‘Saw’ (2004): How a Teenager Learned to Love Horror

I can’t remember a lot of my teenage years, which isn’t great.

I’m 26 now, so that was almost half my life ago – only the very vivid moments stick out in my mind. I can think back to embarrassing moments at school or to birthday celebrations; of course there are memories like your first time seeing Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone (that might be a British thing), but one of the other movies that still sits vividly within my mind is my first experience with the Saw franchise.

But first, let’s have a little information on my history with film.

My parents love movies, but horror isn’t one of those genres you would ever see them watch. My mum always told me stories about when she saw A Nightmare on Elm Street at the cinema and wasn’t able to sleep for weeks after, in fear of Freddy Kruger. I was surprised last year when I was able to convince her to watch Get Out, and she enjoyed it! So, my knowledge of horror was limited as a teen with the images of horror legends Jason, Freddy and Michael sitting as iconic in my imagination but having no first-hand experience of the fear they provoke.

Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

Flashback to 2009, when I was around 17 and I had wanted to watch some more movies that could feed into my emo aesthetic (My Chemical Romance was my life at this point). Horror seemed to be the obvious choice after exhausting all of the Tim Burton films… which is how I stumbled upon the Saw franchise. At the time, Saw V had been released in cinemas the previous year and the concept interested me enough to venture into James Wan’s horror creation. But I remained a little pessimistic at the time – I’d heard the phrase ‘Torture Porn’ thrown around a lot, which never sounded very inviting… but maybe there was more to it.

From my first viewing, I was hooked. I ended up watching the first 5 movies in the series back-to-back over a 2-night period. Without my parents’ knowledge I watched them on my computer late at night, which is probably why I became so interested in the films as all I had to focus on was these darkly lit movies whilst sat in the dark. What drew me in the most was the way the story weaved in clues along the way, which paid off at the end. I hadn’t experienced anything like this before, something that saw characters from the first movie in a series showing back up 3 films later; this was something I could engross myself in as I delved into online forums that discussed fan theories from the series. It was my first experience of binge-watching, and since then nothing else has given me quite the same satisfaction.

But it wasn’t the blood and guts that interested me with the series – it was the thriller aspect, and that’s why Saw stands out as more than just the piece of torture porn it’s often billed as. Very little graphic violence is shown; instead it’s about the characters you want to find out more about – whether it’s the cops tracking down Jigsaw before he claims more victims, or the victims caught in his traps who are trying to survive. Even Jigsaw himself: John Kramer (Tobin Bell), is a fascinating character because he believe so strongly in something. While the slasher villains are great to scare you, they don’t have a reason or aim for doing this. But Jigsaw does, and that’s perhaps why I enjoyed these movies the most because while I don’t believe in what he does, I can realise his motivations for doing so.

Saw: The Final Chapter (2010)

Flash forward a year, and I had the chance to experience Saw: The Final Chapter in cinemas, my first of the series to do so. I had turned 18 a few weeks after its release and knew there was only one option for what should be my first 18-rated certificate film. It’s hard to argue that Saw: The Final Chapter is perhaps not the series highest point, but regardless I was taken back to my first time watching Saw alone in the dark in my bedroom, wide-eyed and full of wonder. This series still has itself burrowed away in my heart as being my introduction to horror, and even through the highs and lows you can bet I’ll be back to see every new film in the series that Wan created from a short film back in 2003.

The cinematic universe that Wan was able to bring to life is something truly unique. Watching the films in order leads you to understand more about characters motivations as well as give a greater sense of satisfaction once the curtain falls and Jigsaw’s plan is revealed. He has created a franchise which is not only financially successful (just shy of $1bn worldwide), but also had such an impact on horror as a genre; for me, it still sits as one of the greatest franchises around. Because no matter the quality of the film, as soon as Hello Zepp plays and the secrets of the last 90 minutes begin to reveal themselves you know you’re about to have your mind blown, and not many series have been able to so consistently captivate me.

James Wan, I salute you for making a horror fan out of this kid.