Tuesday, April 26, 2011

I Finally Watched Saw I.


The first goddamn film came out in 2004. Remember 2004? It was a long time ago. It was 2004, and Saw was released and everyone was like, "HAVE YOU SEEN SAW?"
My high school media cohort especially, couldn't get enough of the film. Our classroom was filled with all manner of hyperbole fapping, all manner of "It's sooooooo innovative, it's so INVENTIVE, it's just, a different class of horror film guys." You couldn't escape it, and probably rightly so. James Wan and Leigh Whannell had (from all accounts) created something startlingly simple and original in a year of film seemingly dominated by sequels.

Since then, there have been six sequels. SIX of them. Saw is a franchise now. With every new year comes a new calender, and a new Saw film. A new sequel topping the last film's topper, like some sort of grimy warehouse rusting metal jigsaw Blake Edwards. I wonder if the average Saw fan enjoys the films of Blake Edwards? I don't know. Maybe? I'd wager probably not (although feel free to prove me wrong, Blake Edwards-loving torture-porn enthusiasts).

Look, that assertion most likely makes me sound like a snob. And while I know that I'm prone to bursts of snobbery at times (sorry), I promise that as far as snobs go, I can be pretty low-brow. As it happens, until a couple of nights ago I had only seen Saw sequels number three, four, five, six and seven. Know why? It's because every year, without fail, my best friends would want to see the latest Saw film. That, in turn, was what my best friends and I did. We watched a shit-tonne of horror films.

The campy shit ones. The well-made, tightly-wound thrillers. Everything from every damn Friday the 13th films to The Exorcist. The Haunting to Wolf Creek to House of a Thousand Corpses to The Shining. In the right setting, and while in the right mood, there are a very small number of things I enjoy more than scaring the absolute snot out of myself. If I'm cowering under a pillow in genuine fright or screeching with laughter, it matters little. There's something ridiculously enjoyable about yelling at the stupid characters onscreen, making high-pitched yelps of mostly-laughter at the sight of that much blood, or the fright that you know is about to occur leaping out of the darkness with a knife or rusty axe or wrench.

That's why I've seen all of the Saw sequels. That's the five SHIT sequels, not the original film nor the adequate (apparently) first sequel. In fact, I saw the latest, SAW 3D on the goddamn opening weekend. On the way to each of those sequel screenings, I'd complain loudly, demanding to know why we had to see something we knew was going to be terrible. Deep down however, I knew I was going to get some sort of enjoyment out of it.


As to why I never got around to watching the first one though... I'm not entirely sure. I remember back in the days when "the ending of Saw!" was yet to be common knowledge, someone spilled the beans on the twist. Oh. I thought. The dead guy's alive the entire time? Cool, bro. I later told TG that someone had ruined the ending for me, and he was utterly horrified.
"How could they tell you?! That's SO SHIT DUDE! Now ... now you'll never have that moment of surprise! GOD. THEY'VE RUINED IT!"

It didn't matter that much to me. I knew what happened. Didn't really need to see it anymore. No rush. I'd see it when I felt like it. Then, given my status as a growing sixteen-year-old movie snob, I decided films like Mean Streets and Barry Lyndon were to be further up the "To Watch" list. Soz, Saw. So I watched all the sequels and never got around to the one that started it.

Then, the other night, it was on TV. Well, shit son!
"Are you ready for this?" I asked George, my bear.
"Shit son, hell yes!" He replied.

So we watched Saw.

It was actually really good.

In fact, it was really enjoyable.

In fact, the way that I found it enjoyable wasn't in a "OH SHIT, LOOK AT ALL THE BLOOD! THAT TRAP IS INSANE!!!" kind of way. It was in the kind of way that means I wasn't changing the channel, I didn't go to check my Facebook, and I was awake until rather late even when I had to go to work the next day. I wanted to see what happened to Dr Gordon, even though someone had told me in 2004.

I'd heard everyone tell me the following countless times, of course. It's something entirely different however, to see it for yourself.  James Wan and Leigh Whannell's (Fun fact: They're RMIT Media graduates, just like yours truly) original Saw feature-length film (seeing as I haven't seen the short) is so unlike the torture-porn extravaganzas that came afterwards, I was kind of amazed. I mean, this isn't to say that Saw is One of the Best Films Ever (it's not), but it is really very good.

