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The Shocking Inspiration Behind The Original Saw

The "Saw" franchise is one of the most enduring horror sagas of the last 20 years, but the inspiration for it came from a few surprising places. Director James Wan may not have been forced to cut his own foot off in a grimy bathroom, but he and screenwriter Leigh Whannell did turn to real-life when they were crafting the first "Saw" film. Indeed, while the pair decided on the setting for the film's story early on, it took some revisiting of old memories to nail down the motivation of the franchise's villain, Jigsaw (Tobin Bell).

Speaking to The A.V. Club, Whannell revealed that he had serious migraines when he was younger and that they were so bad he decided to go to the hospital. While he was waiting for his test results, he said that he imagined how the situation might look with a horror twist, saying, "I started to think, 'What if you were given the news that you had a tumor and you were going to die soon? How would you react to that?'" Whannel says that thought helped lead him to create the Jigsaw character, adding, "I sort of attached that to the idea of somebody who put people in a literal version of that. Instead of a doctor telling you, 'You have a year to live, make the best of it,' this guy would put people in a situation and say, 'You have 10 minutes to live. How are you going to spend those 10 minutes? Are you going to get out of it?'"

However, for James Wan, the inspiration for a key part of the "Saw" mythos came from a terrifying criminal case that had haunted him when he was younger.

The Saw franchise's villain was inspired by a serial tickler

On the special edition of "Saw II," there's a featurette where James Wan and Leigh Whannell discuss how they came up with Jigsaw's character and, specifically, the way he forces his victims to mutilate themselves. Wan revealed that he was inspired by a real-life criminal case he heard about when he was 17. The case apparently involved a serial offender who broke into people's houses to tickle their children's feet, which made an impact on the "Saw" filmmaker. "It was the creepiest thing I'd ever heard," Wan admitted. "I was so frightened. I remember after hearing that story, I slept for the next two, three nights with a hammer by my bedside." 

The serial tickler was eventually caught, and Wan says that it was the offender's comments to the police that influenced the Jigsaw character. "The cops interrogated him and he said he didn't do this on his own. He did it because he was forced to do it, " Wan revealed. Upon further research, Whannell discovered that the criminal had been sent a jigsaw piece telling him to do it. Wan later explained that the tickler "became the template for the Zep character," who Jigsaw forces to carry out horrific acts in the first "Saw" film in order to make him look like the real killer.

Meanwhile, when they were promoting the first film, the "Saw" duo says that someone sent the crew a letter marked with a jigsaw drawing that read, "Dear friends, I liked the film haha. I like to see my work on-screen. The actor playing me was very good. I have dark hair though. Hope to see more on-screen, should ask for some money haha." It's a terrifying end to an already unnerving story, and somehow, it manages to make the entire "Saw" franchise just a little bit creepier.