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Soundtrack review: Saw (Charlie Clouser – 2004)

Film scores

Soundtrack review: Saw (Charlie Clouser – 2004)


Charlie Clouser was the first former Nine Inch Nails member to venture into film music, so he’s sort of the veteran of the group. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross followed with even more success but to me Clouser’s intense horror sound is still the favorite. And no theme of his is as intense and spectacular as “Hello Zepp”, the main theme of the “Saw” franchise. This cult horror series to me identifies itself with the score and even of a lot of great composers have scored a lot of great horror franchises, this one is my soft spot. The first movie has one of the best and most surprising endings ever and I remember having a reaction close to the one after “The sixth sense”. I watched the movie for the first time in a bus rushing towards a remote retreat in the mountains in the winter and this helped the feeling.

This theme didn’t even start out as that. The composer simply needed a dramatic insert to punctuate that spectacular finish, an epic build up to top all other build ups, and he came out with “Hello Zepp”. A raw, string based piece which blows all trailer music out of the water. The rhythm is simple and electronic before the bug descent of this musical rollercoaster catches us all by surprise and hits us in the gut. There is no better “huge revelation” film music theme than this one. This is perfect in its simplicity and efficiency. Count this as one of my favorite themes ever, complete with the aftershock because this is where the genius of Charlie Clouser comes in: he doesn’t just play the revelation and the shock but the music lingers afterwards as we see the reactions of those involved. Pure brilliance! I’m sure you’ve heard this theme one way or another.

The score isn’t all about that main theme, even if it’s hard to talk about anything else. The sound of the first “Saw” movie is raw and aggressive, as you would expect. Sharp objects are the main focus of the story, from knives to bear traps to saws and Charlie Clouser incorporated this sensation of sharpness in his music. The cues are like barbed wire, twisting and cutting, making the listener feel uncomfortable and tense. This isn’t the kind of music to take lightly while sitting on a chair.

As far as horror film music goes, this score is average and efficient. What really work for me are the atmospheric moments which are trademark Charlie Clouser and which bring me chills. I don’t get them during the horror motifs; I get them when the music suddenly stops gnawing. Whenever I revisit the “Saw” scores I rarely go back to this first one. I wouldn’t have patience to go through these cues to get to the awesome climax theme; this is how good it is. I would recommend though “F**k this s**t” which in 4 minutes symbolizes what this score is all about. This album is just the place of inception of the Saw sound. which will be developed and made way better in subsequent scores.

Cue rating: 80 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 10 / 35

Album excellence: 28%


F**k This S*!t

Hello Zepp

Zepp Overature

Mihnea Manduteanu

I have been listening to film music for 25 years and writing about it since 2014. I've written over 1000 reviews and I can't imagine myself doing anything else. I am also a member of IFMCA (International Film Music Critics Association).

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  1. liamdude5 26th October 2015

    A nice review. I must agree that this score, while effective at creating a tense atmosphere, sounds rather mundane, except for the Zepp themes, which sound awesome. Also, if possible, I would like to hear your thoughts on the scores to the Saw films.

    1. liamdude5 26th October 2015

      I meant Saw sequels.

    2. Mihnea Manduteanu 26th October 2015

      Well the reviews for the other scores are coming up, one for each day left of this month 🙂

  2. Marco Ludema 25th September 2018

    The recording sessions of Saw are now available on the site Download Soundtracks. Might be worth a look, it has a lot of new material.


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