Watching Saw I found myself thinking not of the absurdly and overly complicated traps, not of the horrid and increasingly gory ways in which the characters (if you can call them that) were meeting their ends. I wasn't distracted by that at all. I was marveling at how simple it was. Less is more. Keep It Simple, Stupid. Too many blood spurt cooks spoil the movie broth. Why is that so hard for people to grasp, and to appreciate?

"How did the sequels start getting so shit??"

Two guys wake up in a room, with a dead body already there. They're chained up, they're given the rules to the "game" they suddenly find themselves in. Why are they there? What do they need to do to survive? How far will they go to survive? Isn't that Prince Westley?

What struck me the most, was the severe lack of gore and limbs and over the top torturous violence we see. Ponder, for a second, one of the traps in the latest, Saw VII. Sir Chester of Bennington (he of Linkin Park fame) is stuck in a car. The car hovers above his girlfriend's face. His friend is tied to the wall, in the car's trajectory. There's another person in the room, but I can't remember where. Chester has a few minutes to RIP HIMSELF FROM THE CAR SEAT (thus ripping the skin off his back), otherwise his girlfriend gets a tyre to the face and his two pals get fucked on by the car. I don't really think I'm giving too much away if I say they all die. At any rate, we as the audience get to see everything that happens to them. The face getting smooshed, Chester's skin getting ripped off, his friend getting a car to the tummy. It's unpleasant as fuck, I'll tell you that much.

Of course, at times it does reach a point that's so over the top, that one can't help but stop taking any of it seriously, and just laugh. That point does occasionally get reached. But is that point's existence (in a film that isn't a piss-take by design), and the franchise's eagerness to top the last film's worst trap indicative of a rather sad trend in horror films? Certainly I think that's a topic worthy of discussion at length on its own. Just quickly though, I do think that TORTURE PORN is robbing the horror genre of a certain amount of class. And by class, I mean quality storytelling.

Not just how gory and disgusting and vomit-inducing a film can be, but a reliance on true suspense, interesting characters and a sense of doom/dread/horror in the story. Sure, a bit of splatter and gore is good on occasion. In fact, didn't I just say I love a bit of stupid gore? I definitely do. Perhaps what I mean is that I all to often hear people measuring a horror film's worth and success on how gory it is. If it's not gory, and if it's a little bit more slow-paced, it's "BORING AND REALLY GAY". That is what I think is a shame. A film is not good because it's gory. Neither is a film good because it's slow and serious. So like I said, I'm up for a bit of gore, but I don't want two hours of limbs being ripped out of sockets and cars being dropped on faces and then have someone tell me it was "an amazing horror film". If I actually want to get scared scared, I'll sooner watch The Exorcist.

Anyway. Back to Saw. What I'm getting at (in a ranty, roundabout way) is that the first Saw film doesn't rely on over the top traps (OMG WHEN SHE GETS TOO LOUD THE DRILLS GET CLOSER TO HER FACE AND HAS LESS TIME TO RIP THE KEY OUT FROM INSIDE HER STOMACH) and excessive amounts of gore and blood to incite fear and suspense. The two men are stuck in one room, rather than an obstacle course of traps. We don't even see Cary Elwes cut off his foot. We see a couple of other traps, but we don't see faces being snapped open or eyes being drilled. And I believe the film's a classier one for that. Sure, pretty much everyone dies by the end, but I give a shit when the film's last act is happening before me and everything and everyone is getting so utterly pooed.

The credits rolled and I looked at the time and I groaned, knowing I'd be akin to a zombie at work in a mere few hours. But I also was quite pleased. Pleased because I'd finally watched Saw. And also because I felt as if I'd watched a really solid, really interesting and really entertaining film. Job well done. Of course, I then spent a while wondering how on earth Whannell and Wan had let the sequels become so utterly bad, but that isn't the point.

Point is, you should go re-watch Saw. You'll probably dig it, and get kind of nostalgic as well.

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