This Halloween wasn't only a time for kids to stuff their faces with candy, it was also a day to celebrate with a good old-fashioned horror movie marathon. One movie that was not only played in a lot of households this weekend, but also in theaters, was James Wan's (Furious 7) feature directorial debut, Saw. October 31st marked the 10th anniversary of Wan's influential breakout hit.
The 2004 horror pic grossed over 100 million dollars at the box-office, which is made more impressive by the fact the indie only cost around 1 million dollars. The low-budget film was a huge hit -- and it's the kind of success that inspired producer Mark Burg to continue to make movies his own way:
"[Producer] Oren Koules and myself had spent years trying to get a movie made called John Q," Burg tells us, referring to the 2002 thriller starring Denzel Washington. "We made that movie for 28 million, and it grossed over 100 million worldwide. When we got our first producer's statement it said how the movie was a 40 million dollar loser, and that day Oren and I decided if we ever wanted to make another movie, we were going to finance it and own it. We were going to do it our way, not get caught up in the Hollywood game."
They decided to go out and look for a movie that would only cost around a million dollars, which led them to the making of Saw. The late producer, Gregg Hoffman, saw a short film Wan and screenwriter/star Leigh Whannell made, featuring the head trap scene from the first film. Needless to say, all involved were impressed by the short and the script. Wan and Whannell got the green light almost immediately.
Now horror movies made on the cheap is the norm. Blumhouse Films is currently the king of the genre, often churning out huge hits that cost peanuts.
"Why do they call it the Blumhouse model?"
Burg asks, when we bring up the smart business model to him. It's a fair question, but it's likely because producer Jason Blum has made the business model more popular than ever. After Saw, Paranormal Activity, and other low-budget horror films, the production of larger budgeted horror movies has significantly decreased.
Platinum Dunes used to put out 20 million dollar horror movies -- The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Friday the 13th, and A Nightmare on Elm Street -- but now they've partnered up with Blumhouse. Platinum Dunes can no longer make 20 million dollar horror movies... or at least not at the rate they used to. The last horror movie they made was [Ouija](movie:469746). The film is already a hit, but it might not have been, had they made the 15-20 million dollar version of that story. Why make a 20 million dollar horror movie when you could instead make five horror movies with all that money? Out of those five low-budget movies, one of them is likely to become a hit, decreasing the risk of a major flop.
"Of course with the less money you have there's less you can, but you get a freedom to try certain things," director James Wan says, who got that freedom on Insidious and Insidious: Chapter 2 for Blumhouse. "I think what's the most groundbreaking thing about Saw was the incredible business model the first film went on to invite -- or rather be accepted in the mainstream -- to make low-budget horror movies with a high enough of a concept to work."
Saw also influenced filmmakers in other ways. The label "torture porn" started to get thrown around often after the success of Saw, but don't blame the first film for that. Leigh and Whannell agree that their movie has a much harsher reputation than it deserves, believing it's not that much gorier than, say, The Temple of Doom.
"I've been trying to say this for a long time -- that a lot of the violence was played off-camera,"
"I didn't really show too much of it. I think people's perception of Saw has been colored by the sequels, because it's actually very minimalistic."
The duo saw it as more of a thriller than a horror movie. When a man gets his head blown off by a shotgun, you don't get the full picture. A majority of the violence is suggestive.
In no way is Saw torture porn, because Wan or Whannell take zero pleasure in the violence they're depicting. Sadly, the films that followed in their footsteps did. Forgotten knockoffs such as Captivity and Untraceable were more than willing to rub an audience's face into vile images. When the duo saw those ripoffs, were they flattered or annoyed? "I think it's flattering," Whannell says with a laugh. Going on to say:
"Imitation is greatest form of flattery. Both James and I had such humble goals when we sat down to work out the idea for Saw. We just wanted to make our film. You just want to get your voice heard. For us to not only make a film but a film that has spawned imitators really bows our minds. Speaking for myself, I'm really proud of that."
Saw is now back in theaters, for all of your horror lovers out there.