Saw: Is Jigsaw Horror’s Biggest Douchebag?
Horror cinema has had some unreasonable characters in its time. But the Jigsaw collective? The worst of 'em all...
Spoiler warning: so many spoilers. About all of the Saw films.
Plus naughty language.
All horror movie villains are douchebags. That’s pretty much the standard. Freddy Krueger murders teenagers in their dreams – what a dick. Jason Voorhees will cut your head off if he finds you camping – such a guff huffer. Leatherface wants to remove your skin and wear it as a mask – how rude.
Horror films are usually built on someone being an asshole towards a bunch of people, to the incredibly heightened degree of killing them in gruesome ways. Over the years we’ve seen asshole serial killers, asshole demons, asshole monsters, asshole zombies, asshole werewolves, asshole ghosts, asshole aliens, asshole robots, and even asshole C.H.U.D.S.
But there is no greater douchebag, or douchebag collective, than the Jigsaw killers from the Saw series. Allow me to explain, film by film.
The Film: Low budget, wince-inducing horror thriller. Heavily influenced by David Fincher’s Seven with a bit of Wes Craven kerfuffle thrown in for the finale. Well worth a watch.
Jigsaw: John Kramer, played by Tobin Bell (Jigsaw Prime)
If you’ve seen Saw, you’ll know that the identity of the killer is a surprise reveal. Facilitating that twist means Jigsaw doesn’t get a lot of active screen time to be a douchebag in.
We do get a few instances of the original Jigsaw, John Kramer, being a dickhead. For a start, why does he pick on Zep? Jigsaw’s thing is that, if you’re not making the most of your life he’ll make you cut your hand off, which will stop your head from exploding and make you appreciate life, or something. But what we can tell of Zep is that he’s a simple enough chap helping out at a hospital, befriending patients and speaking up for them when the medical staff dehumanize them. Jigsaw takes advantage of Zep and, in doing so, abandons his whole schtick.
I’d also argue that being unpleasant to Danny Glover is above and beyond standard horror movie unpleasantness. Even the Predator treated Danny Glover respectfully.
Then there’s his conduct in the bathroom, where much of the film plays out. Just lying there completely still the whole time, given the situation, is a massive dick move, but I think we can consider that part of his broad horror movie villain shenanigans and not count it towards his extra-curricular douchebaggery. But here’s what’s bothering me:
Why did you take your trousers off, John? It’s you, laying on the floor pretending to be dead as part of your deadly Jigsaw game. No part of that plan requires you to take off your trousers. Weirdo.
The Film: Clumsy follow up that’s more horror than thriller. Features some of the series’ best traps, most notably the syringe pit, and brings a Wahlberg to the party. Not particularly good.
Jigsaws: John Kramer (The Great Jigsaw), Amanda Young, played by Shawnee Smith (The Jigsaw’s Assistant)
In Saw II Kramer spends less of the film just lolling about in his pants. This time he’s lounging around in his dressing gown. The nerve of the man.
“I’ve never killed anyone,” Jigsaw tells Donnie Wahlberg, reasoning that everyone who has died in his games has had a fair chance of survival. As he says this, screens in his warehouse lair show a group of people that he has poisoned. Some of these people will end up with a chance to disfigure themselves in exchange for the antidote to the poison, granted, but everyone who dies will do so because you poisoned them. Also, he sets lethal booby traps which kill a cop in the first movie.
You’ve actually killed loads of people, Kramer, so what are you going on about?
And fine, he’s a deranged killer, and maybe it’s all part of his horror movie lunatic business, but he says this to Donnie Wahlberg. You don’t lie to a Wahlberg, you sack of assholes. You don’t antagonize one, either, and yet John Kramer, head douchebag in charge, spends much of the film doing exactly that. He has Wahlberg watching footage of the Jigsaw games. So he’s making him watch Saw II, and Saw II is garbage. Also, as it’s CCTV footage it’s basically a bootleg of Saw II, so we can add “is a movie pirate” to the list of reasons Jigsaw is a douchebag.
Saw II gives us a second Jigsaw killer in the form of Amanda, a victim from the first film. She’s revealed as Jigsaw’s evil assistant as a surprise, the big twist to mirror Jigsaw’s reveal as the baddie in the first movie. Amanda is interesting because she gets chucked into a pit full of syringes and for no other reasons. For the most part, she’s not much of a douchebag in Saw II (again, we’re talking about outside of her role as part of a team of serial killers). She’s a bit whiny, but that’s in the context of trying to fit in as a character in a horror movie.
