Horror is one of the most interesting genres in that the audience comes to identify with (and even root for) the villain; especially when they keep returning sequel after sequel. You might say a horror franchise is only as good as its villain. Laurie Strode, Nancy Thompson, and Tommy Jarvis are all interesting characters, but they’re nowhere near as popular with horror fans (or the general public) as Michael Myers, Freddy Krueger, and Jason Vorhees.
Yet among his killer compatriots, John Kramer aka “Jigsaw” stands apart. Firstly, he wouldn’t even consider himself to be in their league as (according to him) he’s never murdered anyone and he despises murderers. He sees honestly sees himself as a healer of sorts. And his greater motivation and philosophy are truly unlike any other villain in horror history.
Jigsaw the Academic
Whether it’s telling Detective Matthews about Darwin’s trip to the Galapagos, warning Bobby Dagen about the dangers of lying in ancient Egypt, or informing William Easton of how ancient cultures handled medical billing much better, John Kramer is a wealth of knowledge in all things history, philosophy, and the sciences.
Leigh Whannell once described the character as being very spiritual, without really being tied down to any one particularly religion or faith. As Jill revealed in Saw IV, everything with him was carefully planned, including the fact that his son Gideon was to be born in the Year of the Pig.
When he’s not putting people in death traps, he’s a fascinating conversationalist. If you met John Kramer at a dinner party, you’d probably have a very interesting and enlightening time just listening to him talk. And unlike Hannibal Lector (whom he’s often compared to), Kramer is much less smug and over the top. He’s much quieter, down to Earth, without any pretentiousness.
Sure plenty of horror villains crack hilarious jokes (like Freddy Krueger or Chucky), and some just won’t say a word at all (like Michael Myers or Jason Vorhees). But none of them are anywhere near the intellectual or academic level as John Kramer. You could almost see him as a college professor teaching a philosophy course called “Cherish Your Life 101”.
Jigsaw the Healer
Another primary component which sets Kramer apart is the nature of his “work” itself. Norman Bates, Chucky, Leatherface, Captain Spaulding, Hannibal Lector, Victor Crowley, Ghostface, and every other horror villain have their own unique motivations for killing people. But for all of them, their ultimate goal is to still kill their victims.
Throughout the Saw franchise, Kramer repeatedly uses the term “test subjects” instead of “victims”, as well as “games” instead of “traps”. Killing his subjects is never his goal, and it honestly upsets him that the vast majority of his games end that way.
He merely sees people whom he believes are not cherishing or appreciating their lives, and attempts to put them into a life or death situation with the goal of instant rehabilitation. After the tragic loss of his unborn son at his wife’s clinic, it’s very apparent to Kramer that the traditional forms of bettering people’s lives simply aren’t effective enough.
What other villain looks at their victim and honestly wishes for them to succeed and live? As Amanda so accurately yelled at everyone in the house in Saw II, “He’s testing us! He wants us to survive this!” Not only does not bear any ill will towards the many people who suffer gruesome fates, but rather he hopes they walk away having changed their whole outlook on life.
In many ways, his methods are a form of tough love to the most extreme degree. The few people who did survive wound up feeling that their life would never be the same again. Granted, a good bit of that is severe PTSD from the event itself, but they also saw a way to take tragedy and make something better out of it. And ultimately, that’s what the whole point of his games were always meant to be.
Jigsaw the Leader
As mentioned earlier, John Kramer would make a semi-decent professor, and in a strange he kind of is already. Those who do survive his tests become prime candidates for recruitment in the continuation of his work.
Given his grim prognosis, it’s not at all surprising that he puts so much stock and effort into who will continue his work after his death, because that’s how important his work is to him. The most fascinating scenes in the franchise aren’t the ones where people are brutally dying in gory manners (which are still fun), they’re the scenes with Kramer imparting knowledge, wisdom and lessons to people like Amanda, Hoffman, and Jill.
It’s as if he’s started his own healing cult that uses extreme measures, but when it works, it works very well. So naturally, he wants to share this gospel with others and it makes them better people for it. Whenever his “disciples” went wrong, it was because they were abandoning the principles he taught them.
But the ones who stayed true to it (a certain doctor comes to mind) seemed to hold this together a whole lot better. Had Kramer gone into remission and survived his cancer diagnosis, we can only imagine how much more he could have done.
If horror fans want pure blood and guts, there’s plenty out there (look no further than Eli Roth). But what made the Saw franchise so special and unique was the character of John Kramer himself. The reason why the 2nd and 3rd films are so highly regarded is because they’re the ones where he gets the most screen time.
And with Spiral coming out this week, it will be very interesting to see how they pull off a Saw film without this iconic character (unless of course he makes a surprise appearance). But we’ll just have to wait and see!
What do you think of John Kramer aka “Jigsaw”? Do you hope to see him in Spiral? Let us know in the comments!