Saturday, July 24, 2010

Now Available for Pre-Order: Nightmares in Red, White and Blue

Joseph Maddrey's horror film documentary Nightmares in Red, White and Blue: The Evolution of the American Horror Film -- which Fangoria called "The Best Documentary Of Its Kind in Years" -- is now up for pre-order at, here.

The incomparable Lance Henriksen narrates, and Joe conducted great on-screen interviews with John Carpenter, George Romero, Joe Dante, Larry Cohen, Mick Garris, Tom McLoughlin, Darren Lynn Bousman, and other horror icons.

And yes, yours truly is in the show too. Check it out!

Friday, July 23, 2010

CULT TV FLASHBACK # 111: The X-Files: "Sein Und Zeit"/"Closure"

"You know, I never stop to think that the light is billions of years old by the time we see it. From the beginning of time right past us into the future. Nothing is ancient in the universe. But, maybe they are souls, Scully. Traveling through time as starlight, looking for homes..."

-Fox Mulder contemplates the night sky, and the fate of his sister Samantha, in The X-Files, "Closure."

In the epic two-part X-File presentation, "Sein Und Zeit"/"Closure," a television inside Agent Fox Mulder's motel room in Sacramento plays important imagery from the classic sci-fi film, Planet of the Apes (1968).

In particular, orangutan scientist and Protector of the Faith, Dr. Zaius (Maurice Evans) warns the human astronaut Taylor (Charlton Heston) not to seek the truth about his people, about humanity.

"Don't look for it, Taylor," the simian urges. "You may not like what you find."

When asked by Dr. Zira (Kim Hunter) about what Taylor will find on that mysterious shore-line stretching to the horizon, Dr. Zaius replies, cryptically, "his destiny."

This quotation from a sci-fi, cinematic landmark underlines the thematic through-line of this emotionally-affecting X-File two-parter, which aired originally on Fox TV on February 6th and February 13, 2000. Written by Chris Carter and Frank Spotnitz, this seventh season story very explicitly concerns the idea of "seeing."

In particular, the narrative revolves around the way that people -- even good people -- tend to see only what they desire to see. Even heroes like Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) -- who believes he is seeing through conspiracies and secrets -- tends to see the world as it conforms to his particular world-view.

This isn't a critique of Mulder so much as it is an observation about human nature. It's just how we, as thoughtful, emotional beings, operate. We all boast a personal lens (our viewpoint) through which we see and attempt to interpret the world. The X-Files remains such a memorable and valuable television series because it provides not one, but two distinctive world-views, two perspectives, in the persons of Scully (Gillian Anderson) and Mulder (David Duchovny).

But the series also pointedly tasks us, the audience, with seeking the "balance" or "truth" between those perspectives, these two "poles" of human sight and insight. We are encouraged, on one literal level, to contemplate extreme possibilities (like the existence of the paranormal or supernatural), and but then, on a deeper, metaphorical level, to consider what these possibilities mean to the characters, even to the human equation as a whole.

In other words, The X-Files deploys both its stirring and scary supernatural cases and its two very-differently-inclined heroic investigators to gaze meaningfully at the essence of our human nature. In my opinion, this is the critical element that renders the series an artistic masterpiece in the tradition of Star Trek, The Twilight Zone or other genre greats. Although not as widely popular as many other installments of the Carter series, this two-part effort reveals The X-Files at its most meaningful, and indeed, most poetic.

As is also often the case with The X-Files, "Sein Und Zeit"/"Closure" commences with reality, and with a real life event from the 1990s as context, and then beelines into the unexpected, the supernatural.

Here, the action starts in Sacramento when a cute-as-a-button, six-year old girl, Amber Lynn La Pierre, disappears from her bedroom...never to be seen alive again. Oddly, her mother disassociates from reality and pens a cryptic ransom note (through the paranormal auspices of "automatic writing.") And her father experiences a precognitive vision of the little girl's bruised corpse.