She does particularly well, in fact, given that Kramer seems to be in a constant state of torturing life-lessons into her. “I was a fucking junkie” she remarks at one point, which caused me to wince at the thought of John Kramer locking her in a switched on tumble dryer in order to teach her that swearing is impolite.
The Film: Stand out sequel that sees Jigsaw confront his health issues and an actual saw. This one sets a template for the sequels to follow but also offers a satisfying ending. It’s actually pretty great.
Jigsaws: John Kramer (Jigsaw), Amanda Young (Jigsaw’s Unreliable Apprentice)
We have two Jigsaws with significant screen time in Saw III and, unsurprisingly, they’re both complete douchebags. We’ll start with John Kramer, who, even in ill health, continues to be an incredible dickhead.
For a start, at this point I’m getting a little irritated with his constant banging on about people wasting their lives. Dude, you’re terminally ill and are spending what little time you have left tinkering with bear traps in a dingy warehouse. If you really think people should make the most of their life why don’t you fuck off to Disneyland? In one flashback sequence we see him hand painting the creepy little Sawpuppet guy. Why not use a shop bought murder doll and go and get some ice cream? Enjoy the day, you psychotic nincompoop.
He’s also a bit desperate in this one. He’s testing fellow Jigsaw Amanda, again. I feel like if you haven’t gotten a firm yes from her cutting a man open to get a key out of his stomach, or from her cannonballing into a pit of needles and then swishing her arms about it, then the answer is probably no. Read the information that’s there, John. If she’s still not getting the whole Jigsaw concept after you almost popped her skull explaining it to her it’s unlikely that she’s going to pick it up at all.
This also leads us to the thing that makes Amanda such an utter fartblaster in Saw III. We learn at the end that she’s been knocking off Saw game survivors. You’d think she would know that that’s not how it works, what with her being alive and all. She even asks him why she can’t kill someone. It’s the third Saw film and you’ve been in all three of them, how do you not understand the plot?
Even Billy the Saw puppet gives a big whiny speech in this one. The Saw killers are such douchebags that they created a terrifying murder puppet and then made it talk like a character from Dawson’s Creek. Evil dolls are meant to be full of poltergeists, not hurt feelings.
The Film: Shambolic fourth film that finds Kramer playing killer games from beyond the grave. Obsessive cop Riggs is tested, there’s more to Detective Hoffman than meets the eye and Kramer’s wife sheds light on the killer’s past in this formulaic follow on.
Jigsaws: John Kramer (Jigsaw, actually in pieces), Amanda (Jigsaw you were in this one but don’t remember you doing much), Detective Hoffman, played by Costas Mandylor (Jigsaw it coming a mile away).
Saw IV is the first in the series to feel like just another Saw film, so it’s only fitting that we end up with just another douchebag Jigsaw killer. Step forward Detective Hoffman. You smell like a wet badger’s asshole.
I have some criticisms for Hoffman, and then some for the group of Jigsaw killers, as there are now three of them and it can be a real drag keeping up with who has done what and why.
Detective Hoffman is meant to be investigating the Jigsaw murders, but really, he’s the third Jigsaw killer. That’s really awful of him, but it’s part of his horror villain bad guy agenda, so it’s not pertinent to our current argument.
Quite why he’s so miserable, though, I’ve no idea. I thought team Jigsaw were pushing an “enjoy life” agenda. Hoffman skulks around like he’s the lead in CSI: My Parents Never Understood Me. You just know he’s a big Morrissey fan. He’s pretty scruffy, too, with his shirt usually untucked and his hair sometimes ruffled.
Hoffman is a massive douchebag to everyone, but particularly to the audience. The traditional Saw twist reveal shows us that Hoffman has lied to us using a music cue earlier in the film, with a flashback showing a different camera angle and with more appropriate music giving accurate context to what we’re seeing. This is a new low for team Jigsaw. You don’t lie to your audience using music. We need to trust the score to tell us how to feel, especially after your hyper gory violent films have deadened our emotions.
The Saw team are still being led by Jigsaw from beyond the grave. An autopsy reveals that Kramer has been eating tape cassettes (they’re for people to cut out of him and play to get even more of his twisted messages). Team Jigsaw do conduct themselves like a group following the lead of a guy who can’t tell the difference between his own face and a Sony Walkman.
