This man is someone who I've wanted to write about for years. Now, with the rumors circulating of a SAW revival, it seems like the perfect opportunity to introduce him into the Horror Icon Hall of Fame. Ladies and gentleman, I give you, Tobin Bell.
Born on August 7th, 1942, Tobin Bell was born as Joseph Henry Tobin Jr. A New York native born in Queens, Tobin spent his childhood growing up in Weymouth, Massachusetts. His mother, an English born actress, worked at the Quincy Repertory Company while his father, American-born but of Irish decent, built and established the radio station WJDA in Quincy, Massachusetts.
Tobin attended college where he studied Liberal Arts and Journalism, with the intention of becoming a writer and entering the broadcasting field. He also has an interest in environmental matters, holding a master's degree in environmental science from Montclair State University as well as having worked for the New York Botanical Garden. He credits hearing a seminar by Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy at Boston University with inspiring him to begin an acting career.
Tobin's career began in 1982 with a small, uncredited appearance in Toostie. He followed that up with another uncredited role as a courtroom observer in The Verdict. In 1988, a bigger role came his way in the controversial film, Mississippi Burning. Those of you who know me, know how much I love this movie. Tobin's role is small, but he shows just how scary he can be as Agent Stokes.
In the following years, Tobin appeared mostly in dramas and thriller inspired movies, inlcuding several TV movies and guest appearances on TV series such as Alien Nation, Nasty Boys and Jake and the Fatman. The early 90's saw Tobin take on more comedic roles, whilst staying within the thriller genre with movies like 1996's The Babysitter's Seduction. Starring alongside Stephen Collins and Keri Russell, Tobin plays a police detective who's friends with Stephen Collins character. After a wealthy wife is murdered.and everyone is a suspect. Tobin Bell may not be the lead investigator, but his performance was truly outstanding as friend, confidant, and police detective. If you haven't seen this TV movie, I do recommend finding a copy of it as it is truly an enjoyable thriller.
While most of Tobin's career in the 90's was within the thriller genre, he did begin his stint within the horror genre in 1999. He may have only been the lock smith in The 4th Floor, but he does stand out among some rather large names like Juliette Lewis, William Hurt and Shelley Duvall.
The 4th Floor may have been Tobin's first steps into the horror genre. In 2004, he took another leap, landing a role that would cement him as being one of the horror genres biggest stars. SAW came out of the minds of two Australians, James Wan and Leigh Whannell, and starred Tobin Bell has John Kramer, a cancer patient whose unique outlook on life causes him to place people in 'traps' to help them gain a new appreciation for their lives... or die trying.
SAW became a hit, and pretty soon a sequel was in the works. The entire series feels like a cat and mouse game with many people claiming that Jigsaw, which is John Kramer's nickname, is one of the horror genres smartest villains.
SAW II and SAW III came out in quick succession, capitalizing on the first film. 2005 saw the Jigsaw killings return to the big screen in the first sequel. It is in SAW II that the audience begin to understand why John Kramer does what he does. Tobin's performance was nothing short of chilling, creating a calculating mastermind whose only crime is that of manipulation. The movie ended with his apprentice, Amanda Young, uttering the now famous line of "Game over" as she slams the door closed, leaving the helpless Detective Matthews alone in the same bathroom from the first film.
In part 3, we see more of the John Kramer/Amanda Young relationship, realizing that he was mentoring her and she kept falling back into her old ways. She had a taste for killing, where as we learned that he wanted people to live and learn from their experience. So when he met his demise at the hand of man who had been incarcerated by Jigsaw, it begged the question of is this the end for the franchise. Amanda was dead. John Kramer was dead. How could the series live on?
The following year, Tobin stepped back into the world of television, appearing alongside SAW II star Donnie Wahlberg in The Kill Point. Also that year, Tobin jumped into the spooky world of R. L. Stine with The Haunting Hour: Don't Think About It. I'll be honest, I'm a huge fan of R.L. Stine so naturally I loved this. The premise is typical of R.L Stine, "Bullied by her peers, tired of her parents and bugged by her little brother, goth girl Cassie decides to get some harmless revenge by reading a scary book to her brother - summoning a monster in the process".
Bell plays The Stranger who gives Cassie the book, The Evil Thing, which triggers the rise of the monster. For a children's story, it's not to be missed. Good, spooky fun for the whole family.
Also that year, Bell had a role in Boogeyman 2, playing Dr. Mitchell Allen, as well as starring in Buried Alive as Lester. I won't lie, both films are forgettable however Tobin Bell once again shows off just how talented he is, especially in Buried Alive. He was used as a selling point to push the film, however unless you're a die hard fan of his or, like me, you needed to watch the film to do your research, it's easily avoided.
In 2007, just when we thought Jigsaw was done and dusted, he returned in SAW IV. Tobin reprised his role as John Kramer, often appearing in flashbacks with the main characters. Discovering that Jigsaw had a second apprentice was expected. Learning who it was, on the other hand, was quite shocking.
In 2008, Bell returned to the Boogeyman franchise with a voice appearance in Boogeyman 3. Also that year SAW V hit cinemas, proving that nothing really can kill a main villain. Once again his voice was used for the tapes left behind, as well as making flashback appearances. Just enough to convince an audience that despite him being dead, John Kramer was still controlling the game.
The next two years saw the franchise come to an end. SAW VI and SAW VII hit cinemas in 2009 and 2010 respectfully. Also during that time, Tobin Bell loaned his voice to create two SAW video games.
Tobin dropped out of the spotlight for a couple of years, returning in 2014 in Dark House. I'll be brutally honest, I'm not a fan of Victor Salva who is responsible for this film, but considering this was in Tobin's filmography, I sat through it. Not a great film by any means, it does have some promise at the beginning. A very deceptive end though and there's a lot of confusing in the middle of the film. Worth the watch? No.
As 2016 draws closer to an end, horror fans can rejoice. Tobin Bell has two horror films currently in production. Belzebuth and Sins of the Father. There is also rumors circulating that a new installment into the SAW franchise will be unearthed for 2017. Of course, we've been saying that since SAW VII ended back in 2010. Either way, next year looks like it'll be a fantastic year not just for horror, but for Tobin too.
Tobin Bell. His name is synonymous with death traps and puzzles, but his talents expand well beyond them. He has done everything from comedy to thriller to scaring the pants off us in horror. He is certainly one watch in the future, regardless if John Kramer returns. Now, got a pen ready? "I want to play a game..."