Saw’s New PR.

img_5843-1In a way, this is Chris Cabin’s game. He and the rest of the We Hate Movies Crew flayed the original Saw movie in an episode this October. He also published an excellent critique of the entire series, which I greatly appreciated despite simultaneously enjoying the same series of movies for at least the second time.

Cabin’s article, entitled “Why the Saw Franchise Should Have Stayed Buried,” is a thorough analysis of the franchise as films and as cultural artifacts. Cabin summarizes his points perfectly when he writes:

“The Saw franchise’s overt and unearned cynicism is insufferable but beyond all the sadism, misogyny, and self-righteousness, what’s most troubling is just how lazy and thoughtless these movies are. Anything that doesn’t involve a corpse or one of Jigsaw’s games is often quite literally sped through to get to the “good stuff.'”

Dead-on. Cabin’s critique is particularly adept at seeing beyond the narrative’s claims the victims of the Saw franchise are villainous (most of them are far from evildoers, and women get it worse than anyone, etc). He reminds us Jigsaw himself is presented as a machine-shop Hannibal Lecter, not a senseless madman.

I watched all of these movies this Halloween season, and I agree with Cabin’s points. But I still love the damn movies, even though I do consider myself a man pure of heart who says his prayers at night, to quote the old film. I wince at the misogyny and I tire of the lazy film-making (I defy even the most die-hard Saw fan to find anything interesting about Costas Mandylor in any of the three films he features in). But when the trap arms and the tape-recorded voice plays, I appreciate without irony.

Questioning my own motivations, I must confess my experience is aptly described by Cabin when he writes:

“As far as content goes, that’s just about what it is: extended, fragmented bouts of wails and pleas for mercy deployed for tension and some disquieting pleasure. The scenes are also meant to extoll guilt on the viewer for inviting such narrative indulgences. But the movie also makes clear theater out of each death, tracing over every gear, motor, and sharpened edge that go into Jigsaw’s perfect machines. “

I do love the look of these traps, made in the aesthetic of the gothic/industrial culture (the soundtracks for the films, featuring bands like Frontline Assembly and Nitzer Ebb, reflect this). It’s telling that a viewer on the Imdb noted the series didn’t switch to digital timers on the traps until later in the series. This is death in the style of the Industrial Revolution, but as imagined at the end of the last century. Maybe part of the appeal of Saw is its reflection of an era already past by when it was released, borrowing that nihilism without ever connecting it to a tangible emotion to justify its existence in another century.

Further examining my motivations, I find I do not want the victims to die, even if I also don’t feel overly concerned with their survival. Rather, I watch these traps as cautionary tales. I imagine my body in these machines. I understand this as a way of connecting with my own body as an object whose pain thresholds and survival is separated from my conscious will.

In this way, Saw is perfectly placed in history. The series may have sputtered and died with the release of Jigsaw (which I have not yet seen). However, the need for experiencing the body as an object grew beyond its tiled walls. Consider extreme marathons or pub crawls. Yoga in all its iterations.  All of these have at least an element of physical sensation, and many add their own torture traps (heat, mud, drunken staggering) to entice us to play the game.

Why do I like the reprehensible Saw? Maybe now, a month and a half away from forty, I can’t stop watching. It takes years of training to push this body through an actual marathon, but only a few days and snacks to suffer through these movies (to see this idea of horror-as-pathway to Nirvana fully fleshed out, read the excellent Devouring Whirlwind: Terror and Transcendence in the Cinema of Cruelty by Will H. Rockett). Maybe marathoning the movies is easier than an actual marathon, when it comes to experiencing suffering and surviving.


The Call of the Kohagen.

The Axel Kohagen Homepage is ready for you to come back. It’s ready to help like Steve Buscemi in Barton Fink. Chet!

Things are so much more helpful for you now.

Want to check out my publications? Click here! The list is updated regularly and contains links for purchasing the book on Amazon!

Want to see me speak in person, or find out if you’ve already seen me speak? Click here!

Need some proof that the writing and I are worth your time? See what other people have to say here!

Need a picture of me posing by a Moray eel? How could I possibly have something so specific?

Oh, wait. I totally have that.

– Axel

13 Above the Claw.

Facebook blew up yesterday with Jason Voorhees iconography. The Crystal Lake kid still owns the spotlight. You never read a pouty post about how people don’t remember the meaning of Friday the 13th.

Some of us keep the 13th in our hearts all year round.

So I got to thinking, and I think slasher fans have it all wrong. Wes Craven may have spoke a few speeches about post-modern monster creation, but the man in the hockey mask grew from our thoughts and fears without needing to be pithey about it.

Think about it. The title Friday the 13th got picked and promoted for marquee pop, not deep meaning. Jason got mixed into the first movie as an afterthought scare. He picks up his iconic hockey mask in Part 3 somewhat arbitrarily, in a decision many have taken credit for, if I remember correctly. Betsy Palmer took the role of Mrs. Voorhees so she could buy a new car. 

Betsy Palmer gave the best hugs.

The same actor never played Jason twice until 7 and 8.
This guy.

The world wanted to love this blank slate bad guy. Like Wes Craven said in New Nightmare, Jason was called into being by the fearful minds of his time. Unlike the man in the striped sweater, Jason became an icon with a frightening lack of energy or inspiration from his creators.

And yet, on Friday the 13th, we all LOVE Jason Voorhees like a folk hero, not a film character. Makes perfect sense. The people themselves took a lifeless monster and made it eternal.

Letting Axel Into Your Home!

