I think people focus too much on the gore in Saw and not the intellectual horror. To be fair, it is hard to ignore the gore, and I wouldn't mind if it toned it down a little. But there is rarely another film that actually scares me as much as Saw did (and I actually only saw the first two, because I got the feeling the later ones were less intellectually stimulating). And it's not the gore that scares me, but the idea of it and the idea of what is happening in that moment, and especially the idea of someone that smart and evil being out there.
But there is something comforting in horror movies as well! It IS an escape…from the world of reckless and negligent horrors that "end up" happening in real life, like unrelenting poverty that so few will take responsibility for; ignoring child, elder and domestic abuse that is central to the lives of so many; climate change; racism that people deny but still ends up somehow with black families that make twice as much as white families ($75k vs. $30k) unable to move up out of the poorer neighborhoods therefore unable to access those better schools that the white families can, perpetuating the cycle of poverty, lack of education and poor health (I just listened to ProPublica's investigative report on this). Those are just *some* of the horrors we live with on a day to day basis, and you know what? To go into a world, for a couple of hours, where we can all (republican and democrat, liberal and conservative) actually agree that someone is intentionally and knowingly evil is a relief of a sort. It is actually SO MUCH easier to deal with intentional evil than negligent evil. It is so much easier to outlaw literacy tests and poll taxes that were admittedly designed with the (evil) intention of preventing blacks from voting. But now we have to deal with voter ID laws and things that are masked as patriotic and everyone can pretend it's not about racism and walk away without doing anything, neglectful, and still feel good about themselves.
It's really hard to improve a world of neglectful evil, and much more easy, much more clear and black and white, to imagine a world where we all (except this one psychopath) share the same values and can use all our power to stamp him out. He may be smart but eventually we know we would win. What's much scarier and harder is to live in a world where we don't all share the same values, and we have to negotiate and renegotiate and often feel like we can never live our true values because the people in the next state over are trying to stamp our values out, instead of focusing their power on one crazy psychopath like we can in the movies. So, you know, horror movies are great for the thrills…ones I hope to never feel in real life. But also for this fantasy idea that we live in a world where we all agree what evil is and share the same values. That's something that I would like to actually have in real life!
What I like about Saw is how it is also very creative with the schemes he comes up with (even though I really don't want to see them carried out!) and how it presents the little evils that we all tolerate in our world every day and gives us some pause to let us have some conflicting feelings about the supposed victims in the movie. Saw doesn't have as much of that black and white certainty that other horror movies have, when they have obvious good guys and bad guys, but none of this ambivalent "people who do bad things and probably deserve punishment but just not as bad as they actually get." That kind of discomfort is a good thing to feel, too, I think. You come out relieved that you will never have to face a real Jigsaw for all the minor or some major transgressions you yourself have made….but maybe also feeling uncomfortable with our society that does allow some pretty major transgressions to go unpunished, and what should be done. If you are in a reflective mood anyway.
A truly scary movie makes you think, and the first Saw definitely did that for me. Same reason why Silence of the Lambs is the only horror movie to win an Oscar. It left out the superfluous gore, but it was smart. And smart-scary is always more exciting and thrilling than gory-scary. I can't speak to the final Saw, and I did get the impression they lean toward more gore in the latter ones, which just isn't the right balance for me. But I just had to try to explain what a horror fan gets out of horror movies and Saw in particular.