The Saw franchise is back once again with Spiral: From the Book of Saw. Though this is perhaps the closest the franchise has come to a full-on reboot since we were first introduced to Tobin Bell’s Jigsaw killer back in 2004. It’s got an A-list cast led by Chris Rock and Samuel L. Jackson, it’s moving away from John Kramer and it is attempting to move the series in a new direction.
One familiar element is director Darren Lynn Bousman. While James Wan directed the original, it was Bousman, who directed Saw II, Saw III and Saw IV, that ensured this would be a hugely successful horror franchise for years to come. Now, after more than a decade away, Bousman is back to once again take audiences to twisted, deadly and trap-filled places with Spiral.
I recently had the chance to speak with Bousman in honor of Spiral arriving in theaters. We discussed the joys of Samuel L. Jackson cursing on set, how Saw II went from almost going to home video to becoming a number one hit at the box office and what it would take for him to direct Saw 10, among other things.
About two or three months ago we did a phoner for your movie Death of Me. Now, you and I are sitting here, in person, as your movie is in theaters, and people are actually going to see it in movie theaters. What does that feel like?
Darren Lynn Bousman: Honestly, it feels like light at the end of the tunnel. For me, as a fan of movies, last night I was at the Alamo Drafthouse. It was an emotional moment because in the last year we’ve been isolated and alone. And last night, I was in a theater with like-minded weirdos watching a movie on a big screen with beer and popcorn, and hearing the gasps and the yells. It was a communal experience, and I think that we’ve all missed those communal experiences. It was awesome to be here last night and to be able to see a movie back in a theater.
What was it like to be the man calling “action” and “cut” when Samuel L. Jackson is saying the words “Mother f****r?”
Darren Lynn Bousman: True story. The very first line that he said on the very first day was mother f****r. He was throwing a glass of scotch against a wall. It was not in the script. It was just, he was supposed to throw it against the wall and turn. He threw it against the wall, said “mother f****r” and I go “Hahaha” [excitedly clapping]. Then he turns around and goes, “You’ve got your ‘mother f****r.’ I’m done. I’m going home.” And I was like, Samuel L. Jackson’s first day on set and he says “Mother f****r.” Is this real? There should be a fun game when you watch the movie, and I challenge anyone to do this; take a shot, and I’ll even let you take a shot of beer, any time that the word “f***” is said on screen. You will be drunk within ten minutes of this movie. There is quite a few “f***s” said in it.
I noticed that. Saw, typically you’ve got your gore and stuff in there but this one is pretty curse-heavy for sure.
Darren Lynn Bousman: Yeah, for sure.
In the first 20 minutes of the movie, especially if you take that opening scene out, there are the makings of just a good straight-up cop movie in there. I know you’ve mostly been known for your genre stuff. Have you considered just doing something like that?
Darren Lynn Bousman: I’ve been lucky because of Spiral. You know what’s interesting, and we’ll get into this in a little bit, Spiral is a love or hate movie, and I’ve made a couple of those in the past, where you’re either gonna like it or not. And there’s not gonna be a lot of in-betweens. I think it’s because it subverts what people are going to expect. They’re going in thinking maybe it’s gonna be a Saw movie, and it’s gonna be horror or whatever. And it’s really not. It is a cop drama. It’s a buddy-cop movie that ends up turning into a Saw movie in the last act. When Chris [Rock] and I started talking, we said, what happens if 48 Hours becomes Seven, becomes Saw. If you watch the movie, it’s three movies. It starts off 48 hours, it becomes Seven and it ends Saw.
That to me is awesome because I have no desire to make the same movie again and again. And I have no desire to make another Saw movie. I still don’t. I think what’s cool about this is, it’s not really a Saw movie. It’s something completely different that ends up becoming Saw at the very, very end of the movie. So, when you come in, you’ve got very much Chris Rock doing Chris Rock. He’s doing jokes. He’s awesome. You have a heist. You have a buddy-cop thing. Then, it becomes something else and, to me, that’s exciting.
I’m a huge horror guy and I couldn’t think of many horror franchises where the same guy directed a ton of the installments. And you, at two very pivotal points, when this either could have become, or not become a franchise, and when it got its biggest kick, maybe since the beginning with Spiral.
Darren Lynn Bousman: Yeah.
Do you process it in that way? Like, “Maybe James Wan aside I am the guy who made this franchise what it is?”
Darren Lynn Bousman: I never realized what Saw was until about five years after I left it. I am the classic, cliched story of broke, living on couches eating ramen noodles, and then I get Saw II. I had a studio apartment, a very small studio apartment, and I go to Toronto, and I do Saw II. Then I do press for Saw II and I go right into Saw III. Still in the same studio apartment, still in the same s****y environment, and right in I got to Saw IV. And I’m living in a hotel. Then I go right into Repo! [The Genetic Opera]. It wasn’t until I got back from doing Repo!, so four years after making movies, that I got a townhouse. Then I went off and did another movie almost immediately. It wasn’t until then that I started to realize, “S***, Saw was big.” Because I was never there. I never saw the fandom. I never saw whatever. I showed up and did one day of a premiere, then that was it.
It wasn’t until years later that I see tattoos on people of Saw. That I see now we’re on number nine of the franchise and I’m like, “Holy s*** that was something.” When I was hired, it wasn’t a franchise. When I was hired, Saw 1 wasn’t even out yet. Saw 1 had just gone to Sundance and it wasn’t a hit. I don’t think that anyone knew that it was going to be a hit until about Saw III. Even when we did Saw II, there was talk about it going straight to video.
