For decades Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees, and Freddy Krueger formed what many horror fans would consider being the ultimate unholy trinity of horror. Yes, there was Pinhead, Pumpkinhead, and a couple of other notable villains, but still, the big three remained the pinnacles of horror. Then in 2004, the blood-filled horror film Saw finally introduced us to a true fourth horror icon, Tobin Bell’s Jigsaw!
The film and character have gone on to define what horror is for a generation of fans. Let’s take a look below at the Saw franchise and how Bell viewed playing his now legendary character!
Saw is the brainchild of James Wan and Leigh Whannell. The pair have written and directed some of the most seminal horror films of the last decade. With nine movies spread throughout the last 17-years and bringing in over $3.6 billion worldwide, the Saw franchise will undoubtedly go down as one of their biggest successes. With a new movie in the franchise being released every Halloween from 2004 to 2010, Saw became the treat horror fans looked forward to the most during the season.
The film tells the story of Tobin Bell’s character John Kramer, Jigsaw. Kramer was a successful civil engineer living the all-American dream life. He had a beautiful, loving wife, a successful job, and a baby on the way. Unfortunately for the happy family, fate had other plans.
Kramer’s wife would lose the child in an accident at the drug rehab clinic she worked at. The loss devastated him and drove Kramer into a depression. His mental health would isolate him from the world and eventually estranged and divorced from his wife. If this isn’t a tragic enough backstory, there’s more. During this time, the emotionally and mentally broken Kramer was diagnosed with terminal cancer.
In anguish over his losses and cancer diagnoses, Tobin Bell’s John Kramer unsuccessfully attempts suicide. Awoken with a new appreciation for life, Kramer is disgusted over the way he sees people wasting their lives around him.
Kramer now begins devising brutal tests and traps to force those he deems to be wasting their lives into appreciating all that they do have. Needless to say, many fail the tests and die brutal deaths. It’s at this point the Jigsaw Killer is born.
Tobin Bell, whose real name is Joseph Henry Tobin Jr, was born August 7, 1942, in Weymouth, Massachusetts. Before pursuing acting, Bell attended Montclair State University and obtained a master’s degree in environmental science. It was a seminar on acting Bell attended at Boston University that would ignite his desire to focus on an acting career.
Bell would go on to become a prolific actor, appearing in a multitude of small and big-screen roles. But for all of Tobin Bell’s roles, it’s John Kramer and Jigsaw that the actor will be most remembered for. And with good reason! His performance in Saw had the actor bringing in a number of nominations and wins at the Eyegore, Fangoria, Chainsaw, Scream, and MTV Movie and TV Awards.
When Tobin Bell was first approached about appearing in Saw, the actor has said in interviews that two things drew him into the role. The first was having the chance to work with the great Danny Glover on a film. The other driving force for accepting the role was the film’s ending.
I won’t spoil the ending of Saw, in case you’re one of the few that haven’t seen the movie yet, but it did become one of the more memorable endings in cinema. After reading the script, Bell realized the film held the potential for an iconic ending that would leave fans talking for years. He wasn’t wrong! The actor was excited to be a part of something that would live on in people’s minds for years to come.
If you’ve seen the film, you know Tobin Bell doesn’t get a lot of screen time. To the actor’s credit, he understands time on screen doesn’t always equal impact. Bell has said he was drawn to the importance of the role and the overall impact the character would have on the film. The actor maximized his character’s limited time on screen and forged a legendary villain that still captivates audiences today.
Critics of the Saw franchise have likened the films to the Hostile and Human Centipede series and labeled them “torture porn.” This mischaracterization speaks more to the dismissal of the horror genre and less to the content of Saw. James Wan, Leigh Whannell, and Tobin Bell have left us with a movie and a performance full of nuance that hides a film that speaks to human nature underneath its gory surface. So if you’re ready or not… “I want to play a game.”