How I Learned to Love the SAW in Us All

In honor of the launch of Under Worlds Austin (a Horror Sidebar to Other Worlds Austin) each OWA staff member has written about the Horror movie moment that had the biggest effect on them. Write us a comment with your own Horror movie moment! And if you’ve made a Horror film, submit it now to Under Worlds Austin!


The Horror Movie Moment That Changed My Life
By Bears Fonte, Founder & Artistic Director

I’ve lived most of my life as a cinematic snob. Back in high school when my friends were lining up to see CHILD’S PLAY 2, I was already ditching them to catch Whit Stillman’s METROPOLITAN. I celebrated college graduation by hosting a screening of Noah Baumbach’s KICKING AND SCREAMING for a group of 50 friends who did not appreciate the irony. The first Horror movie I even admitted to liking was SCREAM, which appealed to my snarky dismissive opinion of horror movies as completely predictable and cookie-cutter.
Then I discovered Blake Snyder’s book “Save the Cat” and the glories of structure. Horror films are the most mass-produced genre that Hollywood churns out, because they don’t have to FIND an audience, they just have to FEED an existing one. Horror fans respond to films that meet their expectations, and rave about films that deliver those and STILL manage to surprise. Of course, it was also about this time I started to write horror scripts. With my first feature, a thriller, already in post-production, I knew that no one was going to read a comedy I had ready to go. Thrillers do lead directly to Horror, so there you had it. I had research to do.
I sat down with a Horror aficionado friend of mine and sketched out the most important Horror films of the last ten years. There were a few, like THE RING and THE GRUDGE (and the Japanese originals) to which I was actually really looking forward. There were remakes (THE HILLS HAVE EYES) and franchises (FREDDY VS. JASON). And then there was the so-called Torture Porn of HOSTEL and WOLF CREEK, and the one I had already decided to hate on the basis of its name and the one thing I knew about it, SAW.

I’ll skip to the end and just say I loved SAW. I watched it twice in one day and made my wife watch it. It is absolutely frightening, but not in any way that should put it in a same category as HOSTEL, a film so utterly violent and gore-filled that I have serious concerns about the production team that worked on it. Actually, SAW is a crime story, and the incidents described are no more horrific than David Fincher’s SEVEN and in fact, serve the story far better than those tableaus of torture. Nothing is dwelled on for the sake of shock, only as a clue for catching a killer. The ending moment that gives SAW its name is no more than an amplified 127 HOURS. At its core, the film is a mystery and an essay on morality. Everyone has some guilt and the killer appoints himself arbiter of a competition of sorts -- who is the most deserving of death.

SAW boasts a surprisingly recognizable cast (for a low budget Horror film) with Cary Elwes and Danny Glover turning in fantastically nuanced performances (okay Glover chews a little scenery as well) and Michael Emerson in his pre-LOST days. However, what really makes SAW a must for any writer is its perfect structure. Without ruining the phenomenal twists and turns of the plot, the film manages to balance several timelines and flashbacks and still hit all the points of setting up a perfect Act One. By the time the Fun and Games of Act Two arrives, every character is experiencing their own struggle, all leading to the inevitable Act Three where all the plotlines and characters are brought together. It is a really well-made movie that also happens to be incredibly frightening. It’s not necessarily for the weakest stomachs, but I think the name (and maybe the sequels, which I’ve never seen) tend to overshadow what at its heart is just a really disturbing edge of your seat mystery.

As a final thought, one more take away on HOSTEL, a film that really accomplishes what it set out to do. The most frightening scene of the film (and the best scene without a doubt) is one in which no one at all is killed. Two-thirds of the way through the film, the lead character ends up in a locker room with another ‘client’ of the establishment who raves about the rush of killing someone. This dialogue gets to the fundamental impulse of Horror films -- we all have a little voice inside us, a little guilt, something we don’t want other people to know about, and a great Horror film forces us to acknowledge that, for better or worse.