914455_327688007389494_1222395109_n(BJ Colangelo as a 14 year old. Feel free to judge those broke-ass extensions)

2004 was a strange year for me.  I graduated from a very small junior high school in June and a few months later I was thrown into the chaotic world of an overpopulated and underfunded high school.  I liked to think my friends in junior high and I had similar interests, but none of them were ever as into horror as I was.  High school changed everything.  To this day, my closest friend is the girl I met the first day of try-outs for the school musical, and she’s still the only person that I think truly “gets” me.  When the Chicago summer was coming to an end, I met my first real boyfriend.  He was much older than I was but thanks to being an early bloomer, he had no idea just how much older.  He was, however, was a die hard horror fanatic.  That’s all either of us needed.  On our third date, he wanted to take me to see a film that I admittedly had problems with even looking at the previews.  The unsettling puppet in the night vision screen asking “Would you like to play a game?” made my heart race so fast I’m sure people could hear it five miles away.  Don’t be fooled. I may have been writing about horror for over five years, but I’m a huge wimp.  My parents were never shy about exposing me to taboo media.  I was the only kid in my 2nd grade class that had ever seen an episode of SOUTH PARK and my mom had been feeding me a healthy diet of horror and cult cinema for as long as I can remember.  Seeing an R-rated film in the comfort of your home is one thing, seeing one in a theater for the first time is another.

had been out for a little over a week when my guy and I crossed over the state line into Wisconsin to see the film.  My parents absolutely hated this guy (spoiler alert: they were right all along) so we often snuck into Wisconsin to hang out where we were less likely to run into people that would rat us out to my Mom and Dad.  The entire ride to the theater was a total adrenaline rush.  Everything about it felt so…dangerous.  For a 14 year old white girl from the suburbs, sneaking into Wisconsin with a 19 year old to see an R-rated was about as dangerous as it got.  However, I was a huge panicky mess back then, and my guy could see it all over my face.  We got to the theater parking lot and he asked me what was up.  In a crying fit, I blurted out that I was only 14 and I was so sorry that I didn’t tell him sooner but I was so afraid that I was going to get caught at this R-rated film and that the ticket taker would call my parents and I’d ruin his life.  He sat for a second, laughed, said “We haven’t done anything illegal, and no one is going to ask if you’re old enough for the film. Trust me.” I was so shocked that he wasn’t mad that my fear immediately turned into pure adrenaline.  I was a freshman in high school, dating a freshman in college, and I was about to sneak into my first rated-R movie.

As expected (when your ticket taker is a 16 year old being paid minimum wage) I got in without a hitch.  I wish I had some exciting tale about buying a ticket for RAY and tip-toeing past the concessions stand to get into the film, but I don’t. I literally bought a ticket and walked right through without a second glance.  A little anti-climatic, yes, but at least my adrenaline calmed down a little.  We were the first two people in the theater (I was too scared to get popcorn and possibly get caught. Again, I am was a spaz.) so we managed to nab the best seats in the house.  The theater quickly filled in and murmurs of “I’m so scared!” and “This is going to be great!” overpowered any of the local ads playing on the screen.  I don’t particularly remember the previews, but I distinctly remember jumping out of my seat when the green flashes of thunder and lighting illuminated the screen to showcase the LGF logo…and I gripped my guy’s hand so firmly, my nails broke the skin on his palm.

As Adam awoke from his bathtub slumber and began screaming for help and looking for the light, I was hooked.  The sound rattled through the theatre surround sound and shook me to the core. And then it happened. The body on the floor in the middle of the room was shown for the first time.  To say I gasped was an understatement.  I think it would have been more accurate to say I was attempting to suck every single oxygen particle out of the air in Kenosha County, Wisconsin.  I was immediately terrified but luckily, the “My name is Very Fucking Confused” hit and I had a moment of relief.  But then Adam noticed the tapes in the envelopes and the mini-cassette recorder under the hand of the dead body.  NOPE. I’VE SEEN THE TRAILERS. I DO NOT WANT TO HEAR THAT SCARY ASS VOICE.  Here’s where I let people in on a little secret.  When I’m scared in a theatre, I don’t prop up my feet or cover my eyes, I look directly above the screen.  My head naturally jolts at an upward angle thanks to years and years of baton performances requiring my head up, so I can comfortably look above the screen without anyone knowing I’m “not looking.”  Welp. You can’t do that with your ears, so I had to hear the voice that would haunt my dreams for about a year.  I spent the next few minutes trying to get my heart to go back to a normal pace, and then they began sawing at their chains.  The frantic sound design of the different saws going to town on their metal chains was bouncing around from the left to the right and back again.  I had never in my life experienced something like this, and it threw me into sensory overdrive.

Once the backstories of all of the characters kicked in, I was somewhat caught in a trance.  No matter how fast the edits jumped around Amanda’s reverse bear trap head piece, I couldn’t look away.  I was fixated on these people, I was invested in their stories, and I wanted them to survive at any cost.  I watched Amanda tear into the insides of another person and I felt myself cheering for her. YEAH! STAB HIM! GET THE KEY!  What was happening to me?!  The blood was so bright compared to the dingy green room and my eyes widened as she handled his organs.  My heart raced as the timer ticked and ticked and ticked and then the bear trap snapped on the concrete and I found myself breathing again.  I’m not sure if I held my breath, but I remember the sound of my breath underscoring her cries. My boyfriend leaned over to me and asked, “could you do it?” Before he could finish his sentence I snapped back.

“In a heartbeat.”

Watching the rest of the film is somewhat of a blur (Yes, the pig mask jump scares made me scream and the puppet laugh still scares the shit out of me) but the ending completely rocked my face off.  We had all been secretly waiting the entire film to see if one of them was going to saw off their foot, and Dr. Lawrence Gordon gave us what we had all paid admission to see.  He did it. He cut his fucking foot off. I expected the screen to cut to black as he screamed in pain, but that’s not where it ended. Not even close.  Lawrence crawls off looking for help, Adam searches Zep Hindle for a key and instead finds his cassette recorder, AND THE DEAD BODY IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ROOM STANDS UP.  Earn your cool points for guessing the ending, that’s fine.  It blew my 14 year old mind.  The entire theater erupted in gasps, screams, and audibles, myself included. I believe the expression was, “Holy. Shit.”  As John Kramer closed the door and Adam’s screamed echoed over the credits, I sat there with my jaw dropped.  I had never, ever seen a film like this.  It was gross, it was unsettling, it screwed with my senses, it had a developed and well thought out storyline, and it had an extremely unfair ending.  It was the first theatrical R-rated horror film I ever saw, and I’m so very happy for that.

SAW has since become one of the most profitable horror franchises in horror history and Billy the Puppet is a bonafide horror icon.  After six sequels, numerous parodies, and 10 years, I think sometimes we forget just how effective and wonderful the first film is.  I salute James Wan and Leigh Whannell for spawning such a successful franchise, and I personally thank them for making my first R-rated theatrical experience one I will never forget.

  1. SMITH says:

    Great stuff. I love that first movie.

  2. Alex Krajci says:

    2009’s Watchmen Was The First Time One Of My Brother Jesse’s Friends Yan Got Into An R-Rated Movie.

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