Horror’s Icons: Jigsaw


In 2004, the horror genre was down. The slashers of the 1980’s were mostly all relegated to straight-to-video releases that gained the attention of mostly just hardcore fans. The teen horror movies like Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer that were popular just years earlier were losing there luster. The horror genre needed a boost in the arm and it came from a small budget film from two guys down under.

James Wan and Leigh Whannell were two aspiring filmmakers from Australia with a short film that gained the attention of people in America. After being given a chance, the two created Saw, the movie that changed the horror genre once again and created the sub-genre that we now know as “toture porn”. And with this movie a new horror villain was born but not any like you have seen before. Instead of a monster, zombie, creature, or costumed killer, the villain in this franchise was a normal man like me and you. But with a score to settle and lessons to teach.

John Kramer, a.k.a. Jigsaw (Tobin Bell), became the newest face in the world of horror by becoming the most unusual villain in Saw. Kramer never directly killed anyone. Instead, he kidnapped people and set them into traps where they would have to get themselves out by making drastic decisions. To add to the uniqueness of his role in the horror world, he relied on his trusty puppet, Billy, to relay many of his messages and Kramer himself was not even alive through the entire series. But not being alive does not mean that his effects were not felt.


In the original film, a photographer (Whannell) and a doctor (Cary Elwes) find themselves chained in an abandoned bathroom with a bloody body in the middle of them. They have to solve various clues to realize what they must do in order to escape. Meanwhile, while police search for the Jigsaw killer, they are diverted by another man working for the real killer. They also stumble upon other victims that have been put through Jigsaw’s traps. One of them, Amanda (Shawnee Smith), survived after killing a man to save herself.

If this guy attacked me, I'd have a heart attack before he got me

If this guy attacked me, I’d have a heart attack before he got me

In the end, the two men realize that they must saw through their own leg to free themselves and the doctor, hysterical by this point, begins to saw through his flesh. He slides out of the room, leaving the photographer alone when the body that was on the floor begins to rise. It is John Kramer, the real Jigsaw. He gets to his feet and leaves the room, locking the door behind him, trapping the photographer.

In Saw II and Saw III, Kramer continues to capture people that he feels do not appreciate life and put them through various traps to test their will to live. Now assisted by Amanda, the girl who he trapped in the original film, Kramer manages to torment the lives of these people with traps that will either kill them or save them. However, at the end of the third film, both Amanda and Jigsaw meet their ends. But that does not mean that the horror is over.

The teacher and the student

The teacher and the student

The events of Saw IV actually occur concurrently to the third film and show police lieutenant Mark Hoffman’s (Costas Mandylor) involvement as another one of Jigsaw’s protégées. Hoffman works on another trap and, in the end, is at the autopsy of Kramer. Inside Kramer’s stomach, he finds a cassette tape and plays it. Jigsaw tells him on the tape that his work is not done, which leads us to Saw V. In this film, we learn more of Hoffman’s relationship with Jigsaw and witness Hoffman’s first solo traps.

This was followed by two more films, Saw VI and Saw 3D, both of which continued to show Hoffman fulfilling the rest of Jigsaw’s traps and battling with Jigsaw’s former wife, Jill Tuck (Betsy Russell) for control of Jigsaw’s legacy. The films were good but it was just more traps and gruesome murders. In the end of Saw 3D, Hoffman murders Jill using one of the traps and Hoffman is captured by the doctor from the first film. The doctor locks Hoffman in the abandoned room he was once locked in and informs Hoffman that he had been working with Kramer after surviving his trap. Hoffman is then left trapped in the room to die.


A normal man with a vicious plan

A normal man with a vicious plan

John Kramer was an everyday man like anyone else. However, he learned he was dying of cancer and became sick of seeing people take their lives for granted. He then tried to kill himself by driving off of a cliff but survived. After this, he began his mission of “saving people from themselves”. But as a villain, Jigsaw never kills anyone himself. He puts them into deadly traps but with a chance to survive. However, their survival may cost them a lot of pain or someone else’s life.

The Jigsaw killer also gained help as noted earlier from others. Amanda was one of his victims that survived and then dedicated her life to helping Kramer and learning from him. However, she had a bad temper and wanted to kill people herself, which ultimately is the reason for her death. Jigsaw also had help from Hoffman, who had previously set a trap similar to Jigsaw’s to kill the guy that murdered his sister. His trap however did not allow for the chance of survival. After he himself was trapped by Jigsaw, he began to help Jigsaw and eventually carry on his legacy. And then their was Dr. Gordon, the doctor from the original film. He was revealed to be assisting Jigsaw since his escape in the first film. But besides the human, Jigsaw also got help from a puppet named Billy.

Scariest puppet ever

Scariest puppet ever

Billy is the voice of Jigsaw when he wants to let his captives know about the trap they are in. He was usually seen in video messages that would inform the victims of their fate. While most people never saw Jigsaw, Billy was the last thing they saw. If he did decide to appear in person, he was usually riding a tricycle to relay his deadly message. Billy, just as much as Jigsaw, was a constant throughout the franchise and while he is just a puppet, you know it is never a good thing when you see him.


Class is in session

Class is in session

Tobin Bell is the man that brought John Kramer to life in the Saw franchise. Even though John Kramer dies in the third film, Bell was present in every movie in the series either through flashbacks or the chronological order of the films themselves. It is a tribute to Bell’s acting as he played a villain that laid still, presumably dead, in the first film and then a villain that was dead but taught his legacy to others before his passing through the rest of the series.

Bell has a lengthy film resume that began in the 1980’s and includes many excellent films, including Mississippi Burning and Goodfellas. But since 2004, Bell has appeared in only the Saw films and other, low-budget horror films. But no matter what his filmography may say, Bell will go down as one of the first popular horror villains of the 2000’s with his portrayal of Kramer.

And Bell may not be done wearing the robe and pig mask. The Saw franchise is one of the highest grossing franchises for their distributor, Lions Gate Entertainment. And they don’t want to put the franchise to rest just yet. While the series seems finished, Lions Gate, as of 2012, still want to continue the franchise either with another sequel or with a reboot of the original. Series creators Wan and Whannell have stated they are not opposed to continuing the series if something “different” can be done with the series. But, here we are, close to Halloween 2013 and no new Saw film is being released. This, with so much news about horror films, is still in the air and only time will tell.


But while Jigsaw time on the big screen may or may not be done, his time here is done for sure. We finish with Jigsaw’s legacy and move back to a more traditional horror villain. Next we will look at a man in a costume with a knife. Wait, no not a man. A woman. Wait, well, let’s just say this next Horror’s Icons is not focusing specifically on a person but rather a series of people that donned a certain outfit to pursue their victims. So come back next week as we take a look at Ghostface, the killer(s) from the Scream series.


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