Darren Lynn Bousman: I remember… I don’t think I can get fired for saying this. What are they gonna do? Fire me from Spiral? So I can say this. When I turned in my director’s cut of Saw II I was BCCd on an email, and there was a discussion about, “Maybe we should put this straight to video” The producers, Twisted Pictures, were like, “Are you f*****g kidding? Absolutely not!” They fought and got the release. Then Saw II, it got number one. And then it became a franchise on Saw III. So I think, even when we were making Saw II, no one realized what it was.
That’s wild. There are some stories like that. Toy Story 2 was famously going to be direct-to-video. But the other thing that Saw did, that almost nothing has done, Friday the 13th is the only one that I can think of, where the first one hits, then every year for like eight years you get one.
Darren Lynn Bousman: I still look back… it was crazy. Everything happened so rapidly. It happened so quickly that it’s hard to process. When we were making Saw III we said, “Okay, this is now a franchise.” We started to implant things in Saw III that we knew would pay off in either Saw IV, Saw V, Saw VI, whatever. When I left Saw IV, I left at the top. I had three number one hits and I was like, there is nothing else I can do. There is nothing else I can do with this. I’ve killed as many people as I can kill. I’ve done as many crazy transitions as I can do. I’ve got to walk away at this point. It took me five or six years after that. I started getting angry and jealous when I would see Saw movies. I was pissed at what they were doing. I was like, “Why would they do that? This is terrible.” I started getting mad. I was like, “I could do this. I could do something cooler than this.” Now, here we are 15 years after my last one. None of this feels real. You and me sitting here right now, none of this feels real. Looking back, Saw is crossing the $1 billion mark [at the box office]. It’s so crazy.
That’s so wild.
Darren Lynn Bousman: I just thought about something. I wonder, in some respects, if Spiral will be looked at as Halloween III. I just hit that. Because it doesn’t follow Michael Myers, Halloween III. This doesn’t follow John Kramer. It just exists in that universe.
That’s an interesting thought. I hadn’t really put it through that lens. Although, the one thing Halloween III has that this movie doesn’t have is the most uncalled for sex scene in cinematic history.
Darren Lynn Bousman: Halloween III is probably one of my personal favorite films. I think we will see a lot of the same things about Spiral. There was a blowback on Halloween III. People hated it because they were expecting Michael Myers. And it’s not. It’s shamrocks. We’re doing something completely different. It’s a mask company. I think that this is the same way. There is a group of fans going in expecting to see John Kramer, and I’m sadly not giving you that.
I was gonna save this as my big finisher question but you kind of already touched on it. Saw 10 is in development. Is this a situation where, at the end of this movie, you viewed it as passing the torch to someone else to do what they want with or, you said you don’t want to make another Saw movie, but, is there a version of which you come back to do the next one?
Darren Lynn Bousman: There might be another Spiral movie in me yet. But here’s what I think is cool about the Saw franchise, and specifically after Spiral. There still could be a Saw 9. There absolutely could still be a Saw 9, and a Spiral 2, and a TV series. The way that we’re setting this up at this point is multiple stories being told simultaneously. I don’t think we’re done seeing Tobin Bell. I don’t think we’re done seeing Hoffman, or any of these other characters that people have come to love. I think as long as there is a creative and ingenious way to subvert expectations and do something different, then I would come back. If it’s just trying to make a carbon copy and do the same thing, I don’t know if I would. But, if there was a new fresh way to do something, then yes.
I don’t want to take anything out of context. You mentioned there have been talks of a Saw TV series. I totally can see what you’re talking about with Saw 9 versus Spiral. Are these discussions that you’ve actually had?
Darren Lynn Bousman: No. I learn the same things all of the fans learn at the exact same time. I go on the Moviewebs and I’m like, “Oh s*** they greenlit a TV series?” Then I’ll call the producers up. They’re all very superstitious and they don’t want to talk about things until that movie comes out. I think that the TV series or Saw 10 was jumping the gun a little bit. I think that there was discussion a year ago about something like that. Then, with the building excitement for Spiral, people just jumped on the announcement. I think a lot of it depends on this weekend. Are fans coming back to the theaters? Do they want to see more of this? Because the fans are the ones that dictate everything. Not us. We push the buttons but it’s the fan that drives the car. If the fans like it, if they’re excited, then I think you’ll see more. If the fans are not? Then it’s over. That’s what I think it is.
As we talked about, you were in a theater last night. People are going back to theaters. What makes Spiral, in your mind, a good back to a theater movie?
Darren Lynn Bousman: I’ve realized the answer to that question in the last 48 hours. I can answer the question that you have action, and violence, and gore, and Samuel L. Jackson screaming mother f****r, and Chris Rock taking on a serious role. But that’s not the answer. The answer is that I believe this movie is going to spark heated debates among friends, among franchise lovees and devotees, and among the casual moviegoer. I’ve never seen my Twitter feed filled with such divided reactions of absolute love and absolute hate.
This morning I was looking at it and this is literally in order. It would be like, “Worst Saw movie I’ve ever seen! An abomination of cinema.” The next one would say, “My favorite of all the Saw movies. Saw is back!” Then one critic would say, “Bousman’s best work. 4.5/5.” The next one would say, “Bousman’s worst movie. 0/5.” That to me is awesome because it’s gonna create discussion. The worst thing we can do is make a movie that you see and you walk out and go, “Meh, whatever.” I want to create discussions. I want people to talk and I want people to argue. I think this movie will do that.
Spiral: From the Book of Saw is in theaters now from Lionsgate.