If you remember the 1990s at all, you will appreciate many of the details of this strange, macabre introduction. Jon Benet Ramsey, a six year old girl, was discovered dead in her family home in Colorado on Christmas Day, 1996. The unsolved case became a media sensation for months and even years. As late as 2006 (and the false confession by John Mark Karr), this murder was still a topic of hot debate.

Importantly, the bizarre ransom note in the Jon Benet Ramsey case, believed to be written by the late Mrs. Ramsey, opens with the same two cautionary words as the note written by Mrs. La Pierre in the X-Files episode: "Listen carefully!"

Furthermore, the victim in both cases is a six-year old girl. And in both real and fictitious cases, the parents are believed to be the perpetrators of a terrible, heinous crime; the murder of a child. There's even a connection between Amber Lynn and Jon Benet in the Christmas day trappings. At the bottom of Mrs. La Pierre's ransom note is a mystifying, holiday-themed sentence: "No one shoots at Santa Claus!"

This odd final sentence is the very clue that rouses Mulder's interest. He remember an earlier X-File in which the same sentence was also scrawled in a ransom note. Another woman, Kathy Lee Tencate (Kim Darby, of Don't Be Afraid of the Dark fame...) wrote the same words on a kidnapper's note for her "missing" son back in 1987. She is currently in prison, having confessed to his murder. But that is just a legal ploy and Ms. Tencate actually believes -- as Mulder comes to believe -- that ancient spirits called "Walk-Ins" are responsible for the disappearance of these children. That they are "old souls protecting the children" from terrible violence in this mortal coil, as depicted in the precognitive visions of the parents.

The particulars of the case are resolved at a place called "Santa's North Pole Village," a haven for a serial killer who abducts and murders children. One visitor at his tourist trap was...Amber Lynn La Pierre. She was destined to die at his hand, like too many other innocents, and the Walk-Ins spared her this terrible agony, transforming the child from matter into energy...into, poetically-speaking, "starlight."

Ultimately, however, this paranormal resolution of a murder case related to real-life isn't the point of Carter and Spotnitz's intricate and haunting tale. The narrative take a strange and unexpected turn when Mulder learns of his mother's suicide...and comes to realize that his missing sister, Samantha, may have also been taken by these Old Spirits as well.

For seven years up to this point, one of The X-Files most prominent mysteries involved Samantha and her ultimate disposition. Was Mulder's sibling abducted by aliens in 1973? Was she taken to another world? Is she still alive on another planet? Will Mulder ever be reunited with her?

This has been Mulder's continuing obsession, his white whale, and various episodes of the series have charted clues, intimated destines, and suggested possibilities. One episode even revealed the aliens harnessing Samantha clones, if I'm not mistaken.

But "Closure" suggests,Mulder has not seen the truth at all. The investigations, the trappings of the alien abduction and other bells and whistles of the case, have actively prevented him from seeing the truth.

And what is that truth? That his sister...a frightened fourteen year-old girl, for all intents and purposes died in 1979.

All Mulder's adult life, he has been chasing a ghost rather than dealing with the truth that his sister is gone. The Cigarette Smoking Man even encourages Mulder's wild goose chase. "Allow him his ignorance," he tells Scully. "It's what gives him hope."

It's a hard, human truth Mulder finally comes to countenance here, and much of this two-parter deals explicitly with our (understandable) sense of outrage and futility when innocence is corrupted, when innocence (like the innocence of Amber Lynn La Pierre or Jon Benet Ramsey) is destroyed. by human "evil." Carter and Spotnitz suggest a welcome spiritual remedy to such ugliness: Walk-Ins who take the children and spare them the pain of such destruction. But the writers also offer Mulder a sense of closure, if he will accept it. The quest for Samantha is over. Or as he realizes, he's reached "the end of the road."

What makes this sense of closure all the more emotionally affecting is that Mulder is joined in this story by a kindly psychic, Harold Piller (Anthony Heald) who lost a son to the kindly Walk-Ins, just as Mulder lost Samantha. But because Harold refuses to believe his son is dead...he can't see him. He refuses to see his boy's spirit, and acknowledge the truth, He cannot grieve, can never on, because his stubbornness won't let him. And thus he achieves the opposite of his desired goal. He remains eternally separated from the child.

