G.U.T.S. 68 – Spiral
This week on G.U.T.S. we had the pleasure of speaking with Darren Lynn and Josh Stolberg. The Director, and Writer of the Lions Gate Horror fest “Spiral”. The movie was top notch. These guys take us through the ends and outs of what it takes to make a horror masterpiece. How how they plan on continuing such an epic saga. Plus were straight off the plane from Days of the Dead and raring to tell you all about the convention.
Spiral (also known as Spiral: From the Book of Saw) is a 2021 American horror film directed by Darren Lynn Bousman and written by Josh Stolberg and Peter Goldfinger. It is the ninth installment in the Saw film series. The film stars Chris Rock, Max Minghella, Marisol Nichols, and Samuel L. Jackson, and follows police efforts to stop a Jigsaw copycat killer. The original creators of the series, James Wan and Leigh Whannell, as well as Rock and series veteran Kevin Greutert, serve as executive producers.
Talks of another Saw installment began after the release of Jigsaw in 2017, with Chris Rock wanting to branch out into the horror genre. The Spierig Brothers, who directed Jigsaw, were interested in returning for another film but eventually decided against it. The project was officially announced in May 2019, with Rock polishing a script by Stolberg and Goldfinger. The rest of the cast joined in July, with filming taking place in Toronto through that month and August.
Originally scheduled to be released in May 2020, Spiral was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and was theatrically released in the United States on May 14, 2021, by Lionsgate. The film received mixed reviews from critics, who praised the franchise’s new direction but were divided on whether it had fully succeeded in reinventing it.
During a Fourth of July parade, off-duty Detective Marv Bozwick chases a thief down a sewer drainage pipe. Attacked from behind by a figure wearing a pig mask, Bozwick awakens to find himself suspended by his tongue in an active subway tunnel and is given a choice via recorded message: tear out his tongue and live, or remain until the next train arrives, killing him. Unable to escape the trap in time, Bozwick is hit by the train and killed. The next day, police Captain Angie Garza assigns Detective Zeke Banks a new partner, idealistic rookie William Schenk. Banks and Schenk investigate Bozwick’s death and Banks realizes this to be similar to the modus operandi of the now deceased Jigsaw Killer.
Meanwhile, a homicide detective named Fitch – who several years prior had ignored a backup call from Banks, resulting in him nearly getting killed – is abducted and placed in a trap where he must rip his fingers off to avoid electrocution in a filling water basin; he also fails to escape and dies. Some officers begin to suspect that Banks may be responsible, due to his history with Fitch. A box then arrives at the station, containing a pig puppet and a piece of Schenk’s tattooed skin inside. A small vial inside the box directs the police to a butcher shop, which was previously a hobby shop where Banks and his father, retired chief Marcus Banks, would go. Upon arriving, the team discovers a tape recorder and a skinned corpse, identified as Schenk. Deciding to track down the killer himself, Marcus travels to a warehouse, where he is abducted. Shortly afterwards, Garza is kidnapped, and placed in a trap in the precinct’s cold storage where she has to sever her spinal cord on a blade to stop hot wax flowing from a pipe onto her face. She fails to do so and dies from her injuries due to the boiling hot wax as Banks discovers her body.
While chasing a lead, Banks is captured and wakes up at the warehouse, handcuffed to a pipe with a hacksaw nearby. He considers sawing off his arm, but successfully escapes using a loose bobby pin. He then discovers Peter Dunleavy, his former partner who was fired and imprisoned when Banks exposed a murder he committed, chained in place. In front of him is a large glass-crushing machine, which has been modified to rapidly hurl shrapnel at him. A tape recorder explains that Banks can choose to either free him or leave him to die. Although Banks attempts to save Dunleavy, he cannot get the key in time. Moving to another room, Banks then finds Schenk, who is revealed to have faked his own death by using the skinned corpse of the thief who lured Bozwick into the tunnels, and has been the copycat all along. He explains that his last name is actually Emmerson, the son of Charlie Emmerson, who was the person Dunleavy shot and killed because he had agreed to testify against a dirty cop. He also reveals that Marcus, during his time as chief, deliberately protected corrupt officers to “clean” the streets of crime more efficiently under Article 8.
Believing that Banks can be an ally, William presents him with a final test, revealing Marcus restrained in the air and slowly being drained of blood. William calls 9-1-1 and claims that he is a civilian being pursued by a shooter, resulting in the dispatcher sending a SWAT team to his location. He hands Banks a revolver with one cartridge, and offers him the choice to either shoot a target that will save Marcus but allow William to escape, or to kill William and let his father bleed to death. Banks shoots the target to save Marcus, causing his restraints to loosen and lowering him to the ground, and then begins to fight William. Shortly after, the SWAT team arrives and inadvertently triggers a tripwire, causing Marcus’ restraints to yank him upward again. The movement reveals a gun affixed to Marcus’ arm, leading the SWAT team to mistake him for the shooter and kill him. Banks screams despairingly as William escapes.
