TORONTO — Jigsaw is dead. Long live Jigsaw.
Over the weekend, MTV News was escorted into a small screening room so the twisted minds behind the most profitable franchise in horror history could unspool the eagerly anticipated "Saw IV" for the first time anywhere in the world. A few hours later, we sat down for an exclusive interview with the spookiest cinematic soul since Hannibal Lecter — and discovered that the cruelest game had been played on him.
"I haven't seen it yet," whispered Tobin Bell, the veteran actor who plays the Jigsaw Killer in the films (see " 'Saw IV' Star Tobin Bell Slices Into Secrets Of Jigsaw's Past"), offering up a rare smile. "But it sounds somewhat amusing."
Sometime soon, Bell hopes to finally witness the fruit of his labors, which begins with a scene that leaves little doubt in the mind of the viewer that the buzz-sawed neck-slicing at the end of "Saw III" indeed killed the killer.
"I look forward to seeing it — it's the first thing in the film," Bell said about watching his own autopsy, including the slicing open of his head and chest plate and the weighing of his brain. "Within the first four minutes of the film, you'll get a really [good sense that Jigsaw is dead]. ... I was back on the gurney. I've spent a lot of time in these films on steely slabs. ... It's interesting that Jigsaw gets dissected with the same kinds of metallic instruments that many of his [victims] get subjected to."
In what might be the ultimate testament to Bell's scaring skills, however, even as Jonathan Kramer's skin is being pulled back off his lifeless body, you can't help but fear that his eyes are about to pop open so he can announce one last game. "Good," cooed the series star. "That means I've conditioned you to my recuperative powers."
Naturally, giving away major plot spoilers before the film's October 26 release would be crueler to "Saw" fans than putting their heads in a skull-splitting mask, sticking a key behind their eye sockets and throwing them into a pit full of hypodermic needles. So instead, let's just say that director Darren Lynn Bousman and his team of "Saw" sickos have devised a plot that moves past their star's death while still allowing Jigsaw to get jiggy with it (see " 'Saw IV' Masterminds Piece Together Jigsaw's Puzzling Return").
"I thought that 'Saw III' was very physical, even though I was restrained on a gurney. What [my character] was subjected to required a lot of physical preparation, between convulsions and surgery," Bell explained, adding that he was excited that the fourth film allowed him much more mobility while depicting a pre-cancerous Kramer. "In 'Saw IV,' I had the opportunity to expose a little more of Jigsaw's formative life, when he was a successful engineer and a man who had a very connected relationship with someone. I think it's interesting to be able to develop that kind of thing and use it as a backdrop to the person he has become."
In between the innovative tortures that Jigsaw engineers from beyond the grave, fans can look forward to tantalizing details about his marriage to the emotionally distant Jill (Betsy Russell), as well as the anguish surrounding her pregnancy. While Bell was eager to expand the character, Bousman went to great lengths to make sure "Saw IV" didn't become "Jigsaw in Love."
"Quite frankly, some of the scenes that were written in this film took place in different locations," Bell said of flashbacks that were supposed to occur in a "Leave It to Beaver"-like home, portraying Kramer as a polo shirt-clad man living a life of suburban bliss. "At the last minute, we decided that it was too much. We moved the scenes to locations that were more in keeping with the tenor of the films, and they had to do with Jill. I'm so glad we did that."
Even though the sets had already been constructed at a significant cost, Bousman and crew were brave enough to heed Bell's advice and move the action elsewhere. "It's really interesting information to know how [a character] arrives at a certain point; how it's done is critical," he insisted. "In my view, one of the most important things a director can do is protect the actors from being exposed in a way that doesn't reflect well on them or on the story."
Once Bell and Bousman had swapped Ward Cleaver trappings for John Kramer traps, "Saw IV" came together — thanks to a complex script that involved a dozen characters, revelations that illuminate the other three films and mind-twisting games that bring new meaning to the phrase "You bet your life."
"It's a funny thing regarding the traps. ... I haven't seen the film yet, so it's hard for me to say which one is my favorite," Bell murmured in the now-famous voice that has chilled a million spines. "I look forward to having a good chuckle."
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