolique)
The original Saw's greatest achievement was that it managed to take the "tools" of horror filmmaking (mainly gore and suspense) and, instead of just delivering a simple, excessive visual experience, it incorporated them as means to tell a cohesive and meaningful tale that left audiences stunned, amazed and troubled at the end. It shocked...not just visually but also mentally! It had both style and substance.