To some, the sheeple who year after year line up and waste their money on the latest installment of the Saw series are everything wrong with the moviegoing audience. They are mindless fools, eating up the fake blood and pig intestines like their lives depend on it, ruining horror films, not to mention film in general, in the process, as they champion torture porn and the no-longer-shocking banality of a horror franchise cash-cow.
Well, my friends, I am sheeple; hear me baaahh.
In this life, we all have a guilty pleasure for which we feel little to no guilt. We understand that we are supposed to be ashamed of this particular predilection, and we may even understand why, but for any number of reasons, we are unable to feel the guilt and shame that others ascribe to our object of enjoyment.
This is how I feel about the Saw movies. And they’ve got me for life.
Like all people desperate to defend something they like, suddenly rendered explanation-less by the opportunity to do so, I would like to hit out at one of the key criticisms against it: the torture porn notion. I understand the concept of torture porn. I’ve seen films that can categorically be deemed “torture porn.” I don’t think the Saw movies fall into that group. For starters, there are few if any lingering shots of torture or pain being inflicted upon the victims. Movies like Captivity and the two Hostels, particularly the second, yes, torture porn.
At the minimum, at least Saw has a story. People, traps, need to save themselves, backstory, Tobin Bell’s hollow cheek structure, twist ending, bombastic theme music playing over twist ending reveal (dun dun dun DUN DUN DUN!). Stuff happens. The story is not merely designed as a thin frame to showcase the finest in pain and the suffering of others. Also, in this post-Shyamalan world, the Saw films have managed to be some of the few churn out somewhat interesting twists (save for the fifth one. Poor city planning as the surprise ending? Really?)
Horror is a mixed bag, and perhaps more subjective than any other genre. Films generally accepted as good are rarities, and I’m not sure I can recall what the last majority-approved American horror film would be, appreciated by the general audience and horror purists. Possibly The Sixth Sense, though that movie has a now built-in hindsight bias.
I feel as though a great deal of the backlash surrounding Saw is actually against what it lead to. While I wouldn’t describe the films as “torture porn” per se, it did help popularize the idea and lead to copycats. But it didn’t do it alone. The blood was already in the water, with movies like Ichi the Killer finding a cult following, and the Texas Chainsaw remake hitting big. Laugh at me if you want, but the whole concept of torture porn is negative and ugly, whereas Saw is strangely life-affirming. In the most morbid, most explodey-head way, the over-arching message of the franchise is that life is super and you should appreciate it. You don’t get that with The Girl Next Door or I Spit On Your Grave.
I, like everyone else, am bothered by the recent need to add shock to horror films by throwing in a bunch of rape. Saw is rape-free. The modern PG-13 horror flicks find scares in sound effects and psych-outs. Saw has Donnie Wahlberg’s head exploding like a Gallagher watermelon. The Saw franchise is free of too-skinny ingenues, annoying comic relief sidekick characters, and they are—to me at least—a series of original and decent horror films made in the USA.
I’m for it. Saw: won’t you?