Mulder attempts to sway him. "Harold, you see so much, but you refuse to see him," he says. "You refuse to let him go. But you have to let him go now, Harold. He's protected. He's in a better place. They're all in a better place. We both have to let go, Harold."

Our final view of Harold in "Closure" is a haunting one. He runs off, dedicated to finding his "truth"...which is no truth at all. He would rather chase the palatable fantasy than accept the sad reality. This is the object lesson. This could have been Mulder, forever tilting at windmills, never moving on, past the defining traumatic experience of his life.

What remains so remarkable about this X-File story is that Spotnitz and Carter successfully make the audience feel much like stubborn Harold. After seven years and over a hundred episodes, we all invested in Mulder's quest, and the possibility of a happy reunion, of Samantha's safe return. That's what we all hoped for. But this episode precludes such a happy ending, even as it grants Mulder a kind of release.

That sense of release, of catharsis, arrives in one of the most beautiful, lyrical sequences I've ever seen on a television program" a kind of perfect expression of magical, spiritual reality. By starlight, Mulder ascends a hill, accompanied by Harold's son...and sees a field where the "taken" children are at play...still innocent, forever young. There, he is reunited with his fourteen year-old sister. Shot in glowing white light, in slow-motion photography, cut to a haunting but cathartic song from Moby (called "My Weakness,") the long journey ends, and Mulder finds a degree of peace.

Yet some X-Files fans I know outright rejected this lyrical conclusion, mirroring Harold's rejection in the storyline itself. It is easier for us, often, to accept fantasy than reality . We don't have all the answers, and as Scully suggests, "we never truly know why" things happen. But, this tale reminds us, we must attempt to make our peace with the way things are. As as often the case in Chris Carter's works, he purposefully flouts expectations here in order to foster a deeper understanding of the human race. We had expected a Samantha resolution story to involve alien abduction, not, explicitly, grief, about the process of letting go.

Like Planet of the Ape's Taylor -- Chris Carter and Frank Spotnitz tell us -- we may not like what we find at the end of the road. The fans are in the same boat as Taylor and Mulder: we don't want to climb that star-lit plateau and know, finally, that Samantha is gone. But it's our destiny. Just as it is every human being's destiny to grieve a loved one, and, in fact, to die.

The popular meme, endlessly repeated in the media about The X-Files, is that it is a brilliant series that stayed on the air a few years too long, and in doing so, somehow damaged its permanent legacy. I would argue, contrarily, that episodes such as "Sein Und Zeit" and "Closure" reveal the opposite is actually true.

It would have been extraordinarily easy of Chris Carter and Frank Spotnitz to write a happy ending for Samantha and Fox Mulder. They probably could have done it in their sleep, actually. Mulder gets information from the Lone Gunmen that the Cigarette Smoking Man is holding Samantha for tests somewhere, and Mulder and Scully break her out. Brother and sister are reunited. Cue End Credits.

Instead, these writers pursued a more creative, artistic path and forged a tale about how difficult it is to accept our own mortality, or the mortality of loved ones. This is why human beings have that we don't have to openly acknowledge that for all of us, there is an end. Although this episode of The X-Files also promises a kind of moral hierarchy to the universe -- one in which innocence is preserved instead of destroyed -- it simultaneously acknowledges that death is an irreparable and grievous separation.

Mulder aches to "believe to understand." And in a beautifully-composed and delivered voice-over, Mulder contemplates the destruction of innocence, and human mortality:

"They said the birds refused to sing and the thermometer fell suddenly... as if God Himself had His breath stolen away. No one there dared speak aloud, as much in shame as in sorrow. They uncovered the bodies one by one. The eyes of the dead were closed as if waiting for permission to open them. Were they still dreaming of ice cream and monkey bars? Of birthday cake and no future but the afternoon? Or had their innocence been taken along with their lives, buried in the cold earth so long ago? These fates seemed too cruel, even for God to allow. Or are the tragic young born again when the world's not looking?

