'Saw': I can't stand to see it. Is that okay?

I mean it: I literally, physiologically cannot bear horror movies in which people are tortured. I get sick to my stomach. I feel like I’m going to faint. I have nightmares for days. My distaste has almost become a phobia. So I don’t watch them. I do all the assignment trading I can so I don’t have to review them. And I count us all lucky that Owen not only has a true appreciation of the genre, but also the deep knowledge of repertory with which to write smartly about what is, after all, a very popular kind of movie.

I admit this here, knowing that one response might be, “It’s your job. Deal with it.” But, see, I’ve been thinking about what makes an honest critic, not to mention a reliable one with whom readers can engage. And I’ve come to the conclusion that owning up to my, let’s call it, weakness is in the end more useful than pretending I can be businesslike about a movie experience that repels me.

Perhaps if it were any other sore spot, shared by professional critics and regular movie-goers alike–maybe a particular love or hatred of chick flicks or underdog sports stories, slow-moving Iranian tales about little kids or quick-talking British pics about colorful thugs — I’d be fine keeping my secret to myself. But my horror when it comes to Saw is too visceral.

And that’s why I’ve spilled my guts. Now you spill yours.

Photo Credit: Steve Wilkie

Comments (248 total) Add your comment
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  • Tammy in Idaho

    I don’t enjoy horror flicks either. I still haven’t watched Silence of the Lambs all the way through, and had nightmares after watching Friday the 13 when it came out. In fact, I have been known to leave the room during torture scenes on 24. I can’t help it. Just wired that way, I guess. I am just glad it isn’t my job to review today’s horror movies. I would be living in the poorhouse!

  • mscisluv

    Lisa, I completely empathize with you, because even thinking about one of the Saw movies makes me queasy. However, I still can’t stand reading any of your reviews.

    • Lisa Schwarzbaum

      But when you read my reviews, do you feel like you’re going to faint? In that case, drink some water and look away!

      • mscisluv

        No…the reviews definitely don’t make me queasy. Thank you for your good sense of humor, though!

      • Marc

        I can’t stand your reviews and they make me want to die. Never have I read a column that uses large vocabulary to describe the merits of films like Transformers or The Princess Diaries. Your reviews come off as patronizing, sarcastic and snobbish. Your large vocabulary and long run on sentences do not impress me. They confuse me. They nauseate me and they make me hate your reviews even more with each frequent review.

        Better writers like a A.O. Scott, Roger Ebert and Owen Glieberman do not take your ridiculous, bombastic approach to a film. They tell it like it is and each and every time I read their columns I find myself either amused, interested or valued as a reader. You come off as a teacher chastising her third grade class for simulataneously wetting themselves.

        Here’s an idea: When you write your next review make sure your readers will understand what you are talking about.

      • Jason

        Marc, it’s really not HER fault if you don’t understand what she’s saying. Grab a dictionary and stop complaining.

      • Alissa

        to Marc…I enjoy how you’re complaining about her reviews being filled with large vocabulary, yet use words like patronizing, bombastic, and chastising to make your point. I enjoy her reviews more than Owen’s, but maybe I am just more well-read than you and can comprehend what she’s saying?

        PS. Simultaneously. Not simulataneously. If you’re criticizing someone, at least try to not to look like an ass while doing it.

      • @Lisa

        Wow, Lisa!
        You read the comments people leave in response to something you’ve written? I don’t think I have thick enough skin to do that! :D
        …but I can sit through torture porn. I don’t understand its appeal, but when I watch it, I tend to focus on the film-making. That is, I don’t feel like I’m watching an actual person being tortured/killed. Instead, I find myself wondering about the special effects used to create the scene. (Torture porn movies aren’t known for having fully fleshed out, realistic characters in them, so its easy to remain detached from what I’m seeing on the screen.) :)

      • Jane

        Is Marc really arguing that Lisa’s reviews are horrible because she uses big words? Are you kidding? As for Lisa, I think you’re being very fair about being upfront about abhoring torture porn. If watching torture porn is automatically going to give you a viscerally negative attitude towards a movie, then it would not be fair for you to review it, both from your side and the filmmaker’s side. If Owen can appreciate it better and knows enough about the genre, then it’s great that you complement each other. I’m sure there are genres that he generally dislikes and you can take those bullets for him. If I were a food critic, it would be my duty to try as many different cuisines as I can, but I’m not going to go into anaphylactic shock eating a dish with peanuts because it’s my professional duty. People have the right to have preferences and I admire you for putting your preferences on the table.

      • deadliest crotch

        Marc, how can you put these “writers” even in the same sentence as roger ebert? Just for that you should contract AIDS.

