With rumors of a Saw 8 swirling in the entertainment press, it’s not hard to imagine why the original film, Saw, written by Leigh Whannell and directed by James Wan, will be getting a re-release in theaters this October 31st. It wasn’t too long ago that the tagline, “If it’s Halloween, it’s Saw” was ever present in our movie theaters year after year. Recently a few outlets gathered in a Lionsgate screening room to rewatch the original movie and participate in a Q&A with Whannell and Wan, plus actors Shawnee Smith and Tobin Bell. We spoke with the team behind one of the most successful horror franchises in history about the phenomenon that it became, why it resonated with audiences, and if they planned on making sequels in the first place.
Decades Old Spoiler Alert Warning: If you are unfamiliar with Saw and/or The Usual Suspects, proceed with caution…
Could James Wan and Leigh Whannell, who went on to create Insidious, and Wan to direct 2013’s major hit The Conjuring, ever have imagined how big the first movie became? Sitting next to each other, Wan and Whannell still seem excited, even 10 years later. Said Wan, “We never expected it to have made as big of an impact as this film did and the franchise that eventually spawned and we are as surprised as everyone else has been but very grateful for what it has done for us.”
Whannell echoed that sentiment, “Yeah, everything with Saw was basically a bonus prize. When we first conceived the idea we thought, ‘OK, we’ll make a film, nobody will see it but it will be like a very expensive demo reel and from that we’ll get our next film,’ so that was a bonus prize when it was going to get released. We thought, ‘Oh cool! It’s going to get released, it will come out in video stores –‘”
Wan chimes in, “Well, the first bonus prize was, ‘Wait, there are producers who want to make this movie with us? Holy crap!'”
Whannell continued, “The fact that it was going to come out on video was a bonus prize but it didn’t come out on video, it came out at the movies! And we’re like, ‘Great! It will come out, no one will see it but at least we’ll have a film in theaters,’ and the bonus prizes just kept coming. We were basically like two people who went out for a jog one day and ended up winning the Boston Marathon. We’re getting medals pinned on us and they’re like, ‘How long did you train for?’ And we were like, ‘We live over here, we didn’t actually enter this race…’ It was just one big huge bonus prize.”
Why does actor Tobin Bell, who played the notorious Jigsaw killer, think these movies resonate with people? Bell explained, “For me, the most important things in these films are some of the concepts that Leigh and James introduced in the first film and they’re little seeds that we tried to grow as time moved on and fill out. For example, the treatment of the terminally ill in the medical community. They’re things that keep coming up in various forms and so I think that lots of the things that were growing in number one were successfully and artfully expanded as an undercurrent as the series progressed.”
Finally, bonus prizes aside, did Wan and Whannell really have no intentions of building out a universe or making a sequel? According to them, it was always envisioned as a singular story. Said Whanell, “Just that story.”
Wan continued, “Yeah, of course we had pipe dreams about it spawning sequels but we never actually entertained the idea of sequel storyline in our head. We weren’t quite sure what direction it would go besides continuing the story of Jigsaw and that was it.”
Said Whannell, “Yeah, I mean, for us the ending had a lot of finality to it. A lot of people over the years have said, ‘You know, you really left the door open for a sequel there and we’re like, ‘No, we didn’t! We shut the door – literally and figuratively!’ “Game over!” It wasn’t like he shut the door and opened it again and was like, but I may be back! You never know…”
“To us it had a lot of finality to it and we just thought it was a great ending to a film and at the time we were really obsessed with these twist endings. Films like The Usual Suspects. You can imagine if The Usual Suspects had made $100M at the box office people would say, ‘Oh wow, that ending is so open because he just walks away and gets away with it,’ – Sorry! People who haven’t seen The Usual Suspects…,” said Whannell.
The screenwriter and Insidious: Chapter 3 director concluded by saying, “And when he walks away at the end, to us that’s like a great final ending like the guy walks away. I guess you could look at that the way people are looking at Saw like, well, let’s pick up the story and find out what happened with him. Where did he go when he got in that car? So I guess at the time that’s how we looked at it. Like a kind of Usual Suspects kind of ending where the bad guy gets away with it. We never thought of a sequel.”
Saw, written by Leigh Whannell and directed by James Wan, and starring Cary Elwes, Danny Glover, Leigh Whannell and Tobin Bell, is back in theaters this Halloween on Friday, October 31.