Call it sick. Call it twisted. Just don’t call Saw IV “torture porn.”
That’s the phrase of the day at the Lionsgate press junket and it’s about to create a whole lot of trouble. Several esteemed journalists in suits are gathered around a table, none of whom look like they’ve seen a single horror movie in their life. Then, there’s me, dressed in jeans and a faded shirt. My attention is drawn to one person in particular - a smug little man on the corner with the demeanor of someone too “intelligent” to be here. He prods his fellow journalists and rambles about how he’s just here to collect a paycheck. How he finds these kinds of films “repulsive.” How he never cares to see Saw IV.
I call this man “Mr Bitter.”
At the center of the table sits a speaker phone and out pops the voice of Jigsaw himself, actor Tobin Bell. I swear I hear the sounds of machines and power drills in the background. Perhaps the surgeons are trying to keep him alive long enough for tonight’s premiere.
The questions immediately start pouring and Tobin delves into the complex character of Jigsaw. Mr Bitter leans forward in his seat, coiled like a snake.
TOBIN BELL: “The traps and the tricks are always staggering and shocking, but if we can create something that gives you window that leads into the characters, then that’s always an extra benefit.”
And then he strikes…
MR BITTER: “Are you just rationalizing it for yourself or do you think people really care about the characters in these films? Because they only seem to react to the gore.”
There is a long pause and then a chuckle from the other end.
TOBIN: “I think anyone who goes to see a film wants to care about the characters. I think you can accomplish something in the horror genre that you can in any other genre, whether it's a period piece or a romantic comedy. I think there’s an opportunity in drama of any kind for the viewer to get involved with the characters. If you sell out completely on that and I think the horror genre has done that for many years, people won’t think very highly of it.”
BITTER: “How do you feel about torture porn?”
TOBIN: “It’s a strong phrase! Somebody used the term to me the other day, gorenography and I thought that was more interesting,” he laughs, “I don’t think that’s what we’re doing at all. I think what we’re doing is in the best tradition of horror. I was in London last year talking to people from all over the world from 7 in the morning till 7 at night, and what they came to talk about was the richness of the film and Jigsaw’s back story. The fans I meet don’t talk to me about [the gore]. Most of the people who use that phrase are people in the press.”
Like the prick sitting at the corner of the table.
TOBIN: ”If you were to talk to fans, who have a more educated view they would talk to you about their experiences with these movies.”
With that, Tobin bids a friendly goodbye and several more people enter the room:
Stars Lyriq Bent and Scott Patterson along with series producers Mark Burg and Oren Koules. They all look enthusiastic about their work and begin to delve into the hype surrounding the film.
MARK BURG: We’ve been so secretive about the ending of Saw IV because we think it’s that good. Having produced all the movies, I think this is my favorite of the four. 3/4th of the people at Lionsgate haven’t seen the end of the movie. We shot two different endings just so nobody knew the ending. It’s been very hard to keep it secret, but I think we managed…
MR BITTER: Do you feel some responsibility for adding to society’s acceptance of violence?
The table gets quiet again. I sit and admire the shape of Mr Bitter’s skull. He’d look good on the cover of next month’s issue of Girls and Corpsess, posed with Angela Bettis or Erin Brown.
LYRIQ BENT: From a thespian’s point of view, I try not to judge my characters in what I do. I think this franchise actually has a lot of positive things that it brings to our attention which people may not look at because of the genre, and I think that’s a big mistake if they do that.
SCOTT PATTERSON: Intellectually, we could be aware that people are only going to see it for the traps and the gore, but as Lyriq said, it’s not for us to judge. We’re in a dramatic piece.
Mr Bitter continues with his tirade of moral questions. Just as I’m about to leap over the table and bitch-slap him, producer Oren Koules jumps on the defense.
OREN KOULES: What was Se7en?
MR BITTER. A psychological thriller.
OREN: Then, that’s what this is.
MR BITTER: But that was different.
OREN: Are you freagin’ kidding? It has Gwyneth Paltrow’s severed head at the end of the movie!
MR BITTER: At the end of the movie. You didn’t have to slog through hip-deep gore to get there.
OREN: Watch that movie again and call me. That had more brutal stuff than we ever did and Fincher will be the first to tell you. When we bought Saw 1, we thought we were making a little twisted version of Se7en. Think of the characters and their sins and what they went through. Wet tried to make that movie. But because Fincher did it and Brad Pitt was in it and Gwyneth Paltrow got her head cut off, it’s a “thriller.” Do we have fun with the blood and the traps? Yea. But we try to use a lot of logic and cleverness and ask “What if?” Cause “what if” is scarier than seeing someone’s arm cut off.
MR BITTER: But you watch it with an audience and the biggest reaction comes from the goriest and most outrageous things like a trap on someone’s head that breaks their jaw open.
OREN: But it didn’t do it!
MR BITTER: It didn’t do it, but you presented it there. And there are other things that happen that get shown!
OREN: Watch Saving Private Ryan. Look at the amount of blood. But because it’s Mr Spielberg…
MR BITTER: No, it’s because its an accurate depiction of a battlefield…
OREN: Which I hope I never see.
MR BITTER: Yes, but we need to learn why wars shouldn’t be fought. I don’t know what people need to understand about this…
LYRIQ: If you’re a viewer of these films, you’d understand what is being asked of people, which is “How do you look at your life?” and “At what point is your life important to you?” There are so many things in there that you can look at and question yourself. Then there’s that amusement park aspect with the horror where you have the rollercoaster ride where people can walk away feeling safe knowing that it won’t actually affect them on that level.
SCOTT: Why do people go to horror films? It’s a very simple formula. You ratchet up the tension in such a way whereas people get several opportunities to feel relieved. That’s what a horror film is. People get addicted to that relief.
MARK: I don’t look at our movies as torture porn. Here’s a guy saying to people “You don’t appreciate life. Look how good you have it. Look at the positive things that you’re throwing away. You have a wife, you have a family. Do the right thing.” We always give people a way out. It’s not like we’re torturing people to kill them like some films have.
Eventually the conference winds down and everyone parts on friendly terms. The producers head into more press junkets while Mr Bitter strolls off to write his next failed screenplay. In the end, we’ve learned next to nothing about Saw IV, but it doesn’t matter. Love it or hate it, you have to admire a horror series that inspires heated debates like these.
I can’t wait for the Saw V junket in 2008! In that version, Mr. Bitter is tortured.
Click on Jigsaw for Saw IV trailer