I want to believe so badly; in a truth beyond our own, hidden and obscured from all but the most sensitive eyes; in the endless procession of souls; in what cannot and will not be destroyed. I want to believe we are unaware of God's eternal recompense and sadness. That we cannot see His truth; that that which is born still lives and cannot be buried in the cold earth. But only waits to be born again at God's behest... where in ancient starlight we lay, in repose..."

To me, this soliloquy a perfect summation of human existence, and particularly human doubt. It's an explicit grappling with the unanswerable "why" of our lives. We want to believe in something greater, something good and kind at the end of the rainbow Why? Because, again like Taylor, we're all going to be making that trip ourselves, whether we want to or not. "Sein Und Zeit" and "Closure" get at this truth beautifully. The episodes don't hit you over the head with everything, either. For instance, in a scene featuring ghosts, there's a young, World War II era couple depicted, and without acknowledging explicitly their identities, we understand that they are Mulder's (now-reunited) parents...supporting his "quest" and his attempt to learn the truth.

I suppose what "Closure" really comes down to is the idea that we can either accept hard reality, like Mulder, or retreat into "not seeing," like Harold. Even today, I think that's particularly relevant message, globally and individually, in our culture.

We sometimes need to understand that -- in seeking answers -- we may not like what we find. Still, we need the grace to accept the truth for what it is.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

RETRO TOY FLASHBACK # 90: Rock Lords (Bandai/Tonka) (1985)

I write this post today in honor of my son, Joel, who will be four years old in a few short months.

Joel's latest toy obsession (after Transformers, after Kenner Superheroes, after Bakugan...) revolves around metamorphic creatures called "Rock Lords."

These action-figures are a spin-off from Bandai's and Tonka's successful GoBots line of the mid-1980s. In 1986, specifically, there was an animated feature film called GoBots: Battle of the Rock Lords (1986) and it involved the GoBot Guardians protecting "powerful living rocks" from the likes of Cy-Kill and the leader of the evil rocklords, named Magmar (and voiced by Telly Savalas). Margot Kidder voiced the Rock Lord queen, Solitaire, and Roddy McDowall played Nuggit, the sort of R2D2 of this particular franchise.

Now, unlike Transformers or GoBots, these Rocklords don't actually transform into vehicles...they transform At first blush, that sounds highly uninteresting and totally lacking in creativity, but Joel loves these critters with a passion. First, he loves transforming them; they're great puzzles to further develop his small motor skills.

And secondly, Joel has no problem landing his action figures in creative situations. For instance, the Rocklords transform into harmless rocks in our garden, in our flower bed, under trees, etc., and then spring into action against the bad guys. As normal-looking rocks, they're good stealth warriors, I suppose. In a four-year old world, it makes perfect, even cunning sense.

What seems indeterminate to me (though not Joel...) is what exactly these rock lords are when they aren't rocks. Are they robots? Biological organisms? What? Joel has settled firmly on the idea that they are robots...made of that "powerful living rock."

On the side of the good guys in the Rock Lord battle are the following individuals: Boulder, Crackpot, Granite, Nuggit, Marbles and Pulver-Eyes, to name a few (all-pictured).

On the side of evil is the aforementioned Magmar. His minions include Brimstone (who wields a mean battle-axe), Tombstone, and Styx-and-Stones (a two-headed monstrosity). These are all pictured as well (in the third and fourth photo).

Not pictured are the characters that Joel doesn't own yet (and are not in my crazy collection): Slimestone, Stoneheart and a few other villains. The neutral Swedes of this rock lord collection are the Rockasaurs, who refuse to take sides, I suppose. The one that looks like a Pterodactyl is called "Terra-Roc." (pictured with the villains.)

The fascinating thing about the Rock Lords line is that there are apparently class differences at work in the "rock" culture. There's a whole subset of these guys from the planet Quartex called Jewel Lords (with names like Solitaire, and Flamestone), and another subset of "Fossil Lords" as well. These variations are difficult to find...and really, really expensive. But Joel really wants them and encourages me to spend my free-time haunting E-Bay while he watches videos of Tom and Jerry and You Tube. So I'm either the best father or the worst, not sure which...