Chris Rock as Detective Zeke Banks
Max Minghella as Detective William Schenk / Emmerson
Leonidas Castrounis as Young William
Samuel L. Jackson as Marcus Banks
Marisol Nichols as Captain Angie Garza
Daniel Petronijevic as Detective Marv Bozwick
Richard Zeppieri as Detective Fitch
Patrick McManus as Peter Dunleavy
Ali Johnson as Officer Jeannie Lewis
Zoie Palmer as Kara Bozwick
Dylan Roberts as Sergeant Morgey Silva
K. C. Collins as Detective Drury
Edie Inksetter as Detective Deborah Kraus
Nazneen Contractor as Coroner Chada
Thomas Mitchell as Detective Tim O’Brien
Chad Camilleri as Benny Wrights
Christopher Ramsay as Speez
Frank Licari as Charlie Emmerson
Genelle Williams as Lisa Banks
Trevor Gretzky as Officer Pat Jones
Tobin Bell, who played John Kramer / Jigsaw in all previous Saw films, did not return in the film, making Spiral the first film in the franchise which does not physically feature Bell or feature the Jigsaw character onscreen beyond photographs. Bousman explained that the film’s killer is a “Jigsaw copycat”, not the original Jigsaw, stating his intention to not recast Bell in the iconic role. Bell had expressed interest in returning as Jigsaw if the story delved into the origins of Billy the Puppet.
Chris Rock approached Lionsgate with his concept for Spiral as a way to renovate the Saw franchise and his own career.
According to Chris Rock, the origins of Spiral came from a chance meeting with the vice chairman of Lionsgate, Michael Burns, at a friend’s wedding in Brazil, and he felt doing something in the horror genre would be a new avenue to take in his career, though he planned to include some comedic elements in the film. Rock approached Lionsgate with his ideas of extending the franchise, who became very interested in the concept. Lionsgate’s CEO Joe Drake said that Rock’s idea was “completely reverential to the legacy of the material while reinvigorating the brand with his wit, creative vision and passion for this classic horror franchise”. By January 2018, industry rumors had said that Lionsgate had begun discussions of a ninth Saw film, for which the Spierig Brothers would not be returning. The directors confirmed in an interview with Screen Rant that their film laid the ground work for future sequels. By April 2018, Twisted Pictures was developing a sequel with Jigsaw writers Josh Stolberg and Peter Goldfinger.
Following the release of Jigsaw, Stolberg and Goldfinger had been pitching a new Saw film focused solely on John Kramer / Jigsaw rather than on any of his established apprentices to series veterans Mark Burg and Oren Koules, but then Burg and Koules called the duo to inform them about Rock’s ideas for a new film, with Rock contacting them shortly afterwards to discuss his concept. Prior to that, other writers had pitched their ideas for the next Saw film to Lionsgate, but none of them had succeeded, while Stolberg and Goldfinger had come up with eight different versions for the film before Rock arrived and merged his idea with that of the duo. Burg and Koules instructed the duo to come up with a pitch for Rock. Stolberg and Goldfinger did so, and their pitch was approved by both Lionsgate and Rock, leading them to write their first draft, which was greenlit a week after being turned in. Rock aided Stolberg and Goldfinger during the writing process, rewriting the story when necessary.
An early iteration of the script had Rock’s character related to Danny Glover’s David Tapp from the first film. Stolberg and Goldfinger opted not to go in this direction as it “didn’t pass the smell test”. In May 2021, Bousman commented that discussions have taken place about possibly bringing Costas Mandylor back as Mark Hoffman in a future film. Having Tobin Bell appear as Jigsaw in the film was widely discussed by Bousman and the crew until the last day of filming, but they felt that by bringing Bell back, the film would feel like the ninth installment of the Saw franchise rather than a separate film like it was intended to be. As the Jigsaw character was killed off in the third film, Bousman felt that previous films did a disservice by using flashbacks to bring Jigsaw into the story and he didn’t want to repeat the same mistake in Spiral nor to disrespect Bell’s iconic performance. An idea Bousman considered to include Bell in Spiral was to have Bell singing a Johnny Cash cover during the ending sequence, but dropped the idea for finding it too gimmicky.
Spiral didn’t feature Tobin Bell reprising his usual role as Jigsaw, making it the first Saw film to not feature Bell.
