He came, he ‘Saw,’ he conquered

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Darren Lynn Bousman likes sesame bagels and cinnamon bagels. He even likes chocolate chip. But he’s never lost his appreciation for the bagel in its purest form — the plain bagel. He hopes you won’t, either.

“I love regular bagels,” he says. “Every day, they invent new varieties — garlic, blueberry, whatever — but none of them take away from that original bagel. The same is true of the ‘Saw’ films. You could put a thousand sequels out there, and none would invalidate the terror the first three inspire. Do I want them to make a thousand? No. But I don’t think the new ‘Star Wars’ movies ruined the original trilogy, and even if the ‘Saw’ series eventually jumps the shark, and Kato Kaelin ends up playing Jigsaw, the work we’ve done will stand the test of time.”

At 28, the director of “Saw II” and “Saw III” might seem young to be running the most lucrative horror franchise on the market, but he’s spent a lifetime learning how to be scary. A self-proclaimed horror fanatic and student of the genre, Bousman grabbed the reins unexpectedly, after pitching his own script for a movie called “The Desperate.” The studios dismissed his story as too similar to the original “Saw” — a problem for them, but not for “Saw” creators James Wan and Leigh Whannell, who used his script as the framework for their first sequel.

Despite his frustration before that fortuitous break — “I was bitter about the crappy jobs I had,” he says, “so I wrote the most offensive screenplay I could think of” — Bousman ranks among the most successful horror directors ever. His first two features debuted atop the box office charts; now, he’s working on a rock opera littered with mutilated corpses and ruptured spinal cords.

Being part of the so-called “Splat Pack” — a loose fraternity of cutting-edge directors with a taste for ultraviolence — Bousman is impatient with the Motion Picture Association of America. While the Steven Spielbergs of the world may be cut some slack by the ratings board, he says his own movies won’t be.

“The board is basically five guys, and they don’t operate according to any established rules,” says Bousman. “They rate movies based on how they feel afterward, so if they’re having a bad day, you’re screwed. Take ‘War of the Worlds.’ Spielberg is a genius, but that movie is horrific. He’s killing off babies and mothers, and if anyone else had made that movie it would have been rated R. …

“Why? Because people don’t treat horror films as legitimate art. There is a double standard for movies like ‘Saw’ and ‘Hostel’ and Rob Zombie’s ‘Halloween.’ Those films are viewed under a microscope. It wasn’t until the MPAA’s sixth viewing of ‘Saw III’ that they even hinted at the changes we needed to make to get an R rating. You’re fighting an uphill battle from the start.”

Now, as Bousman prepares to unveil the unrated director’s cut of “Saw III” on DVD (it comes out Tuesday), he’s ready to move on, though he’ll track the progress of the franchise as a hands-on producer.

“There could be 19 ‘Saw’ movies,” he says. “Probably will be. The producers know I’m a huge horror fan, that I want the franchise to thrive and make money, so there’s a trust between us. When I read the script for ‘Saw IV,’ it blew my mind, because they did it again, they made it work. If I ever read a script and say, ‘This is awful,’ they’ll listen. The only way for this franchise to survive is to retain a certain integrity, to stay smart and on top of the genre. I plan to make sure that happens.”

DVD review

Saw III (Unrated Widescreen Edition) ***½

As iconic savages go, Jigsaw remains the most complicated — a bitter, terminally ill serial killer who, in his sadistic way, allows his captives to choose life or death. In “Saw III,” he plays a macabre marriage counselor to a young couple struggling to survive the death of their son. Hokey? Perhaps, but it makes for a surprisingly compelling study of human frailty, a dark, disturbing parable soaked in bloody entrails. As usual, Jigsaw’s litany of ingenious traps provides plenty of splatter, and it’s not for the faint of heart. Extras: The unrated director’s cut offers a worthwhile selection of deleted scenes, commentary tracks and a behind-the-scenes featurette explaining the innerworkings of Jigsaw’s devilish toys, but collectors should hold out for the inevitable double-disc treatment. $29.95.

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