On the subject of gadgets, it appears that Short Circuit‘s Johnny 5 has also joined team Jigsaw.
“Cherish your life.” Jigsaw paints this on the wall of one of their crime scenes. By associating this phrase with gruesome murders I wonder whether they’re actually likely to make people form a negative attachment to it.
More so than ever before, Jigsaw’s message is confused in Saw IV. Rigg, a troubled cop, is being taught to cherish his life by letting criminals die. Rigg shouldn’t help people who won’t help themselves, argues Jigsaw, attempting to force this lesson on an unwilling and unappreciative subject. Jigsaw is trying to show us that saving the wrong person is a mistake. I think this might be Kramer projecting after an extended period of working with Amanda. Jigsaw then attempts to teach Rigg to be angry at criminals, which he already is.
Elsewhere, the detectives trying to solve the Jigsaw case in Saw IV are aggressively pursuing the killers using a method many of us will recognize as wild, baseless speculation. Thank god someone in this series is being a douchebag for a good cause.
The Film: Six confused strangers wake up in Jigsaw’s latest maze of doom. Meanwhile, Hoffman attempts to cover his tracks while receiving acclaim for catching the Jigsaw killer. Meanwhile, we learn more about Hoffman’s role in the earlier Jigsaw murders. Meanwhile, Detective Strahm believes he is closing in on the real Jigsaw killer. Overstuffed sequel.
Jigsaws: John Kramer (Jigsauntering about like he didn’t die two movies ago), Detective Hoffman (Jigsmug).
Saw V is really Hoffman’s film, which gives us plenty to talk about here because he’s a complete cock.
Hoffman accepts an award for catching the Jigsaw killer, who is him, even though he hasn’t caught himself. His acceptance speech is all “appreciate life” platitudes, like the Jigsaw killer has been writing all over the walls of his crime scenes and leaving tape recordings of himself saying, and no even gets suspicious. Hoffman’s a smug douchebag, thinking he’s too smart to be caught, and the police in Saw Vare the only people that have ever existed in fiction who are too dumb to catch him.
Detective Strahm is the only one who has an idea that Hoffman is up to something, perhaps because he can’t imagine anyone other than the Jigsaw killer being such an incredible ballbag. Strahm has already been subject to one of Jigsaw’s games. In that scene, Jigsaw sets up a trap designed to teach Detective Strahm not to be a detective. What is Hoffman even doing at this point? Strahm wakes up with his head in a glass box that starts filling with water, receiving no instructions or explanation. As far as I can tell, Jigsaw is also trying to teach him to be thirsty.
Finally, Hoffman gets the better of Strahm at the end of the film. Hoffman acts like he’s a master of psychological warfare just because he’s worked out that the dude who thinks he’s a serial killer is unlikely to climb into a glass box when he asks him to.
The first game the new group of victims have to face in Saw V, a weird collar, head choppy set-up, is so overly complicated that Jigsaw had to set his tape recorder to long play to just to fit his instructions on one side of the cassette. By the time he’s done the people in the collars look more bored than scared. I agree with them. Jigsaw’s become distracted with his hobby of being unbearable and his work is suffering.
In a flashback, we’re reminded of what a bag of doorknobs John Kramer is. Kramer advises Hoffman, during what is essentially a job interview, that he’s using the wrong kind of steel for his pendulum blades. Using a specific kind of steel, he advises him, “is better for the long haul.” Yeah, nice one Kramer, but I actually don’t know that he’s going to be using the blade again, what with it being part of a murder installation that the police will be seizing, you know-it-all dickhead.
In another flashback we find out what it is that attracted Kramer to working with Hoffman in the first place, though.
Hoffman and Billy the Saw Puppet have the same hair. Hoffman reminds Kramer of his puppet. Ahhhh.
The Film: Team Jigsaw puts an insurance executive through the ringer, while Hoffman scrambles to stay ahead of the game. A return to form as the series remembers that the traps are tense when they’re allowed to play out.
Jigsaws: John Kramer (Jigstill here), Amanda (Jighuge hair), Detective Hoffman (Wanker), Jill Tuck, played by Betsy Russell (Jigfour).
The biggest issue here is that Hoffman continues to speak to everyone in Jigsawisms. Everything the guy says is a dour insistence that we all appreciate life. He’s just so open about it, the massive idiot.