In addition to action figures and vehicles, the Rock Lords were merchandised in the 1980s with other neat collectibles. For instance, there was a lunch box, and a coloring book from Golden (which I snagged on E-bay too for Joel.)

For the curious: here's a sample of the Rock Lords movie:

And here's a Tonka Rock Lords toy commercial from the 1980s:

The Future Just Got More Fantastic...

From TVShows on DVD: Following their very well-received The Prisoner Blu-ray release last fall, A&E Home Video is preparing a high-def Blu-ray Disc version of Space: 1999 - Season 1. is taking pre-orders now...for a 6-disc set that the box cover describes as "complete, uncut and restored in high definition".

Monday, July 19, 2010

Once You Are in Hell, Only the Devil Can Help You Out: The Tao of Jigsaw

Without a doubt, the most prominent silver screen bogeyman of the last decade is John Kramer, or Jigsaw (Tobin Bell).

This memorable horror villain has headlined a whopping six franchise feature films spanning the years 2004 to 2009, with a seventh Saw installment on the way (in 3-D) soon.

Much like historical cinematic bogeymen such as Freddy Krueger, Michael Myers, and Hannibal Lecter, Jigsaw's very nature informs us about ourselves; about the things occurring in our world during his terrifying reign from Saw (2004) through Saw VI (2009).

The first important thing to understand about John Kramer is that he is a man who has known personal hardship. John's unborn child died in the womb when a weaselly drug addict named Cecil (Billy Otis) slammed a door into the belly of the expectant mother, John's wife, Jill Tuck (Betsy Russell).

If that tragedy wasn't sufficient suffering for one man to endure, John Kramer also weathered a terrifying car accident and the associated, bloody injuries, and -- finally -- was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. In some ways, John Kramer has been made to suffer more -- and in a shorter span -- than the Old Testament's Job. Like that Biblical character, Kramer was once a prosperous, happy man. But he was tested by -- if not God -- then certainly life.

Instead of surrendering to his enduring pain and loss, John Kramer selected another path. Sick and dying, he began to see that all those supposedly "healthy" people around him did not cherish they lives; that they were ungrateful for all they had.

So John set about to test these ungrateful, unaware people in the most painful, life-threatening manners possible. These tests or "traps" (or "games," as John Kramer terms them) comprise the gory, body-annihilating set-pieces of the Saw series. Each game is introduced with Jigsaw's euphemistic opener, "I want to play a game," and usually ends with a simple "game over."

Contextually, Jigsaw's flesh-rending, trademark games represent the crucible through which these ungrateful individuals must face their crimes, their weaknesses, their oversights, and their mistakes. In keeping with the post-9/11 context of the Saw films, nobody gets off scot-free, without losing something (usually a limb or other body part...).

For example, Dr. Gordon (Cary Elwes) in Saw (2004) -- who has been unfaithful to his wife -- loses a foot to rescue his family. A predatory lender in Saw VI (2009) must hack off her own arm to survive, giving up a literal pound of flesh.

Interestingly, those victims/player who do endure through Jigsaw's bloody gauntlet may also arrive somewhere special in terms of understanding: at the same destination, in fact, as their secret guru, their anonymous teacher, John Kramer.

In other words, they come to appreciate life all the more for their harrowing journey. Jigsaw's mantra, "Cherish Your Life" becomes a phrase to live by.

I hasten to add, this is not a small lesson in the Age of Terror. We should cherish our lives, the Saw movies remind us, because easy, happy, seemingly-eternal continuance isn't a given. As an ex-President is fond of reminding us, "oceans can't protect us anymore." Government can't protect us, either, as Hurricane Katrina and the BP Oil Spill have proven. Life can be taken away in a heartbeat, even in modern America. That's an essential part of the human experience, despite our affluent, technological culture.

