Friday, October 23rd, 2009
35

Horror Chick, With Melissa Lafsky: Why the 'Saw' Movies Are the Most Important Films Ever Made (No, Really)

THIS COULD BE YOU, PIG!There are many, many things more fun than watching the Saw movies. Like eating acid-coated glass shards. Or starring in Japanese vomit porn. Or dating a novelist. All of these rank infinitely higher on the enjoyment scale than actually sitting through the unholy torture-fetish buffet that is Saw. And yet it's the most popular horror franchise in history. Seriously, it is-at this point James Wan could slice open his tongue, lick blood on a page, Lionsgate would produce it, and it'd do $60 million in domestic box office alone.

The first Saw was entertaining for one reason only: "Is Wesley from Princess Bride SERIOUSLY gonna saw his own foot off?" And then he does, and you go "Well that was interesting." After that? The films attain a color and clarity of shit so high that it could be mined by Liberian warlords. Forehead-slappable acting, plots with less substance than an edible G-string, and grisly, awful torture scenes. I mean really viscerally unpleasant stuff. When you find yourself differentiating between the sequels by saying "It's the one where the chick gets tossed into the vat of dirty hypodermic needles" or "It's the one where the drunk driver has his arms and legs twisted off in that giant machine" you know something is wrong. There's no scare here. There's no psychological dread or built-up suspense. There's just the human body, and all of the sick disgusting things that can be done to it.

Oh and then there's Jigsaw, the most pompous serial killer in history. "Once you're in Hell, only the devil can help you out"-who SAYS shit like that?? Granted, he has his whole punishment-doling "What would you do to survive?" ideology. Murderers with ideologies are always more interesting-Idi Amin, Charles Manson, Carl Spackler. Plus Jigsaw's got that whole "dying of a terminal illness" thing, which is a nice twist. But why does he have to look like Rutger Hauer crossed with Sinead O' Connor's fetus? Plus who's funding all these large-scale torture operations? Booby-trapped houses and deadly nerve gas and rooms full of razor wire don't just purchase themselves. Is there some VC firm doling out cash for early-stage, potential-high-growth torture sprees?

But the REAL question is: Why the hell are these chunks of cinematic shite so popular? The answer is simple: American guilt. We're all thrashing around in a culture built on Me-ism-I want mine, I'll do whatever it takes to get it, and fuck everybody else. And deep down in places we don't talk about at parties, we KNOW we're steeped in a moral wasteland, and that we're little better than most criminals for spending our time worrying about how many panda-skin Jimmy Choos we can buy while a single mother of four works three jobs and still can't afford to have a fucking cavity filled.

The beauty of these movies is that they're blank slates to assuage our guilt-the scenarios are so ambiguous (random people plucked from ordinary assholery) and the characters so bland, they allow every one of us to imagine we're the guilty douche in the torture chamber/poisoned house/corpse-sprinkled public bathroom. And they let us feel better, by presenting someone worse than us (drug dealers, wife beaters), and creating some sort of internal justice system. "Sure, I wrote a few misogynistic blog comments and scowled at a homeless man, but THAT guy killed a kid with his car! He's worse than me! He deserves to have his extremities slowly twisted off by a giant Medieval crucifix!"

Bottom line: We're headed for a cultural revolution in this country-one hopes!-and it'll come down to the Me-ists versus those who believe in humanity's inherent social responsibility. The Saw movies are a perfect tool to prepare for this-they're creating an organic sense of order. So when Rome burns and the Hieronymus Bosch shit starts in earnest, we'll have a system of punishment all worked out. If you're a "Why should I pay higher taxes so the poor can have healthcare-I work hard for my money!" then it's the Iron Maiden for you. "Why should I give a shit if overseas military contractor women are getting raped-they joined up! They asked for it!" You get thumbscrews. "Why should I pay for content on the Internet-I should have everything I want for little to no cost! I'm an American, dammit!" Twisting Crucifix, with a side of nerve gas.

Oh, and yeah, Saw VI opens today. Go see it and stuff.

Melissa Lafsky really likes horror movies.

35 Comments / Post A Comment

Spoiler ale… just kidding! I could never in a million years bring myself to watch any of those movies.

btings (#2,012)

#slatepitches?

Kate Croy (#973)

Thought so too.

Bucko (#1,599)

Dating a novelist! Brilliant!

HiredGoons (#603)

"It’s the one where the chick gets tossed into the vat of dirty hypodermic needles "

WORST. THING. EVER.

cherrispryte (#444)

The freaking commercials for the Saw movies freak me out. No way am I seeing this, important or not.