Now that it’s revealed that Kramer’s ex-wife Jill is also part of the gang, which is starting to feel not very exclusive, we have four Jigsaw killers. Five if you count Billy the Puppet, which would make you an idiot. In a flashback, the four hang out briefly and get a fair amount of bickering done. You also wonder whether there might be any more Jigsaw killers there, standing silently just out of frame. We find out that Hoffman had double crossed Amanda, only to be double crossed by Jill himself in this one. These serial killers are very untrustworthy.
This being the best Sawfilm in a while, it’s interesting to note how much better the film is when John Kramer and the Jigsaw Three don’t have time to be assholes. In this one, we spend much more time in the maze with the victims, watching the traps play out. We’re allowed to enjoy the tension of a horror film, rather than being forced to endure a shoddy cop drama where the killers are complete douchebags.
The interesting thing about Saw VI is that it’s a film with something to say. It’s a takedown of the US healthcare system. William, the insurance executive who is the focus of Jigsaw’s game, is shown in charge of a team who pore over documents looking for reasons to deny their customers medical treatment. We see him give a tenuous explanation to a man as to why, despite him having paid for health insurance for ten years, he’ll be left to die.
Honestly, in this film I was kind of team Jigsaw.
Saw: The Final Chapter
The Film: Tuck teams up with the cops to try to catch Hoffman. A chap who pretended to have survived Jigsaw’s traps is put through Jigsaw’s traps. 3D sequel that was designed to end the series that’s so poor it would likely have killed it regardless.
Jigsaws: John Kramer (Deuce Bigalow, Male Jigalow), Amanda (Jigsnore), Jill Tuck (Saw Loser), Detective Hoffman (Seriously, go fuck yourself Hoffman), Doctor Gordon, played Cary Elwes (Jigsawcle of life), everyone (Jigsawll of us).
Shit the bed, what happened? Saw VI was so good. Saw: The Final Chapter is like a horrible violent trap we’re all in to teach us to stop watching Saw films and to start appreciating life. It’s a very harsh punishment, and one that I’m pretty sure is filled with leftover trap ideas.
The first trap in this one pits two young men against each other, unless they decide to kill the woman who has been playing them off one another. This scene is awful. The trap is rubbish, there is a woman dangling from the roof in a low cut top. The 3D version of the film looks like a cowardly Piranha 3D ripoff, and the whole point seems to be that Hoffman now fancies himself as an expert in relationship advice, in spite of the fact that we’ve never met anyone who likes him.
Hoffman slinks about while he puts a duplicitous shitbag through a maze of deadly traps. It’s only because Hoffman is the unappealing follow up to a bald predecessor who locks people in rooms and makes them attempt elaborate challenges that you realize that the Saw series is basically just The Crystal Maze.
Richard O’Brien… sorry, Kramer is back for a brief flashback in this one. He’s irritated with a guy who is selling his story about having survived Jigsaw’s traps, as the guy has done no such thing. That said, he is going on and on about how it’s made him appreciate life. He’s written a book about it and everything. He’s spreading Jigsaw’s message much further than Kramer ever did, and he’s done it by just a few lies rather than firing people out of catapults for being unable to solve a Rubik’s cube. In truth, Kramer is very judgemental for a man who keeps sewing keys into people.
This scene was set around the time Kramer was really getting into Eminem.
We also learn that Kramer has turned Doctor Gordon into the Jigsaw killer. Kramer turns everyone into the Jigsaw Killer, and since he is the Jigsaw killer and he is a douchebag, he’s turning everyone into a douchebag, which is a real douchebag maneuver. Like all complete assholes, he drags everyone down to his level. I have no way of knowing this but I bet Kramer is the first person to cheat at musical chairs, and he keeps doing it until the game collapses into anarchy. He probably gets on the train while other passengers are still getting off, too. What a dick.
Doctor Gordon comes with his own Jigsaw sidekicks. I can’t really bring myself to make fun of Cary Elwes, though, so I’m just not going to.
The Saw films have told us the story of Jigsaw, a killer with multiple identities, but it’s always been anchored by John Kramer. Kramer may have been dead since the third film, but his story has been elaborated on through extensive flashbacks. We’ve seen just about everything Kramer has done. If Kramer had a bowl of corn flakes for breakfast two years before Saw II, we’ve watched him eat every spoonful. We know what inspired him to kill, we know how he makes his traps, we know how he picks his victims and his partners.
The only thing we don’t know about him is why he took his trousers off in Saw.