The Saw movies actually concern several entangled, interconnected aspects of American politics in the 2000s. There is blowback: a repayment for bad deeds by a wronged person; certainly a metaphor for what some people might deem imperialist foreign policy leading up to 9/11.

There is also the reckoning that comes from surviving an absolutely destructive, horrifying, and traumatic event, like the 9/11 attack itself. That attack (and Katrina, etc.) remind us how lucky we are to be alive. How the bell could have tolled for us; or for our own beloved family members in such a crisis.

And most importantly, perhaps, there is the hypocrisy of personal judgment imposed on other people. What elevates Jigsaw to the realm of villain and bogeyman-- and not merely a righteous moral avenger -- is the fact that he forces his belief system on others. He believes he knows the answers, that he knows the "right way" and that others must follow those ways so they can function on his "higher" moral level. This is self-righteous and intrusive in the extreme, yet Jigsaw sees his actions simply as helping people.

In other words, Jigsaw imposes upon his victims "games" in which they must specifically choose between two pre-arranged alternatives. Yes, they may learn from the horrifying experience. But the fact that they must learn at all is a result of Kramer's actions, no matter how John chooses to see it or rationalize it.

Jigsaw remains popular, I submit, because people of all political persuasions can interpret his behavior as being either Bush-like (pre-emptively forcing his will on others because he believes God wants him to; that he is on a holy mission) or Obama-like (legislating new social order from the bully pulpit).

I'll stay out of that particular argument...but I submit a case could likely be made from either end of the spectrum.

Finally, the Saw films boast another important and timely quality. They are unbelievably gory. Saw III (my choice for the best film in the cycle) is probably the most effectively gory film I've ever seen. By that, I mean simply that the movie boasts a powerful emotional impact, and isn't just a display of spaghetti special effects for shock and awe. This quality too is a product of our times. In the 2000s, Americans saw the bloody corpses of Uday and Qusay Hussein on cable television, photographs of prisoner abuses at Abu Ghraib, news footage of American corpses hanged and burned to cinders in Iraq, and even a contractor decapitated by Al Qaeda, on the Net. You want to complain about "torture porn?" Don't point at the Saw films as devilish culprits (they merely reflect what's happening in our culture), point out the mainstream media for playing such ghastly images on a seemingly endless loop, day in and day out.

Given all this pertinent historical context, let's now play a game ourselves. Let's enumerate the most important qualities of this particular silver screen "monster," or the Tao of Jigsaw.

1.) He understands that "The Knowledge of Death changes everything."

Because of his own personal experiences, Jigsaw has come to understand what truly matters in life.

It's not wealth. It's not material belongings. It's personal morality;

It's the way we treat each other in this life. As strange as it sounds, many of Jigsaw's games are designed to foster that understanding.

Because Jigsaw has accepted his own death, he has no fear, no desire for possessions, no need to gain further power or prominence in the culture. Instead, he uses the knowledge of death to "see" other people as they truly are, and pinpoint and expose their faults.

It was never done in the Saw films, but it would have been truly interesting to see John's self-righteous moral lens turned on himself; to see someone else at the same plateau of "higher" morality judge him. His students, Amanda Young (Shawnee Smith) and Detective Hoffman (Costas Mandylor) accept his dictates almost mindlessly; and other characters, such as Kerry (Dina Meyer) and Rigg (Lyriq Bent) reject him out of hand, considering him simply a criminal to be caught. Who judges the judge?

2.) He picks the right tool for the right job. Or, the punishment fits the crime.

Jigsaw is fiendishly clever and yet amazingly insightful in the manner he selects his victim's deadly "games." The games almost universally have something to do with the victim's bad behavior.

A corrupt cop, Eric Matthews (Donnie Wahlberg) is positioned by rope over a melting ice cube of considerable size, for instance, a metaphor for his "slippery" moral behavior on the job, in
Saw IV. When the ice melts...he will hang.