Despite the discussions even taking place after the first test screening and through post-production, Stolberg stated in an interview with Bloody Disgusting that Jigsaw was never included in any draft for the screenplay of Spiral, as they felt that including Jigsaw would alter the “DNA” of the story they were trying to achieve, not intending to diminish the character but wanting to place the franchise in a new direction. Stolberg also felt that due to the franchise’s timeline, any possible connection John Kramer could have had with William Schenk / The Spiral Killer should have been when the latter was still a child, taking into account his portrayer’s age; Stolberg and Goldfinger proposed at one point to have an after-credits sequence where Kramer met a young Schenk after the murder of the latter’s father and bonded with him, possibly giving him the puppet he later uses as the Spiral Killer, to form an intricate relationship like those present in the first seven films, but it was ultimately decided to not film such sequence before trying to include the above mentioned Johnny Cash cover, which Bell actually recorded.
As the film’s killer is a Jigsaw copycat who differentiates from the original, it was decided to replace Billy the Puppet with a new puppet in the form of Mr. Snuggles, as Bousman felt that if the original Jigsaw was replaced, the original puppet should go and be replaced with a new one so the new killer can’t be compared. Deeming Bell’s voice as too iconic, the production feared that reusing it for Mr. Snuggles could have created questions about the relationship between both killers; an early draft actually featured Jigsaw’s voice only to then be revealed a digitally altered version of his voice and the story originally had all the speeches as actually being past recordings of Jigsaw’s voice using words in a different order to show that the Spiral Killer had digitally rearranged the words to create different tapes. The filmmakers had struggled with finding a new voice for the killer to replace Bell’s. Before settling on the computer simulated voice, Bousman went through numerous voices of women, children, and men. The final voice used in the film was selected only two days before finishing the sound mix.
On May 16, 2019, the film was officially in pre-production. Former series director Darren Lynn Bousman returned to helm the film, along with Burg and Koules as producers. Rock was involved as an executive producer, in addition to writing the story treatment. The original Saw creators James Wan and Leigh Whannell, along with Daniel Heffner, joined Rock as executive producers. Stolberg and Goldfinger were confirmed as scriptwriters. With the announcement, Rock stated, “I’ve been a fan of Saw since the first film in 2004. I am excited by the opportunity to take this to a really intense and twisted new place”. Bousman, who refused to direct another entry after Saw IV, turned down the chance to direct a Broadway show in New York City after Rock insisted he direct the film. Burg and Koules said that Rock’s treatment of Saw was comparable to what Eddie Murphy had done for buddy cop films in 48 Hrs., giving the Saw series a “completely fresh perspective”. Likewise, Bousman stated that in comparison to previous entries, Spiral included less violence and gore, expressing the conviction that the gore and violence were the gimmick for him back when he started working in the Saw films, but that both elements now serve the story, which focuses more on character, tension and fear. Stolberg also confirmed that the ninth installment would exist in the same canon as the previous eight films, and would not be a reboot or a direct sequel to Jigsaw.
Rock starred as Detective Zeke Banks. The character was conceived by Rock, Stolberg, and Goldfinger from the conversations they had before writing the screenplay, with Rock musing about what he would do if he were the original Saw protagonist Dr. Lawrence Gordon and be forced to cut off his own foot, until they decided that it would be interesting if Rock played a cop ostracized by his colleagues.
Samuel L. Jackson agreed to play Chief Marcus Banks out of interest in performing a situation he had never done before, like the climactic scene where his character is hanged up like a marionette. Marisol Nichols was cast as Captain Angie Garza; the role was originally written for a male actor, but the producers ultimately gave Nichols the role, who despite being a Saw fan, chose to not see the previous films but David Fincher’s Seven in preparation for the role. In an attempt to pursue an acting career on film and television after years acting on stage, coming across with the film, Patrick McManus first auditioned for the role of Detective Marv Bozwick, but was called back to play Peter Dunleavy while Dan Petronijevic was cast as Bozwick.
A fan of both horror and buddy-cop films, Max Minghella took on the role of William Schenk / The Spiral Killer as he yearned of starring in a movie with simple story-telling like the buddy cops of his youth like 48 Hrs., and when he read the script, he felt it was that along with a Saw film.
Principal photography began on July 8, 2019, in Toronto, Ontario, under the working title of The Organ Donor, with Jordan Oram serving as cinematographer. Rock, Jackson, Minghella, and Nichols were announced to be starring in the film. Lionsgate’s CEO Joe Drake stated, “We think Samuel L. Jackson and Chris Rock along with Max Minghella and Marisol Nichols make this film completely special in the Saw canon and we can’t wait to unleash this unexpected and sinister new story on fans of this franchise. This is next level of Saw on full tilt”. Rock had provided rewrites on set, and completely overhauled the introduction scene for his character. According to Bousman, a scene featuring a trap had to be cut from the film due to it being “too gnarly”. On August 28, 2019, filming officially wrapped up. During post-production, editing was completed by Dev Singh.