      • SteveStrifeX

        Yea I agree with Alan below, that is a rude thing to say to anyone. Lisa, I wouldn’t sweat not watching this genre of Torture Porn. I can see how it can be pretty rough on certain individuals (though I wish you didn’t use the word phobia; it sounds like you’re disgusted by these movies, not so much scared). As far as your reviews go, some I agree with, some I think you’re out of your mind. But isn’t that the case with any reviews you read :). You’re doing just fine, keep up the good work!

      • JB

        I don’t know where to begin. I already posted my review of Saw VI under Owens horrific attempt at one. If both you and Owen can’t watch these movies, then great, DON’T. However, do not continue to bash the people who love the series and appreciate good writing , even in a ill-tasted film like Saw. The Saw films are not of the likes of Halloween or Scream, in the fact that they tell a real story. While it may be gruesome for some, the way each film comes together (minus V) is phenominal, and Tobin Bell has continued year in and year out to enhance his character. I have no problem with those who hate the Saw franchise for whatever reason, but those who do watch will agree that these are not your basic horror torture movie. I would never see any of the Halloween of Freddy Kreuger films because I am the farthest thing from a horror fan. The Saw movies are not even comparable to these two franchises. Overall, Saw has been an amazing, although played out, franchise which should have come to an end with the release of the VI one this past friday. Just learn to appreciate good writing Lisa, no matter how unappealing the context may seem to you. Keep giving movies like Year One a B- when that clearly was a world renown awful display.

      • ugh

        wow, guys. Marc is saying that bad movies like Transformers don’t deserve big words to describe them in a good fashion. get it?

      • Bryan

        Lisa, I completely agree with you. I might not faint or anything like that. However, even at my age of 29, there are a few things I just can’t bear to watch…and I was a Fireman/EMT. There’s a difference between helping someone out of their suffering and inflicting more of it. I might not agree with all of your reviews, but you’ve made a very valid point.

      • Neil

        Marc – Go finish your high school education. And read more books. Lisa is not the problem here, clearly it’s you.

    • Alan

      That’s a pretty rude thing to say to someone’s face, even if you are hiding behind an unreadable nickname and the safety of the internet.

      • mscisluv

        I don’t think it’s rude at all to state that I don’t enjoy Lisa’s reviews. Have you ever actually read the comments on most of them? People say really horrible about her writing, her personality, her looks, her mental capacity…THAT is using the safety of the internet to be insulting, which is clearly different than offering an opinion respectfully.

    • Quina

      Oh gawd, what’s with all the Ebert love? I have yet to read an Ebert review that provides a credible, cohesive report on the movie in any sort of legitimate context, and what’s more, he always, *always* misstates plot and character points, completely revealing that he doesn’t even watch the movies very carefully. Cripes, he *confessed* that he reviewed a movie he walked out on. I think he is the most overrated, annoying hack going. Exalts pieces of crap and dismisses movies of merit with a disinterested snide remark.

  • Brooke

    N’ah, you’re good. Reviewing something you know you’re going to hate isn’t going to produce a useful review for people who are trying to figure out if they want to spend the money on it. I find people who are entertained by torture scenes a little alarming, myself.

    • Q

      That’s the appropriate tack. Hearing “I hate all these films and, therefore, hate this one” tells us nothing about its quality. Find someone who can put it in context of the genre, whatever the genre is (in this case, torture porn) and give an insightful detailing of the pros and cons.

  • stevenjaba

    I can’t bear these kinds of flicks either. I identify too much with what is happening to these people. I don’t mean to get all moralistic here, I just really and truly can’t understand what is entertaining about the portrayal of another living being’s suffering.

    • ppet2323

      Thank you! For the life of me, I cannot imagine what anyone finds entertaining in these kinds of movies. I understand that people like to be scared, but this goes beyond an adrenaline rush. I’m sure there’s some cathartic action at work, but I’m at a loss for what deep repressed emotions these torture porn flicks allow someone to work through. I also have to wonder at the twisted minds who write these things. Who thinks up this stuff? Get some therapy and spare the rest of us.

      • Ginger

        What I can’t imagine is why you judge others for liking these movies. I truly don’t get it. You don’t like them- ok, don’t watch them. End of story.
        Why do the film makers need to “spare the rest of us” when the movies are hugely popular? Why can’t you…I don’t know…just NOT see them? And then not worry about it beyond that?
        For the record, I’m not a big fan of this franchise. I thought the first one was an effective, disturbing horror movie and beyond that they’ve just grossed me out. But it is not my place- or yours- to judge others who do like them.

  • Tiffany

    Heck, I can’t even watch the episodes of cop shows when they have to pepper spray perps who are handcuffed. I saw this one with a perp who was begging the cops to wipe his face and had to turn it off. To me, cruelty is not entertainment!