In Saw III, Jigsaw makes an abused woman's continued survival dependent on the physical separation from her abuser (her husband). They are both impaled on long spikes, but the beaten-down woman can pull herself off...and kill her spouse in the process. In other words, this woman must release herself from the shackles of co-dependency, instead of going back to the man that hurts her. Again. She can either die with him, or establish independence in a...pointed fashion.

In Saw VI, a slimy health insurance agent, Will (Peter Outerbridge) mercilessly chooses every day which strangers should live and die according to business, according to health insurance policy "rules." He issues death sentences with an eye not towards morality, but towards the company's bottom line. Jigsaw understands this, and thus makes Will's behavior on the job personal. In his deadly game, William must choose from among his friends, family and co-workers who should live and who should die. He suddenly sees the emotional underpinnings of his policy choices clearly.

Even Amanda's ghoulish game in Saw -- which involves a helmet that will literally rip her face apart -- seems to fit the nature of her individual personal demons. She is a junkie. She puts poison into her body on a regular basis. Amanda cares so little for her "temple," apparently, that she is willing to destroy it. Accordingly, Jigsaw provides a game which requires her to protect it from total destruction; the very opposite of her typical behavior.

3.) He understands that we're all "connected."

We're all in this life together. We are all citizens of the planet Earth. Ocean may separate us, but we are all of one globe.

Jigsaw understands that all human beings are "connected" through our choices, and attempts to teach this lesson to his victims.

In Saw V, Jigsaw arranges a game for five co-conspirators involved in a real-estate swindle. All five of the people enmeshed in this "deal" were looking out only for themselves; only for their own bottom-line. The end result is that several homeless people died in a fire they caused. They were so busy looking out for their percentage, they forgot the human equation. They committed murder because lining their pockets was more important.

Accordingly, Jigsaw lands all five conspirators in a game in which one person's fate dictates everybody's fate. The five people-- like we citizens of Planet Earth -- are connected. And if they learn their lesson -- if they realize the nature of this connection -- they will survive with minimal carnage and bodily harm. If they don't realize this, if they only look out for themselves, there can be no winner. Everyone will die.

In essence, this is an environmental message. We share the Earth. We either treat it right so we all can enjoy it, or we risk losing the whole game for everybody.

4.) He knows that immortality exists not in continued survival, but in the children.

Jigsaw, John Kramer, knows that he is going to die. He knows that the body weakens, and that life ends. He is not immortal.

Throughout the Saw films, then, he takes on multiple apprentices, "spiritual" children who can learn what he knows, and follow in his fatherly footsteps. These children are Amanda, Hoffman and Rigg.

Some of John's heirs prove disappointments. Rigg is a failed student. He is shown Jigsaw's way...but never takes to it.

Amanda and Hoffman both very soon prove to be more sadistic and less fair-minded than John (who believes that "everyone deserves a second chance"). Specifically, it is always possible for victims to survive one of John's games, if they play well, if they choose correctly. There is escape if the lesson is learned and understood, and understanding is demonstrated to the game master.

In Amanda and Hoffman's games -- as Detective Kerry learns the hard way -- the deck is stacked. There is only death and annihilation at the end of the contest, and so John's brand of justice becomes simply "vengeance." As self-righteous as John is, at the very least he plays by the rules. His offspring do not.

Yet sometimes siblings fight (Amanda and Hoffman boast a terrible rivalry...), and sometimes children disappoint their parents...but Jigsaw knows that the future is theirs, regardless. He attempts to share his wisdom with them, even taking into account that they are not "him" and can never be "him." He is both a good and bad father, I suppose. Good, because he teaches his children how to live. Bad, because that way to live is, well, at best self-righteous, at worst evil.

In a deep (and yet exquisitely gory...) fashion, the Saw movies are deliberately all about our moral decisions, and about the way we pass judgment on others for their moral decisions. We can look at the context of the films, the years from 2004 - 2010, to glean a better understanding of the movies, but perhaps the most critical aspect of the Tao of Jigsaw is human nature itself. John Kramer -- Jigsaw -- will likely carry relevance and meaning for us so long as human nature remains unchanged.

In other words, "the games have just begun..."