After four years, Saw returns to the big screen this week with Spiral: From the Book of Saw. Although the franchise doesn’t quite command the same excitement that it did during its 2000s heyday, when moviegoers flocked to cinemas every October to watch the new entry, it remains to be seen whether audiences are anxious to see what stars Chris Rock and Samuel L. Jackson can bring to the famously low-budget series.
Although fans certainly love Saw movies for their gory death traps and their soap-opera plotting, the franchise’s true greatest asset is its primary villain, John Kramer, the Jigsaw killer. Played by Tobin Bell with an intensity that belies his sleepy features, Kramer is a consummate evil genius. A brilliant engineer who learns to cherish life only after his cancer diagnosis (or a failed suicide attempt, or the death of his unborn child, or his divorce… the story changes a lot), Kramer tortures those he considers ungrateful in order to force them to appreciate their lives. Before the victims participate in his deadly traps, Kramer first subjects them to moralizing monologues, in which he explains why he has chosen the victim and how the torture will help them.
As much as the series’ detractors dismiss the Saw franchise as ushering in the era of torture porn, arguably the nadir of horror cinema, its roots go back to one of the true titans of the genre: Vincent Price.
In a career that stretched from 1938 to 1995, Price captivated audiences with a debonair manner that brought smooth sophistication to his evil ways. Although he certainly played heroic, and even romantic roles at times, Price excelled as an evil genius. His elegant presence and rich voice brought a new and impressive level of menace to the devilish tortures his characters devised.
If we look at Price’s six best villain performances, we can find plenty of moments that surely inspired the character of Jigsaw and set the standard for horror movie geniuses of every stripe…