Chris Rock’s ‘Saw’ will continue the relationship between comedy and horror
The creative processes of comedy and horror are oddly similar.
by Andrew Keahey
Comedy is not an easy gig. Your career is forged in the fire of public opinion in clubs full of drunk people who will eat you alive if you show one iota of fear or doubt. Maybe you carry around a little notebook where you write down disconnected ideas that exist nebulously outside of timing and structure in the hopes that you can pluck the correct string on a metaphorical violin without it playing a flat note or snapping. You need to connect with the people on a fundamental level if you’re going to have any kind of success at all. Everything has a rhythm, and only after years of honing your skills will you finally be able to start reaping the rewards.
The creative processes of comedy and horror are oddly similar, which is not something that’s gone unnoticed through the years. They both build tension; one leads to a punchline and a laugh, and the other to a flourish and a scream. These are primal, uncomplicated feelings which hit hard and fast, and leave you feeling better than you did a moment prior, either from relief or amusement.
Recently, there’s been a lot of waves made in the horror genre by creators from the other side of the fence. Films like Halloween, A Quiet Place, Get Out, and Us have rocked box offices worldwide, breaking all kinds of horror records and bringing new energy and life to a genre already on an upswing. All were helmed by people widely known for their contributions to comedy.
Halloween was reinvented for a new era helmed by Danny McBride and David Gordon Green of Pineapple Express fame, A Quiet Place was written and directed by The Office alum John Krasinski, who played the main camera-looker and master prankster Jim from 2005 to 2013, and of course Get Out and Us were written and directed by newly minted horror lord Jordan Peele, who got his start on Mad TV and found substantial mainstream success with the Comedy Central sketch comedy show Key and Peele, alongside his comedic partner and friend Keegan-Michael Key. Peele has also gone on to helm the reboot of the sci-fi/fantasy/horror classic The Twilight Zone, where he plays the narrator, a position once occupied by Rod Serling himself. So, in the spirit of these comedians switching tracks to new and exciting genre’s, let’s talk about Chris Rock.
At the Cannes Film Festival, it was announced that a new entry will be made into the billion-dollar Saw franchise, executive produced and story conceived of by none other than Chris “One Rib” Rock. It’s being touted as both a “spin-off” and a “re-imagining” slated to be released on October 23rd, 2020 and will be directed by Darren Lynn Bousman, who directed the first three sequels following the James Wan original.
Naturally the announcement was met with mixed response. A beloved horror franchise like Saw carries with it a die hard fan base that will be hesitant to trust any kind of shakeup, but what people are missing is that Rock is actually a huge fan of the series, just like they are. Lionsgate Motion Picture chairman Joe Drake was even quoted as saying, “When Chris Rock came to us and described in chilling detail his fantastic vision that reimagines and spins off the world of the notorious Jigsaw Killer, we were all-in. Saw is one of the highest-grossing horror franchises of all-time, and it’s one of Lionsgate’s most successful film series. This upcoming film will still be as mind-bending and intense as all the previous Saw films. Chris conceived this idea, and it will be completely reverential to the legacy of the material while reinvigorating the brand with his wit, creative vision and passion for this classic horror franchise.”
This should read as good news for fans of the series thus far! As someone who watched all the of the films in the series in a single weekend, because those are the kind of choices I make, I can tell you that the story is in need of a complete and total overhaul. Now granted, the story has never been super important to the franchise, but the inconsistencies in the narrartive really start to show after a while, to the point where you’re making excuses for the characters just so you can keep enjoying the carnival of viscera.
The motivations of the killer ‘Jigsaw’ and his disciples change drastically over time, which wouldn’t be an issue if the films didn’t flippantly jump back and forth in time. As a result, there’s no progression in the characters when there easily could have been. By the last few installments, the writers had basically given up on the killer following any kind of code – which is supposed to be the main method to his madness – and are primarily focused on the crowd-pleasing rube-goldberg murder machines that give the series it’s edge. Chris Rock coming in with a fresh story and new ideas is just about the best thing that could happen for the Saw Series, and if you’ve heard Chris Rock’s stand-up routines, you know he can weave together a compelling narrative. This is a good thing.
Not only am I excited to see what Rock’s plan is for the franchise in terms of story, but historically, the Saw series hasn’t been a hugely diverse bunch of films. Actor Lyriq Bent had a decent three-movie run as Lt. Daniel Rigg, but outside of him and Danny Glover starring in the original film, it’s been a fairly caucasian affair. Do I want to see Black people get shredded by goofy murder traps? Not necessarily. Though I know it might sound that way, I promise that’s not the case. What I want is representation.
Yeah, it may not seem like a big deal to everyone, but what the Saw movies have evolved to be are competitions. Blood-soaked reality shows with a group of people running a race where only one will cross the finish line. I just want someone that I can root for! Hell, I’m not even saying “Don’t kill them,” I just want to look up at that silver screen and see someone that looks like me who might have a fighting chance to come out on the other side. It’s something I hope Rock will bring to the series now that Jordan Peele has brought that energy to the genre as a whole. Us and Get Out are an amazing example of that inclusivity, as it doesn’t show Black people as the typical stereotypes that horror used to shove Black people into. I love it. I want more. We should never stop wanting more.
At the end of the day, we’re not going to know what this movie is going to look like until we’ve paid the ticket price and sat down in our seats, but I don’t think we should be concerned. Chris Rock is a household name and comedy God who has a keen eye for finding those little details that will elicit the most potent reactions. In producing and conceiving the story for this film, he’s joining the club of funny people who have found a way to twist their own talents into something new and pleasantly horrifying.
It’s been working pretty well so far for those other comedians, and Rock has been crushing the game much, much longer than they have. You might say he’ll ruin it, but I say that it’s about time he made his move.
Andrew Keahey is a horror enthusiast and writer currently based in Austin, Texas. He’s been watching horror movies since he was far too young, and primarily writes essays, short fiction, and poetry. Find him on Twitter: @formaldehydefce