LondonLee (#922)

Especially when they come on the TV at 7:00 and my three-year-old daughter is watching. Pisses me right off.

iplaudius (#1,066)

When primates see something, we experience it empathetically. I don't know if I want to moralize and say that is therefore better not to steep oneself in images of violence, gore, and horror. It's just something to think about.

saythatscool (#101)

Actually, I think it's the single mother of four who works three jobs and still can’t afford to have a fucking cavity filled that likes and patronizes these films. I have seen about 30 minutes of the first one and turned it off. Snuff films are not my speed. They are the speed of the people who lack healthcare.

Bettytron (#575)

I was under the impression that the primary audience was frat boys and high schoolers who aspire to be frat boys.

HiredGoons (#603)

Also people who like Slipknot and play way too many video games.

I had the same reaction as both of you. At the least to the extent that Jimmy Choo-wearing pandas are probably not what is propelling this franchise forward.

BurnseyBridges (#2,029)

That may be the intended audience, but the actual turnout is more than 50% female. Don't know why -maybe cause the women in the Saw series actually do stuff (gross stuff, but still). Never saw the films myself, though after reading Choire's awesome review of the latest one, I might just have to check it out.

Fredrick (#268)

As someone who loves horror movies, I sat through the first one (if you remember, there was tremendous buzz around it at the time) but I couldn't do the rest, as they are not really movies as they're 'scene collections'. But I'm the asshole who likes Eli Roth, so I can't pontificate.

beingiseasy (#1,735)

last paragraph is fantastic; you managed to work Bosch, healthcare, the iron maiden and Saw all into it. bravo. also, the Carl Spackler reference is appreciated.

Bittersweet (#765)

Second the Spackler reference appreciation. You must have inner consciousness.

flossy (#1,402)

"Is there some VC firm doling out cash for early-stage, potential-high-growth torture sprees?"

… the Department of Defense, until very recently?

JTS (#682)

The Saw films would be easier to take seriously if the Jigsaw moral universe was consistent, but it's not, which makes the entire series far less interesting and makes the whole enterprise feel like a money-grab (even more so than most Hollywood fare). It certainly means something that they are so popular, but I don't feel like you're quite on the mark here.

Heyyyyyy… Point/Counterpoint?

Flashman (#418)

If you don't watch the violence, you'll never get desensitized to it.

But seriously, by making these films Lionsgate (which I'd always thought was a company with a reputation for fine cinema?) shames both itself and a rather fine suspension bridge.
The last great Canadian horror film, IIRC, was Cube

HiredGoons (#603)

Lionsgate USED to be a company that made fine cinema.

HiredGoons (#603)

Has anyone seen the original 'The Vanishing'? Now THAT is a scary film that left my emotions in a knot and contained almost NO violence.

I don't get gore, I don't find it scary at all except in a few, well utilized cases or in a humorous vein, a la 'Evil Dead II.'

I will give SAW this, however: the dirty needle pool make my testicles crawl up into my stomach.

NicFit (#616)

Saw is nothing. Whatever you do don't watch Hostel II. That freaked my shit out for like 2 weeks.

contradicto (#443)

Seriously. Never give a lesbian a hook. That was my takeaway.

I hope your toothache gets better, Melissa.

The answer is simple: American guilt.

Looks like there's more than one thing in the theater projecting.

LondonLee (#922)

'Saw' is just a remake of the Monty Python 'Architect' sketch, but less funny:

Good morning, gentlemen. This is a twelve-storey block combining classical neo-Georgian features with the efficiency of modern techniques. The tenants arrive in the entrance hall here, and are carried along the corridor on a conveyor belt in extreme comfort and past murals depicting Mediterranean scenes, towards the rotating knives. The last twenty feet of the corridor are heavily soundproofed. The blood pours down these chutes and the mangled flesh slurps into these…

Excuse me….

Hm?

Did you say knives?

Rotating knives, yes.

Are you proposing to slaughter our tenants?

Does that not fit in with your plans?

No, it does not. We asked for a simple block of flats.

Next time I'm stuck in a rubbernecking-induced traffic jam, I'll take comfort in the fact that people are really looking to assuage their guilt about contributing to global warming.

blueprint (#2,019)

I've always been under the impression that the Saw franchise holds the same appeal as reality television: Americans just love to watch other people suffer.

Ziggy (#529)

My Number Is My Address– Pandas don't wear Jimmy Choo, bite your tongue!

gaytheist (#929)

I'm just trying to figure out why this is all rated R but show a blowjob and its rated NC-17

Devilbabytales (#2,043)

Get in front of me at the movie line and I'll freakin' kill you.

This is what happens: you hire lawyers as bloggers and you get gay, Sunday Styles-esque, Social Phenomena rationales for everything.

I am a big fan of the snuff/torture genre (though I feel like Saw, Hostel et al. tend to feature a lot of redundant mere gore, making them sort of meh) and…believe me when I say I could not care less about social justice.

Astrapto (#2,073)

Interesting theory, I think it is false.

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