  • Jeffery Edwards

    I don’t always agree with your reviews, Lisa, but I definitely sympathize with you on this one. As a red-blooded, American male, it’s hard to admit but… gratuitous violence makes me queasy. I can’t stand these “torture porn” movies that pass for horror flicks these days — “Saw”, “Hostel” and insert-Rob-Zombie-film-title-here. It’s too realistic in some ways — there is so much real-life suffering that, frankly, I don’t need to see it in a movie. Not like that, anyway.

    • Stephanie

      Agreed. I think the supposed irony of the Saw films makes them even more disgusting. Why should you be forced to ingest this disturbing stuff into your system just because those cashing in on this crap attempt to legitimize it?

  • John

    You are being honest about your personal bias which would inhibit your ability to write an object piece. And for the record I am a 44 year-old man who can not watch Saw, Friday the 13th, or Halloween and the such. Serial killing is not entertainment for me.

  • Michael

    Lisa, you’re fine. Even as a horror fan, I feel that all the Saw movies and Rob Zombie’s movies cross the line of taste. Why would I want to watch cardboard, shallow characters be tortured to death? Why would I want to watch the female gets stabbed-female falls to the ground-female crawls away crying and screaming-female gets stabbed again-female crawls closer to the ground, now moaning-female gets stabbed again, finally dying over and over again? There’s no need to see it.

  • Rich

    I feel the same way about Kate Hudson movies. But yet we soldier on…

    • Carey

      Hahahahaha. Beautiful.

  • laura

    I understand you. I HATE scary movies. The few that I have seen .. I am usually the one that yells BEFORE anything happens and by yell I mean SCREAM!!!

    Liza, by the way .. I do read your reviews and always know the score before I even click on the pick to read it … if it is a foreign film .. you usually give them an A- but if it is a Hollywood movie .. you give them B or C- … because you claim to have seen this over and over …

  • paige

    If I was a reviewer I would cry and have vivid nightmares if I had to review anything made by Tyler Perry… seriously, I wish Jigsaw was alive and put Tyler Perry or Medea or whatever one dimensional bible spewing character, in on of his contraptions… maybe make him watch all his dreck a la Clockwork Orange…

    • Bryan


  • Nerwen Aldarion

    I respect your opinion and I hate slasher movies too, not because they are scary but because they are sooo fake!!!

    • Jane

      Amen. As a filmmaker, when I watch those movies I don’t get scared because they are horrible. Instead I complain about things like, “The blood is too red or too clear,” “The shot composition totally gives the surprise away,” “He wouldn’t say that.” For me, it’s the craftsmanship that doesn’t work for me.

  • Ethan

    I swear Owen’s actually written an opinion about how disgusting the genre is during a review for a Hostel or Saw movie. Frankly I appreciate that being in the review because the whole genre is totally repulsive.

  • Jeff

    Lisa, I love horror films and enjoyed the early years of the Saw franchise. Even so, I appreciate your honesty.

    Also, I think you are a terrific film critic because you take insightful and unapologetic stances. I don’t always agree with you, but I enjoy reading your reviews.

  • Frank Anderson

    I think it is fine that you do not like or want to watch this kind of film. As a matter of fact I wish that you and Owen would admit something like this more often. You could maybe even get EW to call in someone who does like this kind of movie to review it for EW. Maybe then we would not get such a skewed review perspective from EW, where almost every weepy drama or period piece gets and A, while every well done mass market movie can at least hope for a B.
    I think movies should be just like music. You would not have a reviewer who hates Emo music review and Emo CD, so why would you do the same type thing with movies?

    • topazbean

      Oh for goodness sake. Reviews are, and always have been, the opinions of an individual that they attempt to present to you persuasively explaining their position on the film. We don’t need to be spoonfed the fact that it is just one person’s opinion, that is self-evident. Decide for yourself which critics tend to have the same attitude to film as you and then take on board their recommendations. Or take the other approach of deciding for yourself and then reading reviews out of interest to see if others’ responses to the same movie might change your attitude. But critics are under no obligation to apologise to arguing for their own opinion. That is their job.

      • Frank Anderson

        Well, a reviewer reviewing a film in a genre he or she does not like is simply destined to give the same opinion every time.
        Sure, I have the option of not reading them, but EW also has the responsibility of giving each movie a fair shot at an honest review.
        Reviewing anything you are predisposed to not like is a bit dishonest.
        I actually happen to like many of Lisa’s reviews. As a long time EW subscriber it has also become painfully obvious to me that Lisa and Owen simply should not review some movies.

        I do have to ask though- isn’t it a bit strange that a magazine that is about popular culture has two reviewers who are not predisposed to like popular movies?

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