If you’re interested in buying a paperback copy of Orphans signed by me, here’s how to order!


Using Paypal, send $15 to

In the notes section, include the name of the person receiving the book (for the inscription) and the address you would like me to send the book.

In 1-2 weeks (usually sooner rather than later), Orphans will arrive in your mailbox, signed by Axel Kohagen, and fully prepared to creep you out on some special evening.

It’s the best of way of letting me scare you without allowing me to hide inside your house!



Set the Tone, Amplify the Sound.

After a trip back to my hometown library, where everything was amazing, I’m even more committed to putting a copy of Orphans in front of every person who needs a deep down scaring.

Halloween is coming. You deserve to be frightened, and Roy and I can help you.

And you can help us.

Those of you who already read the book, please take time to give us a quick review and rating on Amazon. When you do that, you’re basically adding an antenna that spreads the creepy tone of our small town scarefest all over this great big planet of ours. If enough of you boost the signal, we can creep EVERYBODY out.

When I imagine the sounds of fear bouncing from antenna to antenna across a night sky, I have to imagine the catchy 80s instrumental jams of Wolfmen of Mars. I love their music, which is why I got online and put out some reviews so their signal can spread. Can’t very well ask for a boost if I don’t give one, right?

Spread the signal! The next book signing is at 3 PM on September 19th, at the Barnes and Noble in Maple Grove. Roy will be there, too, and you’ll get to meet Roxy Orcutt, your author and able-minded Halloween ambassador from Anoka to the world!


If You’re Not Joking, You’re Not Paying Attention.

  After each polarizing moment rocks contemporary American culture, social media comes alive with humorous creativity. The extremely creative create memes, Photoshop, write essays (like this one), etc. Those feeling less creative, or with less free time, can demonstrate their comedic skills with a brief status update or snappy comment.

Participation in this online carnival of comedy is not mandatory, but experiencing the comedy is hard to avoid. It varies in regards quality and offensiveness, but sooner or later something will strike every social media user as worth at least a chuckle. 

The more rigid your belief, the more of this comedy is available to you. Eventually, participation in these carnival games completes a checklist for you. How you laugh defines who you are. Publicly.

So we spend all our time on our phones. We create, find, and share titilating delight that clearly define who we are and shame those we must never be. Sometimes, we talk about quitting everything because social media is a waste of time. Few of us do, and most of them come back.

It seems logical that we are most pleased when we can joke our way to feeling smarter, happier, and more righteous about who we are. This raucous display of written ego-stroking leaves us ill-equipped to do more than piss and moan between the giggling fits. 

Maybe if we stopped laughing we’d turn to the tragic truth that much of life is suffering, and often nothing can be done to make this fair. When something can be done, it involves losing our individual voices for a communal purpose. Who could swallow that without a punchline?

Quick: Somebody make fun of someone else. We can’t let the laughter stop.


Entering the Orphan Age.

  Orphans has risen from the grave! Thanks to everyone who already bought a copy of our book. If you haven’t yet purchased your copy, head to Amazon and pick your poison – paperback or Kindle.
If you had trouble finding the paperback earlier today, have no fear. You can find it right here.

Don’t fear that. Fear what happens to damaged men on cold nights . . .

– Axel

Dog Day Writer.

Stella the WriterThere’s always more to write, huh? The very first Henry Carlson novel is coming along nicely. Wrote something frightening and set it in a lake not far from here, so fishing that particular dock will come with some creepy fictional baggage. I’ll have to watch where I’m walking . . .

The July 21st release of Orphans is getting closer. As the final pieces fall into place, I’m more excited than ever to see this book released into the wild. Rereading a moment from the end of the book made me shiver all over again, even though I knew what was coming.

Like the Cenobite with the fierce growl says, Roy and I have such sights to show you. For example, bookmarks and cover cards! You’ll be seeing them out and about, promoting the arrival of Orphans. Soon, you’ll be hearing more information on the paperback edition, autographed copies, and author appearances.

If you know of a place you’d like to stock with cover cards and bookmarks, or if you yourself have a fever for Orphans swag, email me at


After all, you deserve something nice and scary.

— Axel

Fargo Core Con.

The path to Orphans July 21st publication led north up I94 to Fargo, ND. Fargo Core Con graciously offered me the opportunity to speak with co-author Roy C. Booth and fellow Minnesotan writer David Stegora. I spoke on two panels – “Horror Anthologies 101”: and “How to Become a Published Horror Writer.” 

Between sessions, Roy and I schemed up plans to make sure every horror reader, living or undead, knows that Orphans is coming their way.

Core Con, if you get the chance to go, is a remarkably friendly placed to be. It’s like visiting a friend for dinner and finding yourself symbolically adopted and asked to stay for the whole weekend. I regret not getting a room in the convention hotel, because it looked like those crews were partying to dawn, and I would’ve needed a nap break or three to keep up.

I send my thanks to the hard-working people of Fargo Core Con for a wonderful trip. They were so easy to work with. If someone needed help, they seemed to psychically sense distress and then they swooped in to help. Zero bad attitudes, too. Good folks.

— Axel Kohagen

Such Sights.

You can pre-order the ebook edition of Orphans on Amazon right now. Expect more information about the paperback edition soon.

We are also looking for reviewers, so if you have a horror blog and are up for it, email me at for more information.

For the rest of you, July 21st is coming quickly. Just not quickly enough for my impatient self. After all, I know what’s going to happen to you in the first couple of chapters, and then what happens next. The ones you hope will hold your hand are the very ones you’ll hide from . . .